Musokotwane Environment Resource Centre for Southern Africa












CEP Factsheet Series No 2: Wildlife

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Southern Africa seems to have plenty of wildlife, but much of it is threatened. At least 14 types of mammals are in danger. Some threats are country-specific, others are regional or even global.



Poaching is the unlawful hunting of wildlife. There are two forms of poaching: commercial and subsistence.

Commercial poaching

Commercial poachers are well-armed, organised and backed by private business and international networks. The major target animals are the rhino and the elephant because their horns and tusks fetch good prices.

The rhino is the animal most affected. Its numbers are down from some 65,000 in 1970 to about 15,000 in 1980 and to around 3,000 in 1990. According to government figures, in 1992, Zimbabwe may have lost as much as 80% of its remaining rhinos, from 2,000 in January to 400 in December, though the January estimates are now believed to have been optimistic.

Rhino horn is sold to countries such as Yemen, Korea, Taiwan and China. In the 1980s, the price of horn was about US$1,000 per kg as it left Africa.

The elephant, poached for its tusks (ivory), has drastically declined in number. Kakakuona, a Tanzanian wildlife magazine (1990) reported that Africa as a whole had 1.3 million elephants in 1979 but only 609,000 in 1989. Zambia's elephant population dropped from some 250,000 in 1960 to about 40,000 in 1990. In 1989, M.K.S. Maigem, a wildlife expert, reported that in East Africa the elephant population decreased from 429,500 in 1981 to 125,600 in 1989, 4.3 dying every hour. In the same year, the World Bank reported that at that rate the elephant would be extinct by 2010.
Southern Africa has done better. Elephant populations in Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa and Namibia are increasing.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) banned trade in ivory in October 1989 in an effort to protect the remaining elephant populations.

Commercial poachers also hunt zebra, cheetah, lion and leopard for their skins.


Subsistence poaching

Subsistence poaching by rural people has had less of an impact on wildlife populations. Rural people hunt mainly smaller animals such as impala which reproduce quickly. Though many animals are poached, this does not seem to endanger the species. Spears, arrows and bows, and snares and dogs are used in subsistence poaching.



Experts say the biggest long-term threat to wildlife in Africa is loss of habitat, which is linked to human population growth.

With the shortage of agricultural land, it becomes harder to safeguard land for the exclusive use of wildlife and tourists. As agriculture is expanded to feed a growing human population, there is less food, fewer breeding sites and less water for wildlife.

Tanzania has one of the most extensive national parks systems on the continent but has had to convert Pare Reserve and Burunge Game Controlled Area into agricultural settlement, and to twice reduce the size of Mkomazi game reserve, in 1957 and 1966, to allow human settlement. Maswa Reserve has been reduced in size three times in 25 years.

In Malawi, parts of ?Liwonde and Nkhonkhota National Parks were illegally occupied by 1988. Every year, some 200 hectares of Kasungu National Park are allocated to people who need land.

According to Mozambique's national report to UNCED, Gorongosa and Maputo National Parks are each illegally occupied by over 3,000 people although there are plans to resettle them.



Diseases such as anthrax and rinderpest have killed many wild animals.

Anthrax attacks most plant-eating animals in southern Africa. The bacteria enters the animal during feeding or drinking and kills by producing poison inside the animal's body.

Tanzania's Lake Manyara National Park lost as much as 90 percent of its impala population in 1983 due to anthrax. It is a current problem in Namibia, South Africa and Zambia.

Rinderpest is a contagious virus similar to the viruses that cause influenza and ?polio. It ?is caught by breathing contaminated air, and from secretions from the mouth and nose, and in the faeces. The virus kills by dehydrating the animal.

Rinderpest killed an estimated 90 percent of southern Africa's large herbivores and livestock in 1895. Since this epidemic, there have been several others in South Africa and in Tanzania. A rinderpest outbreak killed about 20 percent of the buffaloes in Lake Manyara National Park in 1959. The most recent rinderpest outbreak took place in 1982 in Serengeti-Ngorongoro area in Tanzania where several hundred buffalo died.

Tuberculosis in buffalo has become a concern lately in Kruger National Park (SA). The disease is potentially dangerous to other animals and is difficult to treat.



Efforts to control foot and mouth disease and trypanosomiasis (nagana) have had devastating effects on wildlife populations. Nagana (sleeping sickness in humans) and foot and mouth disease rarely kill wildlife. But the wildlife carry these diseases which can kill domestic livestock.

Tsetse fly carries nagana. Before 1960, in an effort to wipe out tsetse fly, veterinary staff killed the animals in tsetse-infested areas. Over a million animals were killed in the region, most of them in Zimbabwe. Buffalo and ?wildebeest were the most affected. Today, this policy has been discredited as ineffective.
To control the spread of foot and mouth disease, fences are put up to separate cattle from wildlife.

These fences have a devastating effect. In Botswana wildlife traditionally migrated from the arid south to the wet north for water and food during the dry months. The fences block the migratory routes. Wildebeest, zebra, hartebeest, eland and other species die along the fences from thirst, hunger, injuries and exhaustion.

The fences have caused the death of hundreds of thousands of wild animals in Botswana. During the 1983 drought approximately 50,000 wildebeest died along the Kuke cordon fence. The fences are controversial with some people saying the fences are blamed for wildlife deaths that would have happened otherwise from drought.

Another fence between Botswana and Zimbabwe caused similar damage to wildlife populations, whose migratory corridor was blocked.

Zimbabwe has also erected fences around Gona re Zhou and Hwange National Parks with less pronounced but similar effects.

The 200-km-long electrified fence on the South Africa-Mozambique border stands in the way of migrating wild animals and many have been electrocuted.

In Namibia, fences around Etosha National Park and Skeleton Coast National Park have interfered with migration of animals between the two areas. This affects animals in both parks, mainly wildebeest, zebra, hartebeest, and buffalo.



Dams and artificial waterways such as Lake Kariba, Cahora Bassa, the Eastern National Water Carrier (ENWC)?of Namibia and the Kafue Dam in Zambia have affected wildlife. When the Kariba dam was built, animals died by drowning, starvation and from shock during capture and translocation. Reports indicate many thousands of animals trapped on islands may have starved.

The Kariba and Cahora Bassa dams decreased the flow of the Zambezi river. Floods in the Marromeu plains are shorter and less intense. The once wet, grassy plains below the dams are dry and bushy and more prone to fire. Animals that feed on grass are badly affected, particularly buffalo.

In Zambia, lechwe, a kind of antelope that lives in swampy areas, lost its home when the Kafue dam flooded part of the Kafue flats. The dam changed the flood regime in lechwe grazing areas, so they lost part of their food supply as well.

Thousands of animals have fallen, drowned and died in the 302 km long section of the ENWC of Namibia, which is an open canal 3.7 metres wide, constructed to supply water to the arid Namibia interior. In less than a year, more than 7,000 reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds were removed from the canal, many of them dead. The rare pangolin and antbear were also affected.



Wildlife conservation competes for scarce funds with education, health and military spending, among others. The recent drought worsened the situation as more funds had to be used to meet basic human needs for food and water.

The international community has expressed interest in the conservation of wildlife in southern Africa, but has?not provided sufficient financial resources. Recently several countries pledged several million dollars to southern Africa to conserve elephants but actually gave only a small proportion.

Considering the size of its protected areas, Angola needs US$16 million annually to manage its wildlife, but can access less than US$20,000, according to a 1992 IUCN report. The Ivory Trade Review Group says southern Africa as a whole needs US$1 billion to protect elephants. The total donations and money generated from wildlife fall far short of this figure.

The shortage of funds means wildlife conservation staff are thin on the ground. In the 1980s, one parks staff person managed, on average, 30 sq km in Zimbabwe, 50 sq km in Malawi, 120 sq km in Tanzania, 280 sq km in Namibia and 580 sq km in Botswana (recently, Botswana increased the number of staff).

In 1979 the recommended staff density in protected areas was one person per 50 sq km, but by 1986 one person per 20 sq km was required because of high poaching pressure.

More money is needed to fund research work on wildlife.

Professional wildlife staff are even more scarce than untrained staff in SADC states, with an average of about 1 biologist per 7,000 sq km of protected areas.



The law sometimes compounds the threats to wildlife by not adequately providing for conservation. Originally, wildlife laws were set up under colonial administration? to prevent African people from hunting wildlife. The only way local people could benefit from wildlife conservation was by poaching.

In some southern African countries landowners now have rights to the wildlife on their property. It is in these countries (Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa) that wildlife populations are increasing.

In others it is illegal to own or hunt wildlife on private land. The lack of legal access to wildlife makes it "useless" to the landowner, who then sees it as a pest to destroy.

Wildlife laws sometimes make it difficult to prove a person's guilt. In Lesotho, for a poacher of protected species to be convicted, it has to be proved that he knew the animal he killed was specially protected.

Penalties for poaching can actually encourage the practice. For instance, in Malawi in 1987, elephant dealers and poachers were fined only MK100 - MK200 (US$25-50), whereas the ivory was worth about US$500 a kilogramme.



Many wild animals have been killed in the civil wars of Angola and Mozambique.

Perhaps the worst harm has been done by rebel forces paying for military assistance in ivory. Some members of the South African Defence Force (SADF) who were involved in the war in Angola were arrested in connection with rhino horn which had been poached in Angola. Others were charged with smuggling Angolan ivory.

Poaching by government soldiers has also been a problem in Angola and Mozambique.



Southern African countries are trying hard to contain the threats to wildlife but if the future is to look brighter, then much more needs to be done.

Dr. David Cumming, a wildlife expert with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), believes the future of wildlife in southern Africa depends on the resources that governments provide, and on whether ?farmers are allowed to utilize wildlife on their farms (farm land covers more than half of the area of the region).

The international community, donors, business and non-governmental organisations, and lobby groups, as well as ordinary citizens of the region, will have to work together to ?make wildlife conservation a success.

Many of ?the governments are developing innovative management methods, including greater commercialization of wildlife, to raise the money to manage and protect it. These methods are controversial and it remains to be seen whether they will succeed.

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