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Animal conservation efforts in Africa have taken center stage over the last few decades, and yet the dwindling populations of native animals continue to shock conservationists. The diverse African ecosystem owes much of its vibrancy and diversity to these animals, so the impact of animal loss goes far beyond mere loss of life. Clearly, animal conservation needs to be rethought.
Poaching: Problems and Current Solutions
International concern over poaching big game in Africa have not managed to make a serious impact. From 1970 to 2005, 69 African species of mammal have seen a population decline of over 59%. More tragically, Tanzania (the African country with some of the largest herds of elephants) have seen an estimated 60% drop in their elephant populations from 2009 to 2014.
Some research suggests that poaching, although a tragic loss, is not the biggest contributor to wildlife bereavement. In fact, the undue emphasis on poaching may be a contributor to this problem. Habitat loss, human encroachment, and loss of prey animals seem to be more pressing issues regarding conservation.
One possible (albeit counterintuitive) way to cope is to encourage legal big game hunting. Certain programs have shown promise in allowing restricted numbers of interested parties to be able to hunt big game after paying large fees. The revenue from well-managed big-game hunting would be used by conservationists to restore wildlife populations and incentivize local communities to conserve and maintain land for these animals. The plan, however, has encountered some pitfalls in the execution stage.
Though the principles of such a plan seem sound, much of the reported revenue from these arrangements are embezzled by corrupt government officials. Therefore, much of the supposed benefit dissipates and breeds further animosity between local cultures and government. Since many high-ranking officials are driven by profit, it stands to reason empowering them would yield disappointing results.
A Different Approach to Conservation
Namibia’s approach to conservation, which centers around providing rural areas with funds to educate and promote conservation efforts, has seen impressive results. The Namibian government began a program in 1996 that grants local community councils the power to manage their own land and develop their tourist markets, often centered around wildlife tourism. Involving the local communities in these efforts appears to be instrumental for wildlife flourishing. Wildlife conservation has serious implications for rural communities, many of which possess long-standing traditions circled around wildlife. Poor communities often take up big-game poaching as a method of survival. Providing these areas with the opportunity to tap into lucrative markets may be the key to a long-term plan of protection not only for the animals, but the native cultures as well. Furthermore, many of these tourist attractions are only available for part of the year, and thus might benefit from a complement to conservation, such as regulated big-game hunting.
The interactions between local people and the animals that live near them forms the foundation upon which wildlife conservation needs to be built. Strengthening those bonds must be preceded by open dialogue about all the many factors that affect African wildlife and the territories they share with their fellow humans.