Restoring harmony: Achieving ecological balance in Sub-Saharan Africa’s human-wildlife ecosystems

Evidently, wildlife numbers continue to decrease globally. A 2021 World Wildlife Foundation report[2] however states that globally, conflict-related killing affects more than 75% of the world’s wild cat species, as well as large herbivores such as elephants. The management of the wetlands and protection areas across many national wildlife protection agencies fails to acknowledge both parties to be active participants in the conflicts with both sides experiencing casualties and damages.

 As of November 2019, the Kenyan Great Rift Valley experienced rains that consequentially cause Lake Naivasha to swell,[3] causing hippos to invade the shallow waters fishermen would use to earn their subsistence. With the economic crisis brought about by COVID-19, jobs lost in the flower export business surrounding the lake were replaced by fishing. Every year, it is estimated that hippos kill about 500 people, making them the world’s deadliest mammal after humans.

The flooding of the hippos grazing lands pushes the lake’s waters (as it is without an outlet) towards farms and homes around it. The dry land the hippos graze upon had been illegally encroached prior to the heavy rains. In 2020, the lakeside town of Kihoto drowned, being a riparian settlement. [4] This leads to dangerous encounters between the two species, most of which humans rarely leave unharmed as about 29 to 87 percent of hippo attacks are fatal.[5] With rampant illegal fishing evident by the number of unregistered boats,[6] the Kenya Wildlife Service has been unable to put a stop to this. In this doing, the situation becomes difficult to mitigate as both the human and wildlife communities have a strong dependence on the lake for survival.

The people of Burundi have had a more varied experience with their wildlife, specifically crocodiles. With the country boasting freshwater bodies, its rivers and lakes are habitats to some of the world’s largest crocodiles. Perhaps the most infamous of the Nile crocodiles, is Gustave, an unusually large man-eating reptile who’s rumored to have killed three hundred people has been chronicled by Patrice Faye[7]. More commonly, the crocodiles lay prey to the humans, as crocodiles are killed and eaten. Over-poaching has led to crocodile numbers to drastically decrease along River Ruzizi and Lake Tanganyika’s shores.

Burundi’s food security levels are disturbingly low, with 52 percent of children under five years experiencing malnutrition[8], thus the country’s inhabitants may turn to sources of food that may otherwise, be seen as inappropriate. However, land to build a conservancy is difficult to come across, as Burundi is one of the most densely populated[9] countries on the globe. This severely limits the efforts of wildlife conservationists such as Albert Ngendera, a Burundian citizen who saves crocodiles from hunters.[10]

North-western Namibia is home to an important population of elephants that have moved further inland past dry riverbeds in search for food and water. Motivated by the lack of adequate rainfall[11] over the last seven years, the elephants have moved closer to human settlements with the availability of water. This occurrence is in spite of the local communities in the Kunene region being neither acclimatized nor capable of maintaining a peaceful relationship with the desert elephants. Poachers and trophy hunters continue to lay siege to one of the nation’s most iconic wildlife, with the existence of only two communities of desert elephants in the world. This, the aforementioned and several other cases throughout Sub-Saharan Africa pose a complex but quintessential question: How to ensure the safeguarding of both human and wildlife ecosystems while ensuring peaceful coexistence?

Relevant recommendations

The answer to this lies between the collective effort of the lawmakers and the general public.

Firstly, by amendment and implementation of revised and improved legislation such as Kenya’s Wildlife Conservation and Management Act[12] to effectively enhance use and management of wildlife resources. In some cases, the development of specific statutes may be implemented to support the occupants of an area affected by problem species as demonstrated in Mozambique.[13]

Second, mass education to the local communities affected by wildlife invasions on specific action. These methods may be useful to a specific problem species e.g planting a barrier of chilli crops to repel elephants.[14] National wildlife services may also study wildlife movement patterns and employ use of tracking collars. Therefore, incidents of contact between man and animal may be managed.

Finally, through development of animal control units that are stationed close to the community that may be able to respond promptly to any occurrence related to wildlife within their vicinity. The public may also be sensitized of the value of wildlife to the community. The Maasai tribe in Tanzania have been an aide to the tracking of endangered lions in the Serengeti National park. This is in contrast to their famed ritual of  ‘Ala-mayo’ where the young men hunt lions to gain admittance to the warrior class named Moran. Through proper channels of education, they understand the necessity to keep alive the big cat to which their history is indelibly tied to. As Steve Erwin says: ‘wildlife must be taught so that people may be touched. Humans want to save things they love.’

Though difficult, it has been proved that both worlds may co-exist peacefully and bountifully, but measures must be taken to ensure that the goal is achieved in our efforts to maintain the human wildlife co-existence. The path to a harmonious coexistence can only be illuminated with the shining reward of a future with no victims or fatalities caused by human – wildlife conflict.

The author is a third year law student at the University of Nairobi. His research interests include Legal Research, Constitutional and Company Law.

[1] Margaret Kinnaird, Global Wildlife Practice Leader at WWF International.














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