AFRICA ENVIRONMENT OUTLOOK
Past, present and future perspectives

THREATS TO BIODIVERSITY IN EASTERN AFRICA

Clearing of natural habitat forces wildlife to invade human settlements; the invading species become crop pests, predators on livestock, and a danger to humans and, in turn, become threatened with trapping, shooting and poisoning. Wild animals may also cross-breed with domesticated species, which can alter their genetic make-up and thus affect their status as a species

Natural habitats in Eastern Africa are under threat from a rapidly increasing human population and from the accompanying demands for space, agricultural produce, and economic gains from commercial and industrial exploitation. With the sub-region's population growing at about 3 per cent per annum (World Bank 2001a), the pressures on biological resources are likely to increase in the near future.

Destruction of natural habitat in Eastern Africa is a threat to wildlife and to the biological resources that are both the basis of survival for local communities and the mainstay of the economy for many countries. Clearing of natural habitat forces wildlife to invade human settlements; the invading species become crop pests, predators on livestock, and a danger to humans and, in turn, become threatened with trapping, shooting and poisoning. Wild animals may also cross-breed with domesticated species, which can alter their genetic make-up and thus affect their status as a species. Ethiopia, for example, is witnessing the hybridization of the Ethiopian Wolf (Canis simiensis) with domestic dogs (EPA/MEDC 1997). The Ethiopian Wolf is the most endangered canid in the world and, in addition to the problem of hybridization, is threatened by exposure to canine pathogens prevalent among domestic dogs (Laurenson, Sillero-Zubiri, Thomson, Shiferaw, Thirgood & Malcolm 1998, Vigne 1999). Conversely, wildliferelated diseases can be transmitted to domestic animals. A regional research effort covering Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda is underway to model wildlife, livestock and human interactions.

Click to enlarge

Ethiopian Wolf-a highly endangered species

Michel Gunther/Still Pictures

Loss of natural habitat and species could have a negative impact on tourism and on the foreign exchange earnings this generates. However, in the short run, tourism is more likely to be affected by issues such as bad publicity, lack of security and poor infrastructure. Such issues can lower the amount of income earned from the sub-region's substantial natural assets, meaning that less investment goes back into the areas supporting concentrations of biodiversity on which the tourism industry depends.

The lack of an adequate legal framework for protection has also contributed to the problem of biodiversity loss in Eastern Africa. For example, of the 38 wildlife conservation areas in Ethiopia, only two are 'gazetted', meaning they have legal protection (EPA/MEDC 1997). Human settlements are encroaching on protected areas such as national parks and forest reserves, as a result of weak law enforcement and low monitoring capacity resulting from inadequate funding. In some cases, critical ecosystems have been damaged beyond repair. For example, most parts of the Gambella National Park have been converted to irrigated agricultural land and another part has been settled by refugees from Sudan (EPA/MEDC 1997).

Although the countries of Eastern Africa are signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity and have ratified it, their individual efforts at meeting the provisions of the Convention are clearly inadequate, as is their strategic planning for protected area management. There are exceptions to this situation such as Uganda's Protected Area System Plan, described below. However, even where plans exist, their implementation is often hampered by lack of funds, and the high revenues from tourism-even though this is based on conservation-tend to be absorbed by other government activities rather than being invested in further conservation. Funding requirements for effective conservation include well-trained, well-remunerated and equipped staff, security equipment, monitoring and assessment equipment, and maintenance of infrastructure.

Threatened species in Eastern Africa include the African Wild Dog, Grevy's Zebra, Lion, Dugong, the Black Rhinoceros, the Imperial Eagle, the Greater Spotted Eagle, The African Green Broadbill, the Turkana Mud Turtle, the West African Dwarf Crocodile, and the Kyoga Flameback (IUCN 1997). Critically endangered species include the Ethiopian Wolf (Canis simiensis) and several primates: the Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) in the Virungas, the Tana River Red Colobus (Procolobus rufomitratus) and the Tana River Crested Mangabey (Cercocebus galeritus) in Kenya (Butynski 2001, Mbora & Weiczkowski 2001). In Uganda, the Northern White Rhino and the Black Rhino have been poached to extinction (NEIC 1994), and populations of large mammals were reported to have decreased from 141 300 in the 1960s to about 41 000 by 1995 (MUIENR 2000). This situation is summarized in Table 2b.5.

Table 2b.5 threatened species in Eastern Africa 2000
Country Mammals Birds Reptiles Amphibians Fishes Inverts Plants Total
 
Burundi 5 7 0 0 0 3 2 17
Djibouti 4 5 0 0 0 0 2 11
Eritrea 12 7 6 0 0 0 3 28
Ethiopia 34 16 1 0 0 4 22 77
Kenya 51 24 5 0 18 15 98 211
Rwanda 8 9 0 0 0 2 3 22
Somalia 19 10 2 0 3 1 17 52
Uganda 19 13 0 0 27 10 33 102
 
Source: IUCN 2000a a

Loss of biodiversity in Eastern Africa is being further exacerbated by changes in institutional mandates, and by political instability. In Uganda and Ethiopia, protracted civil wars destroyed a lot of infrastructure necessary for management of protected areas. For example, four Ethiopian national parks lost all their facilities including ranger camps and equipment. In Uganda, two parks are currently closed to both management operations and tourism.

Many non-native animal and plant species that have been introduced to Eastern Africa and have become invasive or problematic. These include Tonna ciliate, Cassia spectabilis and Cedrella mexicana, Broussonetia papyrifera, and various eucalyptus species. As already mentioned, introduction of the Nile perch into Lake Victoria is believed to have led to the disappearance of more than 200 endemic species of fish. Some of the ameliorative measures that have been suggested include the reduction of eutrophication in the Lake and the establishment of 'fish parks'. Water hyacinth, Eichornia crassipes, is another introduced species causing havoc on Lake Victoria. It forms dense mats on the surface of the Lake, creating a hazard to boats and impeding flow of water, reducing sunlight and nutrient availability to species below the surface, and when it dies, releasing compounds into the water that are toxic to other species. Water hyacinth infestations also threaten to block the turbines of the Owen Falls Hydroelectric Facility in Uganda, to interrupt shipping and commerce, and disrupt artisanal fisheries (Olal, Muchilwa & Woomer 2001). The Lake Victoria Environment Management Programme (LVEMP), a regional conservation management programme funded by the GEF, is contributing to development of income from profitable fisheries and to control of the water hyacinth through manual, chemical, and biological control methods.