- The tourism industry accounted for about seven per cent of Africa’s GDP in 2019 and contributed $169 billion to its economy, employing more than 24 million people
- Over 8,400 species of wild flora and fauna are critically endangered, while close to 30,000 more are deemed vulnerable. Over a million species are threatened with extinction.
- Illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth more than $23billion annually, fueled by institutional decay in law enforcement that consequently pushes many endangered species closer to the brink of extinction.
Africa hailed as the cradle of mankind and wildlife is endowed with spectacular flora and fauna and home to the world’s seventh wonder, making it undisputedly a top-rated tourist destination. The continent is a hub of wildlife economies that have significantly morphed over the past two decades; pertinently propelled by the ‘Big Five’ wildlife economy activities that include: ecotourism, wildlife ranching, hunting and fishing, carbon market and non-timber forest products; which take place in protected areas and conservatories. These make for integral contributors to GDP employment creation and are a major foreign exchange earner to many African nations.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the industry accounted for about seven percent of Africa’s GDP in 2019 and contributed $169 billion to its economy, which typically translates to about the size of Côte d’Ivoire’s and Kenya’s combined GDP; employing more than 24 million people. The continent is home to a spectrum of wildlife-related tourism products, which undoubtedly bolsters the selling proposition for African tourism. According to WTTC, in 2019, domestic tourism accounted for 55% of travel and tourism spending in Africa.
Read: 2021 World Environment Day: Africa Well-Poised for Ecosystem restoration.
The recent passage of the 2022 UN World Wildlife Day, whose theme was ‘Recovering key species for ecosystem restoration; raised awareness to the state of endangered and critically endangered wildlife, thereby highlighting the power conservation efforts wield in seeking to reverse their fate.
According to statistics from the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) red list of threatened species, over 8,400 species of wild flora and fauna are critically endangered, while close to 30,000 more are deemed vulnerable. Based on the estimates, it’s suggested that over a million species are threatened with extinction.
The world is in the midst of a massive extinction phenomenon, marked by the disappearance of species over a short geological time scale, as witnessed 65 million years ago at the close of the cretaceous period when dinosaurs went extinct, should the status quo lack proper and urgent redress. The primary factors that have led to the tragic decline of wildlife in the continent include poaching, loss of habitat and adverse effects of climate change.
According to the Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), Ivonne Higuero, “Biodiversity loss is an existential threat to people and the planet. The continued loss of wildlife species threatens to undermine entire ecosystems and puts in peril the well-being of all who rely on them. However, this is not inevitable; we have the power to change course and restore threatened species and their habitat. Wildlife day helps us chart a path towards a sustainable future, with the goal of living in harmony with nature.” she noted at a summit in Geneva in 2021.
The continued loss of species and degradation of habitats and ecosystems is a threat to humanity as a whole, as dependents on wildlife and biodiversity-based resources to meet needs, such as medicine, food, housing, clothing and fuel. The day also annually serves to support ongoing efforts towards the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as biodiversity and healthy ecosystems are a foundation for sustainable development.
The tight grip of the Covid-19 pandemic affected conservation program funding in most African countries, further dealing a hefty blow on the tourism sector with travel restrictions and lockdowns. However, the sector is recovering steadily, with the number of tourists visiting the continent growing by the day. Simultaneously, domestic tourism is also regaining momentum.
The extent of the Illegal Wildlife Trade in Africa
Illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth more than $23billion annually, fueled by institutional decay in law enforcement that consequently pushes many endangered species closer to the brink of extinction. The demand for traditional Chinese medicine in numerous African countries is threatening the future of some endangered species whose body parts are used as ingredients.
African elephants have been hunted for their ivory, rhinos for their singular horns and pangolins for their protective brittle scales. Rhino horns are said to possess potent medicinal properties and are ground to be used for supposed curative effects in Asia.
Zimbabwe renowned as home to the world’s fourth-largest black rhino population, now only has 1000 of them due to rampant poaching that has spanned over three decades. In South Africa, 394 rhinos were killed in 2020, and the number had risen by 249 in the first half of 2021. By the same token, Botswana has recorded the death of 100 rhinos since 2019.
According to IUCN, the population of forest elephants in Central Africa has been decimated by over 86 percent over thirty-one years, despite the region being home to most forest elephants on earth due to poaching and habitat loss. However, they find a safe habitat in the verdant forest of Gabon, in the Congo River Basin. Deforestation has led to the destruction of entire ecosystems, coupled with the illegal harvesting of sensitive indigenous trees.
Most endangered species live in protected areas; for instance, in Gabon, marine and terrestrial protected areas represent 25.1% of the national area. The country has been making strides in the protection of both its biodiversity and its ecosystems thereof. It became the first country to be rewarded over $17M by the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and degradation and absorb carbon dioxide by natural forests.
Kenya has a vast network of protected and conserved areas, including 23 national parks, 31 national reserves, four sanctuaries, and national marine reserves. The country is additionally home to some of the most endangered species of global significance, such as the hirola and the gravy Zebra. In Ghana, there are 255 threatened species, 133 of them critically endangered, according to the 2020 IUCN red list.
Unreported and unregulated fishing is further exacerbating the issue; for instance, in South Africa, the local penguin numbers have been dwindling, in part due to overfishing which has been depleting their food sources. According to research, conflicts and civil wars have contributed largely to species’ devastation, especially in Central Africa.
By the same token, in South Africa, captive breeding of tigers for commercial trade of their parts, for use in luxury goods as well as traditional medicine, have perpetuated illegal wildlife trade in the country. Moreover, this has contributed to the decimation of the big cat populations, a direct violation against the measures set by CITES, that tigers should not be bred for trade in their parts and derivatives.
Curbing wildlife crime and preventing biodiversity loss requires collaborative efforts. Conservation interventions have saved wildlife from complete annihilation, enabling wildlife tourism to thrive. Education is required to fill the gaping knowledge gap, such as through campaigns, to increase awareness of the detrimental effects of the wildlife trade. Constant monitoring populations of endangered species is critical, as it allows conservationists to keep track of the species and allocate appropriate target actions.
Effective and protective legislation regulations need to be formulated against private breeding and commercial trade of wildlife such as witnessed in South Africa with tigers. African governments need to strengthen the human and financial capacity of protected and conserved areas management to protect wildlife. In addition, they need to create an enabling environment for private sector partnerships and foreign direct investment to further grow their wildlife economies.
Restoring African Ecosystems for the Survival of Endangered Species
Healthy, thriving ecosystems are fundamental to human and animal existence.2021 marked the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration launch to halt the degradation of ecosystems and encourage their revival. One such project is the restoration of the Ouémé Mab-UNESCO Reserve around Nokoué Lake, which is classified as a key biodiversity area for the West African manatee and dwarf crocodile population also a refuge for migratory birds. Through participatory reforestation, 15 million mangrove trees are projected to be planted by 2030 to restore the ecosystem and the well–being of the local communities that are heavily dependent on fishing.
Africa Wood Grow is another organization working closely with local farmers in Kenya to restore degraded lands, prevent erosion and protect top soils through community-based agroforestry transition. The Maasai Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, renowned as the world’s top safari big game viewing ecosystem, is home to the seventh wonder of the natural world and is one of the oldest last wildlife refuges on earth; home to an incredible diversity of plants and animals, not found anywhere else on the planet.
According to the Basecamp Foundation, sustainability of the ecosystem requires wildlife research and management through training and competency coupled with community awareness. To reverse the course of wildlife decline includes numerous measures such as reforestation, managing pollution on land, air and water, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avert the deleterious effects of climate change on the diverse ecosystems on the continent.
UNEP’s report titled’ Making Peace with Nature’ released in 2021; is a scientific blueprint to tackle climate change, biodiversity and pollution crises altogether, transforming humanity’s relationship with nature. The report draws upon global assessments, including those from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and UNEP International Resource Panel.
The report offers a roadmap to a sustainable world, with practical recommendations on how to tackle the three planetary emergencies: climate change, loss of biodiversity and pollution. Furthermore, it presents a rebuilding program to protect and restore the planet and its climate holistically, thereby preventing and saving species on the brink of extinction.