QUO VADIS WILDERNESS AS POPULATION HITS 7 BILLION
The annual World Habitat Day this year is celebrated at a time when the global population is expected to cross the threshold of 7 billion inhabitants, all in need of shelter, clothing, food and water, education and jobs, and of course ever more land to live and grow food on. Population growth, particularly intense in Africa, is bringing to the forefront the challenges the next generations have to master and to untie the Gordian Knot, which presently threatens wildlife conservation and the future foundation of wildlife based tourism people versus the original flora and fauna, outcries by people for food versus the survival of the big herds.
In East Africa conservationists are wondering just how long they can stem the tide, with crucial migration routes, imprinted on the animals for eons, being fenced off for farming, built over and blocked by industrial developments, highways, roads and residential estates. In the news of late were such issues focusing on the potentially devastating hemming in of the Nairobi National Park, the Amboseli National Parks in and out migration routes but also further north where the ancient elephant routes to and from Mt. Kenya, the Aberdare mountains, the Laikipia plains, and via the Lewa Down conservancy all the way to the Matthews range and to Marsabit are being increasingly fragmented and parceled off.
In Uganda is the previous game corridor between the Pian Upe Game Reserve all the way to Kidepo Valley National Park and further into the now independent South Sudan being broken up and under growing threat of further alternate land use, condemning wildlife to mere pockets of still protected land but very likely amongst the first to be hived off in a part of the country rich in minerals. And in Tanzania an entire series of previous articles published here about the Corridor of Destruction have explained all of the threats that countrys protected areas are experiencing as development and progress carve out ever more land for the purpose of industrial and infrastructural projects, previously set aside for conservation and to preserve the unique wilderness tourists come to expect when visiting on a safari holiday. [This article is
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Some more pessimistic conservationists say the days of the big game safari, as we grew up to know it, are numbered, and be it a decade or two or three, the open wilderness parks will have to be fenced off, game numbers strictly controlled to avoid overgrazing and fatal land degradation, and during drought periods the game may need to be watered and fed as they can no longer migrate out of their enclosed reservations in search of pasture. Some of Kenyas parks are already fenced, partly or fully and across the region are voices getting louder to claim for compensation for loss of crops and property when the animals go and eat in parts of the country which up to yesterday was theirs, before population pressure forced people to move on to land previously thought unfit for farming due to poor soils.
The more optimistic conservationists amongst us, and I often feel they, or at least some of them deliberately project confidence to maintain their rich funding sources, claim that co-existence of wildlife and humankind are assured long term, but few would go into specifics of how this scenario will in the future compare with the wide open spaces of yesteryear, or of what is left of those good old days today.
What they all agree on, in private at least, is that their challenges are getting more and taller and that the projections for population growth in coming years and decades will radically alter the concept of conservation. Todays approaches, tested as they might be, will undergo fundamental change and many parks will be fenced and ringed by trenches to keep the animals inside, while farm and ranching land will come right to the doorsteps of such protected areas. Private conservancies are likely to thrive, following the examples set by such pioneers like Ol Pejeta ( www.olpejetaconservancy.org) which has succeeded to have ranched cattle and wildlife co-exist, generating greater returns and therefore being financially more viable than a strict either or operation and making this type of conservation more attractive to investors.
The lack of migration, for both public national parks and private conservancies and reserves, may in the future have to be dealt with by more extensive trucking of animals to ensure the injection of fresh DNA, as for all practical purposes migration, at least outside the Serengeti Masai Mara axis, will become a thing of the past. Why, because humans claim ever more land, much of it former wilderness and wildlife corridors but claimed nevertheless, and no politician will be able to survive the next election when humans cast their votes while wildlife does not if he or she does not reflect the wishes and demands of their constituents, human constituents of voting age in particular.
Mitigation at best if not mere rearguard action seems to be the one remaining answer to all such unsavory developments, unsavory for the conservation fraternity at least, which when push comes to shove, legislation and regulations notwithstanding, will not be able to stem the tide of a population explosion. The worlds population, from this months new record 7 billion will continue to rise to 8, then 9, then 10 and beyond, relentlessly it seems with the trend going faster rather than slowing down, and while conservationists talk about carrying capacity of protected areas, no one dares to talk of the carrying capacity of our planet, at least not our politicians with eyes on the next election cycle, or at least not in public though behind closed doors this topic is gathering momentum and gaining importance as we cross the 7 billion threshold.
One thing is for certain though, that if mankind cannot protect our earths biodiversity in free and open nature, not in zoos or biolabs, then it will eventually not be able to protect itself either. And when that doomsday comes, my remains will probably turn in the grave, if that has not been dug up and built over too by that time, making that turning all but impossible.