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Africa's Wildlife and the Bushmeat Crisis
Photo Credit: Michelle Gadd/USFWS
by Dr. Richard Ruggiero
Put the words "Africa" and "wildlife" together and many people picture a vast savanna filled with large charismatic animals, a scene punctuated by the life and death struggles so well documented by naturalists and filmmakers. Indeed, Africa is home to many of the world’s most spectacular species. It also contains a diversity of ecosystems ranging from deserts to savanna grasslands, woodlands, mountains, marine ecosystems (including an almost continuous string of coral reefs from northern Kenya to South Africa), mangroves and estuaries, and the enormous equatorial forest.
In fact, unparalleled populations of large migratory mammals do cross the savannas of eastern and southern Africa. Again, the image that comes to mind is the spectacular Serengeti migration undertaken annually by more than a million ungulates in northern Tanzania and southern Kenya. Less well known is another annual migration of perhaps even more animals. This one, in southern Sudan, involves vast herds of antelopes such as white-eared kob and korrigum, mongala gazelles, and even elephants. Three species of great apes – gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobo – occupy the immense swath of equatorial forest that spans western and eastern Africa.
But Africa’s exceptionally diverse assemblage of wildlife and habitats face significant problems. Growing human populations, illegal hunting, and the transformation of land for agricultural purposes are increasing throughout Africa. The exploitation of natural resources creates pressure on wildlife habitat; industries such as mining, logging, and petroleum extraction alter ecosystems, open more roads, and bring people into closer contact with wildlife. Climate instability may exacerbate human-wildlife conflicts when people and animals compete for water or rangelands. In some countries, political instability undermines the ability of governments to protect and manage wildlife. These problems are worsened by the illegal killing of wildlife for the trade in bushmeat (meat derived from wild animals).
Photo Credit: USFWS
To address these problems, wildlife professionals not only need a strong scientific capacity but also non-traditional skills for problem solving, including community outreach, conflict resolution, and coalition building. That’s where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Without Borders-Africa Regional Program (WWB-Africa) becomes critical. In essence, the goal of WWB-Africa is to help African nations develop the human and institutional capacity for running their own conservation and wildlife management programs.
To accomplish this goal, WWB-Africa provides support through grants for wildlife management capacity-building projects and through an innovative approach of mentored fellowships on critical themes. By raising the capacity for wildlife conservation throughout Africa, WWB-Africa meets a growing demand for non-traditional skills and approaches to conservation. Additionally, the program helps build local capacity to mitigate the impacts of extractive industries, climate change, human-wildlife conflict, the illegal bushmeat trade, and wildlife disease in and around protected areas. Target audiences include wildlife managers, guards, rangers, outreach and educational specialists, community leaders, and other decision makers.
Photo Credit: Michelle Gadd/USFWS
In 2008, the Service awarded 10 WWB-Africa grants totaling $505,625, which was matched by $1,049,325 in leveraged funds from other partners. Eleven grants awarded in 2009 added more than $460,000. The projects supported by these grants include training African veterinarians in wildlife and ecosystem health, bringing together veterinary colleagues from around the world, and training Gabonese biologists, resource managers, and students to implement West African manatee conservation initiatives. The highlight of the WWB-Africa is the MENTOR Fellowship Program, which took place in 2008 and 2009.
MENTOR Fellowship Program
The rising demand for bushmeat in Eastern Africa from an expanding human population that is subject to economic and environmental stress has led to a severe decline in many wildlife populations. Alleviating the impact of the illegal bushmeat trade requires a multidisciplinary approach involving wildlife policy, law enforcement, public awareness, and sustainable alternatives.
WWB-Africa builds capacity in these areas through fellowships based at the College of African Wildlife Management in Tanzania. The MENTOR Fellowship Program (Mentoring for ENvironmental Training in Outreach and Resource conservation) supported training for new conservation leaders from four Eastern African countries: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and South Sudan. A hallmark of the program was the involvement of four highly-experienced African conservation professionals, who worked closely with the fellows throughout the 18-month program.
During the program, the fellows implemented field projects in their home countries. In the first phase, they conducted local bushmeat assessments through field work, research, monitoring, stakeholder workshops, and policy reviews. Based on these assessments, the fellows then developed innovative responses to such issues as alternative livelihood and food sources, policy and legal problems, law enforcement, wildlifehuman health interactions, education, and constituency building.
Photo Credit: Dirck Byler/USFWS
The MENTOR program helped develop a network of professional conservationists in Africa dedicated to controlling the illegal bushmeat trade. Program fellows gained greater exposure to the international dimensions of the issue and developed important new contacts. The program was funded through a cooperative agreement among the FWS, the College of African Wildlife Management, and the Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group (a consortium of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Conservation International, World Wildlife Fund, African Wildlife Foundation, Jane Goodall Institute, World Resources Institute, The Nature Conservancy, and International Union for the Conservation of Nature).
The MENTOR approach to problem solving through teamwork and cooperation continues under a grant to the Bushmeat-free Eastern Africa Network (BEAN). BEAN (www.bushmeatnetwork.org) is an interdisciplinary and multi-institutional network of stakeholders (wildlife professionals, human development experts, government representatives, private industry, academic experts, community leaders, and other citizens). It works collaboratively to raise awareness; focus attention; share information; analyze, evaluate, and report on trends; and leverage resources for grassroots solutions to bushmeat exploitation in Eastern Africa. Through this extensive partnership, WWB-Africa will continue to build awareness and wildlife management capacity in ways that complement the Wildlife Without Borders species programs.
Dr. Richard Ruggiero, Chief of the Branch of Near East, South Asia, and Africa in the FWS Division of International Conservation, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information, please visit the Wildlife Without Borders-Africa program web page at www.fws.gov/international/DIC/regional%20programs/africa/Africa.html
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