National Parks Failing African Wildlife

Tim Caro from UC Davis and Paul Scholte from Leiden University wrote a "policy piece" , a sort of editorial in the September issue of the African Journal of Ecology, bringing up some surprising trends regarding the decline of antelope populations within national parks. We hear enough about poaching outside of the parks certainly, but this is news to me. Conservation efforts may need some tweaking.

Of late, antelope have been doggedly tracked - by air, through scat sampling, etc. - due to insufficient data in the past and their reduced numbers are revealing three anthropogenic, "proximate" reasons for their decline.

These factors are often combined with fluctuating rainfall in certain regions, a cocktail of sorts specific to each area.

This latest data released may only be the "tip of the iceberg," unfortunately, a bit of cliché they expand in their final words:

The old idea of setting aside large tracts of land in remote areas far from human populations is still a viable option in some parts of the continent... But it is a conservation approach increasingly outmoded by land-use change, demographics and policy reform. And, yes, beefed up infrastructure, increased patrols, vehicles, and incentives for park guards, in tandem with community outreach programs, will go some way to stop poaching; whereas internal and external opposition to land greedy development schemes may halt encroachment. What the new data show, however, is even relatively well-organized protected areas cannot be relied on as long-lasting conservation tools, at least for antelopes and their predators. In the final analysis, we may have to get used to faunal relaxation in Africa's network of famous reserves leaving a continent containing isolated pockets of large mammal diversity living at low population sizes. Just like Europe.

Just like Europe. In a sense, it would be a hard blow for preservation/conservation and the popular industries surrounding it. It bothers me to think that we might be getting to the point where the entire world becomes our zoo, where we strain to keep tame, tolerable, manageable populations alive so that we can maintain some semblance of an Earth that was. It has more or less happened in the US and Europe (with a few exceptions), and many of our "enlightened" citizens still fight the reestablishment of historic populations, especially predators.

I assume this has much to do with Africa's political and social instability relative to places like Europe and the US and the fact that our large vertebrates were either kicked off the island or deemed worthy of preservation long ago due to human expansion. Still, it would be interesting to see if this is a trend in other places in the world where large populations of vertebrates are exposed to a similar cocktail of pressures.

Blackwell Synergy actually has the full text available online for free (shock and awe), and there are myriad news pieces around. Just Google Tim Caro and Paul Scholte.

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