Africa is a vast continent with plenty of space, yet the continent’s burgeoning human populations have been encroaching on wildlife-rich areas. Iconic animals like elephants and lions have been suffering the consequences, facing an increased risk of extinction.
Forest and savanna elephants have recently been classified as critically endangered and endangered, respectively, on the IUCN’s Red List. Meanwhile, African lions, too, are losing out to habitat loss and poaching.
At the same time, many people have been at the receiving end of run-ins with these animals as conflicts between locals and wild animals like elephants and lions are commonplace, scientists report.
Human pressure on elephants and lions is already very high across most of Africa and as a result conflicts are inevitable, an international team of scientists explains in a new study.
“We found that 82% of sites containing lions and elephants in Africa are adjacent to areas with considerable human pressure,” says Enrico Di Minin, an associate professor at the Helsinki Lab of Interdisciplinary Conservation Science at the University of Helsinki.
“Areas at severe risk of conflict (defined as areas with high densities of humans, crops, and cattle) comprise 9% of the perimeter of these species’ ranges and are found in 18 countries hosting, respectively, ~ 74% and 41% of African lion and elephant populations,” adds Di Minin, who was the study’s lead author.
Often people retaliate against lions that kill their livestock and elephants that feast on their crops by shooting or poisoning them. Elephants and lions, meanwhile, kill hundreds of people each year.
Most areas at especially high risk of animal-human conflicts are in East and West Africa, according to the researchers.
“We found that elephants and lions are now most abundant at localities where human population density is lowest,” explains Professor Rob Slotow from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.
“At a national scale, lion populations are higher in countries where funding for conservation is higher and elephant numbers are higher in countries with higher gross domestic product per capita,” Slotow adds.
One of the solutions to reducing animal-human conflicts lies in erecting high-quality mitigation fences around human settlements as these have been found to be effective in reducing human-wildlife conflicts.
On the downside, they are expensive and so beyond the means of most local farmers. However, investing in such fences with funds from foreign donors and local governments could help save the lives of locals and wild animals alike.
“Our results show how mitigation fences would provide considerable return on investment via reduced cattle loss and crop damage, especially in Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Kenya,” stresses Prof. Craig Packer from the University of Minnesota in the United States.
“Our analysis reveals the location of about 10,000km of protected-area boundaries immediately adjacent to landscapes with such high densities of people, farmland and cattle pastures that wildlife movements have already been largely blocked, Parker says.
“Mitigation fencing would merely reflect the reality of conserving large, dangerous, wildlife species in the Anthropocene. More and more African countries are starting to rely on mitigation fencing to better protect their citizens from the most dangerous wildlife species,” he adds.
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