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This conservation method is recovering Africa's wildlife

January 13, 2022
topics: Conservation
by: Cyril Zenda
located in: Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa
tags: Africa, mass extinction, rhino, translocation, wildlife

In late November, Rwanda received 30 white rhinos from South Africa as part of the Great Lakes nation's move to reintroduce the highly endangered giants that were hunted to extinction into its territory. Rwanda is among many African nations that have benefited from wildlife translocations, a conservation method that is also mitigating human-wildlife conflicts.

Some three decades of war left Mozambique’s forests almost wiped clean of wildlife, as all armed conflicts open African countries to wanton plunder. In Mozambique, forces on both sides of the conflict took advantage of the war to kill elephants, rhinos, lions and other prized game to feed international wildlife trafficking syndicates for both personal gain as well as to finance the war efforts.

Poachers also took advantage of the conflicts to plunder the country’s wildlife resources. Now that peace and stability have been restored to the vast southern African nation, its eight game parks are once again teeming with the same wildlife species that had become extinct thanks to concerted efforts that are under way to restock the reserves through translocations from neighbouring countries.

Re-wilding Africa Initiative

Thousands of animals from about a dozen species have been re-introduced in Mozambican parks - mainly from South Africa and Zimbabwe, where they are found in abundance - through the initiatives of organisations such as Peace Parks Foundation, a non-profit wildlife conservation project which, for the past two decades, has been involved in re-wilding Africa

According to the Foundation, re-wilding Africa is one of its most ambitious projects. 

"The re-wilding process moves wildlife from areas of overpopulation, to areas of decimation," the Foundation says. "By reintroducing wildlife to ecosystems where the species once thrived, biodiversity is once again restored, whilst the potential for securing the future of the protected areas through nature-based tourism is increased exponentially.

"At the same time, the process relieves pressures of overpopulation at the capture location, thereby halting what could evolve into devastating habitat degradation."

Lise-Marie Greeff-Villet, Peace Parks' communications manager, told FairPlanet in an e-mail that over the past two decades since its formation in 1997, Peace Parks has translocated thousands of animals within southern Africa - both within and across borders.

"Maputo Special Reserve (recently proclaimed as Maputo National Park), is an example of a re-wilding success story," Greeff-Villet explained. "Since 2010, a re-wilding programme has translocated almost 5,000 animals into Maputo Special Reserve, reintroduced 11 species that had become locally extinct, and most recently returned apex predators, with the release of cheetah, back into the park.

"Total wildlife numbers have now grown to an estimated 16,000 animals, signifying the success of intensified ecological management and protection of wildlife and their varied habitats - coastal lakes, wetlands, swamp forests, grasslands and mangrove forests - combined within the park."

African Parks Initiative

Also undertaking wildlife translocations is African Parks, another conservation non-governmental organisation that takes on the complete responsibility for the rehabilitation and long-term management of national parks in partnership with governments and local communities. 

“We currently manage 19 national parks and protected areas in 11 countries covering over 14.7 million hectares in: Angola, Benin, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Zambia and Zimbabwe,” states the organisation, which hopes to be managing 30 parks by the year 2030.

African Parks was founded in the year 2000, in response to the dramatic decline of protected areas due to poor management and lack of funding. 

Through translocation, thousands of animals have been moved from one area to another within and across many African countries, including the 2016-17 translocation of a record 520 elephants within Malawi from Liwonde National Park and the Majete Wildlife Reserve to the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve.

Complex With Variable Results

Experts say that conversion, fragmentation and loss of natural habitats are among the main causes of species’ declining populations worldwide. Protected areas are therefore crucial for biodiversity as they provide refuge and ensure key ecological processes.

Wildlife translocations, defined as "the deliberate movement of organisms from one site for release in another," have been used in conjunction as a conservation tool for a number of decades, as wild populations become increasingly fragmented and endangered. Not only are translocations used to bolster the viability of imperilled species, but they are also recommended for improving population resilience and adapting species’ ranges in response to climate change.

But despite translocation being a recognised conservation tool, it remains complex and yields varying results due to the different factors that can impact its chances of success.

Reversing Decades Of Destructive Human Impact

It appears that even countries that have not been at war have not fared any better in terms of wildlife protection, with Zambia and Malawi being examples of nations where poaching left parks depleted of wildlife until robust conservation initiatives were introduced.

Greeff-Villet said that re-wilding is a vital component of restoring biodiversity and ecological balance in conservation spaces that they operate in.

"Most of the parks and reserves where we have an operational footprint were at some point over the last 50 or more years left almost or completely devoid of wildlife due to many decades of destructive human impact," she said. "By reintroducing wildlife to ecosystems where the species once thrived, biodiversity is once again restored, whilst the potential for securing the future of the protected areas through nature-based tourism is increased exponentially."

"At the same time," she added, "the process relieves pressures of overpopulation at the capture location, thereby halting what could evolve into devastating habitat degradation. Re-wilding is of course only one part of a complex process to rebuild protected areas."

Translocation - A Costly Exercise

Wildlife translocations are expensive operations that take many years of painstaking planning, especially to ensure that the chosen destination is sufficiently safe for the animals. 

"A lot of work goes into providing the necessary human resources and skills, putting in place infrastructure, technology and connectivity, securing the area through enhancement of counter-poaching strategies and capacity, and only then can wildlife safely be brought in," Peace Park’s Greeff-Villet said, although she would not state the cost of each translocation operation, as this is determined by a plethora of varying factors. 

It is because of these high costs involved in wildlife translocations that most African governments, the majority of which suffer from perennial budgetary constraints, have relied on conservation partners to effect these translocations.

"As you can see, re-wilding, if done with care, holds numerous benefits to humans, wildlife and environmental health overall," Greeff-Villet added.

Image by redcharlie

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
Author
Mozambique Rwanda South Africa
Thirty endangered white rhinos arrived in Rwanda on 29 November, 2021 after a long journey from South Africa in a Boeing 747.
© SIMON WOHLFAHRT/AFP via Getty Images
Through translocation, thousands of animals have been moved from one area to another within and across many African countries.
© SIMON MAINA/AFP via Getty Images
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