ResearchBlogging.org It has become virtually axiomatic that as climate shifts or other potential insults to the ecology of a given area occur, plants and animals enclosed in parks bounded by “impermeable” landscapes are at great risk. Instead of the extreme ranges of a plant or animal moving north or south, or across a gradient of rainfall, or up or down in elevation, organisms that are protected in parks are also stuck in the parks and risk local extinction when change happens or disease becomes endemic, or poaching uncontrolled or fire more common or …. well, we can go on and on.

In a new study on “The Status of Wildlife in Protected Areas Compared to Non-Protected Areas of Kenya,”, the famous Kenyan wildlife ecologist David Western has demonstrated the severity of this problem in that East African nation.

From the abstract:

We compile over 270 wildlife counts of Kenya’s wildlife populations conducted over the last 30 years to compare trends in national parks and reserves with adjacent ecosystems and country-wide trends. The study shows the importance of discriminating human-induced changes from natural population oscillations related to rainfall and ecological factors. National park and reserve populations have declined sharply over the last 30 years, at a rate similar to non-protected areas and country-wide trends. The protected area losses reflect in part their poor coverage of seasonal ungulate migrations. The losses vary among parks. The largest parks, Tsavo East, Tsavo West and Meru, account for a disproportionate share of the losses due to habitat change and the difficulty of protecting large remote parks. The losses in Kenya’s parks add to growing evidence for wildlife declines inside as well as outside African parks. The losses point to the need to quantify the performance of conservation policies and promote integrated landscape practices that combine parks with private and community-based measures.

And from a press release:

For the past half-century or more, conservation goals have focused on saving endangered species and establishing national parks, which now cover 10% of the earth’s land surface. But do parks really protect wildlife, and more importantly, biodiversity? Survey results from Kenyan scientists who looked at 30 years of wildlife data published on July 8th in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE show that though vital, Kenya’s parks are insufficient to protect species.

“The decline in Kenya’s park populations is not surprising, given the inherent shortcomings in their design. Only a modest portion of the annual migratory range of large herbivores is included in Kenya’s parks,” said senior author Dr. David Western in a paper titled The Status of Wildlife in Protected Areas Compared to Non-Protected Areas of Kenya, co-authored with Samantha Russell and Innes Cuthill.

“We need a radical review of conservation policies in East Africa in order to sustain biological diversity, ecosystem function, and ecological services,” said Western, who was raised in Tanzania and has been studying wildlife and people in Kenya for 40 years. “To do that we must monitor wildlife in and outside parks. We must also foster local conservation efforts and encourage ‘parks beyond parks’ to protect vital landscapes
outside national parks.

“Quantification of species trends and the factors governing population and ecosystem viability are vital to forecasting, planning and managing wildlife populations, and in auditing the success of alternatives conservation policies and practices.”

Western, D., Russell, S., & Cuthill, I. (2009). The Status of Wildlife in Protected Areas Compared to Non-Protected Areas of Kenya PLoS ONE, 4 (7) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006140