The significant role of protected areas in East Africa

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A study, conducted by researchers based in the United States, has shown that since 2001, the protected areas of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda have been well maintained and are developing in some regions.

Protected areas, areas in which human activities are strictly controlled, to allow species threatened to thrive, are a boon to local communities, as they generate income from tourism and conservation of ecologically important species.

But as the number of people in the human population grows, agriculture and livestock are beginning to intrude on protected land, according to experts.

Only Burundi lost about 16% of the protected areas for the benefit of crops, whereas in all other countries this figure was very low.

"East Africa has done a remarkable job in creating and maintaining a globally important network of protected areas," said Jason Riggio, senior author and conservation specialist in the Department of wildlife, fish and conservation biology, University of California, Davis. The expert added that the region exceeded the minimum 10 per cent target set by the United Nations Convention on biological diversity.

Researchers analyzed satellite data covering more than 200 protected areas in East Africa.

They also verified the range and prevalence of local species and their evolution since 2001.

According to the study, published at the beginning of the month (4 March 2019) in the journal global ecology and conservation, the protected areas cover nearly 30% of the land area of East Africa.

Tanzania has the largest proportion of protected areas.

"It is encouraging to note that only about 7% of the protected areas in East Africa have been converted to agricultural land or used for other human use since their classification in the protected area," adds the study.

But Jason Riggio told SciDev.Net that the study did not account for damage resulting from human activities such as poaching, breeding and illegal slaughter.

Joseph Ogutu, statistician at the Institute of plant science at the University of Hohenheim, Germany, said that protected areas are relevant to biodiversity.

"Without protection, wildlife is subject to strong competition with livestock for space, forage and water," he said. "Some species may become more abundant in cultivated areas. But these are generally generalist species [like] small mammals or birds. »

Joseph Ogutu States that the number of sheep and goats that passed through Kenya increased by 76% between 1977 and 2016.

"East Africa has done a remarkable job in creating and maintaining a globally important network of protected areas," said Jason Riggio, University of California, Davis

The study also highlighted the fact that protected areas seldom cover a wide range of species that they seek to protect.

It revealed that only a quarter of the endemic species in East Africa had at least half of their range-the territory on which they exist.

 Nearly 40% of the species are protected only in less than 10% of their distribution areas.

But Jason Riggio States that the only range does not necessarily determine the well-being and survival of a species.

"There is no uniform rule regarding the degree of coverage required by protected areas to ensure their persistence," says Jason Riggio.

"Some species survive fairly well in the face of human impacts, while others need vast expanses of unaltered natural habitat to survive. »

Joseph Ogutu is of this opinion and asserts that rather than closing small plots of land, local communities should be involved in the protection and conservation of species.

In Kenya, efforts are underway to consolidate parcels of land and pay rent to private and communal landowners to help them conserve species in the country.

"Local communities also derive other benefits from conservation jobs, including jobs such as Hotel Manager and conservation Rangers," said Joseph Ogutu at SciDev.Net. "The main challenge is to generate sufficient income to be able to pay the rents of these lands," he concludes.

Moctar FICOU/VivAfrik

With SciDev.Net         

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