This commentary is purely based on what we saw and learned during our months traveling and visiting with people in Malawi, Kenya and Tanzania.
Wildlife conservation as a concept has morphed from preserving fauna and flora in natural ecosystems to a biodiversity notion. Phrases like, “sustainable use” and “wildlife management” have made a commodity out of what we once revered as sacred. There was a time when animals, birds and nature were reverenced, respected and deemed as rightful inhabitants of planet earth. Today, the “if it doesn’t pay it doesn’t stay” mentality has become the norm.
Trophy hunters, wildlife farmers and even some conservationists buy into the concept now that wildlife must pay for the right to survive. Wildlife must sacrifice some of its own so that others may live.
The biodiversity notion is the most current concept touted to be the way to save Africa’s dwindle wildlife populations. Biodiversity in its true sense is defined as, “the variety of plant and animal life in the world or in a particular habitat, a high level of which is usually considered to be important and desirable.”
However, in today’s world what biodiversity really means is ‘multiple use’. It means that humans can infiltrate wild places. It means that humans can use what before was set aside for wildlife. It means they can use wildlife itself. The praised biodiversity notion seems very lopsided, skewed in the favor of humans. Wildlife appears to have gained nothing by the biodiversity notion. Nothing at all! The biodiversity notion seems to be the epitome of human wildlife conflict.
During our travels in Africa, in particular in Malawi, Kenya and Tanzania we’ve seen nature, wildlife, namely the natural ecosystems losing ground.
The charcoal industry is an old threat getting more intense. Across Northern Mozambique and all the way through Malawi we saw huge deforestation. Trees being clear cut not by large companies with bulldozers, but by individuals. Individuals cutting trees to make charcoal. Bags of charcoal lined up along the highway. [Read more here.]
In Tanzania home of the famous Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, and its neighbor Kenya, face a much larger ever increasing devastating threat …the traditional pastoralists. The Maasai tribe are very traditional and proud of it. They continue to wear their bright red blankets and carry their herding stick. They continue to own as many cows, goats and sheep as they can. Their livestock is herded out to graze everywhere and anywhere. Along the highway, in the towns, in the reserves.
Once upon a time this was probably sustainable. However, with the population ever growing the land literally can no longer sustain so many grazing animals. For miles around Arusha, Tanzania the once fertile land has been transformed to a moonscape. The grass is gone, the trees are gone. All that remains is barren soil being washed away during the rainy season and blown away by towering dust devils when its windy.
North of Nairobi, while we were there, two private areas reserved for wildlife and tourism where invaded. Invaded by warriors and over 130,000 head of cattle. Security personnel, staff and tourists were threatened and wildlife killed. The pastoralists wanted the lush land and water for their livestock. Because of overgrazing, deforestation and drought their lands were barren.
Outside of Tarangire National Park in Tanzania we saw dead cows along the roadside. We saw cows lying down for the last time. We saw a herder pushing his emancipated cow up a small hill. She was on her knees, too hungry and weak to move. We saw herders keeping their animals on the move in search of grass, or maybe to keep them from lying down never to get back up. It was heartbreaking. It was infuriating.
Then in Amboseli National Park with its fabulous view of Mount Kilimanjaro we saw it again. Here in the park, the reserve at one time set aside for wildlife, livestock was herded in. We watched a giraffe look then turn about. We watch a herd of zebra and wildebeest gallop off as the cattle came in to drink.
If the land cannot sustain the livestock why is it okay in the name of biodiversity to allow them into the reserves? Where will it end? How in the world will this solve the problem? As the populations of humans and livestock grow the reserves will continue to shrink.
At one time there were buffer zones between human communities and wildlife. These appear to be gone in many places.
What are the solutions? It seems like traditions simply have to adjust. If they don’t in the near future there will be no wildlife, no livestock and no people.