Monday, February 22, 2010

Kenya losing wild animals at alarming rate

From cheetahs, lions (above) and leopards to stripped hyena’s and African wild dogs, the dwindling population of carnivorous animals has been blamed on climate change, loss of food, and increased human population. Photo/FILE

From cheetahs, lions (above) and leopards to stripped hyena’s and African wild dogs, the dwindling population of carnivorous animals has been blamed on climate change, loss of food, and increased human population. Photo/FILE 

By DAVE OPIYO and Agencies

The number of carnivorous animals in the country is on the decline and the government is worried.

From cheetahs, lions and leopards to stripped hyena’s and African wild dogs, their population has been dwindling at an alarming rate, a trend that is now being blamed on climate change, loss of food, and increased human population.

On Monday, Forestry and Wildlife minister Noah Wekesa said it was a matter of serious concern that needed urgent attention.

“The number of the large carnivores is on the decline throughout the world and Kenya’s is no exception,” said the minister in a statement.

Dr Wekesa asked communities not to kill lions and hyenas and pledged that KWS would do everything possible to protect them and their livestock.

“I know there are plans to build lion-proof bomas. Let us all strive to preserve this important heritage,” he concluded.

Statistics from the Kenya Wildlife Service, for instance, indicate that the population of lions in the country had declined from an estimated 2,749 in 2002 to about 2000 in 2008.

Receding numbers

But despite their receding numbers, the minister said the remaining animals were still a major source of problems especially to those living near national parks and reserves.

Attacks on livestock by large carnivores, he said, had increased and this consequently led to the killing of the wild animals.

“The just ended prolonged drought was the worst that had ever been felt in the area. The number of herbivores was reduced from as many as 7,000 to just 300,” he said while launching an ambitious strategy to conserve the carnivores.

Added the minister: “Already, the communities had lost over 80 per cent of their livestock to the drought. When the lions and hyenas turned to the remaining livestock, the communities were distressed and attacked them in return.”

Dr Wekesa continued: “The drought took a heavy toll on both wild animals and the habitats we care for. Besides, it also adversely affected the livestock of communities living adjacent to national parks and reserves. One of the consequences of the drought was increase in human wildlife conflict.”

The minister cited the ongoing translocation of 7,000 zebra and wildebeests at a cost of Sh103 million to restore the Amboseli ecosystem by the Kenya Wildlife Service as a show of government commitment to community welfare.

It is expected that the exercise will, in the long run, provide food to these animals, thus alleviating the human-wildlife conflict and ecological imbalance.

Dr Wekesa said the success of conservation efforts in the country largely depended on the goodwill of communities living adjacent to national parks and reserves.

“This means we have to protect the livelihoods of these communities and promote harmonious co-existence with wildlife,” the minister said.

The strategy is to provide a road map for the conservation of the animals.

It prescribes actions that need to be taken by various stakeholders and coordinated by the KWS to reverse the declining wildlife population.

Separately, the world’s 25 most endangered primates have been named in a new report.

Mankind’s closest living relatives — apes, monkeys, lemurs, and other primates — are on the brink of extinction and in need of urgent conservation measures, according to Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates, 2008-2010.

The report reveals that nearly half of all primate species are now in danger of becoming extinct from destruction of tropical forests, illegal wildlife trade, and commercial bush meat hunting.

The list includes five primate species from Madagascar, six from Africa, 11 from Asia, and three from Central and South America, all of which are the most in need of urgent conservation action.

Compiled by 85 experts from across the world, the report was launched at Bristol Zoo Gardens last week, with guests from national and international conservation and research organisations.

Conservationists want to highlight the plight of species such as the golden headed langur (trachypithecus p. poliocephalus), which is found only on the island of Cat Ba in the Gulf of Tonkin, north eastern Vietnam, where just 60 to 70 individuals remain.

Similarly, there are thought to be less than 100 individual northern sportive lemurs (lepilemur septentrionalis) left in Madagascar and just 110 eastern black crested gibbons (nomascus nasutus) in north eastern Vietnam.

The list has been drawn up by primatologists working in the field who have first-hand knowledge of the causes of threats to primates.

One of the editors of the report is Dr Christoph Schwitzer, head of research at the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation (BCSF), a sister organisation of Bristol Zoo Gardens.

Alarming reading

Dr Schwitzer, who is also an adviser on Madagascan primates for the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group, contributed the chapter on the Endangered Sclater’s lemur (also called the blue-eyed black lemur).

Dr Schwitzer said: “This report makes for very alarming reading and it underlines the extent of the danger facing many of the world’s primates. We hope it will be effective in drawing attention to the plight of each of the 25 species included. Support and action to help save these species is vital if we are to avoid losing these wonderful animals forever.”

Almost half (48 per cent) of the world’s 634 primate species are classified as threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The main threats are habitat destruction, particularly from the burning and clearing of tropical forests (which results in the release of around 16 per cent of the global greenhouse gases causing climate change), the hunting of primates for food, and the illegal wildlife trade.

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