Animals No Safer Inside Kenya's Parks Than Outside?

Nick Wadhams in Nairobi
for National Geographic News
September 2, 2009

Wildebeests, antelope, and other iconic African animals are declining just as quickly in Kenya's parks and reserves as in the country's unprotected lands.

That's the finding of a recent study that questions a central tenet of Kenya's wildlife conservation strategy.

Based on existing data, the team estimates that key animal populations have fallen by 40 percent over the past 30 years both inside and outside parkland.

The work seems to confirm what Kenyan environmentalists have suspected for years: Aside from a few success stories, such as elephant and zebra conservation programs, efforts to sustain wildlife numbers in Kenya seem to be failing due to poor monitoring and enforcement.

(Related: "Hordes of Zebras, Elephants Moved to Restock Kenya Park.")

The paper adds to growing evidence that many of Africa's protected parks are seeing wildlife declines as a result of poaching for trophies and bush meat, habitat destruction, and human encroachment.

In Kenya "we're seeing that the settlement of livestock and the settlement of people is beginning to degrade the rangelands," said David Western, one of the report's co-authors and chair of the African Conservation Center.

"I think we're at the beginning of another sort of downturn that is going to be quite serious."

Nowhere to Run

The study, published online by the journal PLoS ONE, looked at data on population counts for herd animals such as wildebeests and gazelles collected over the past 25 years by the Kenya Wildlife Service and other government branches.

According to the authors, the new work is one of few attempts to measure the overall conservation success of parks and reserves, which now account for 10 percent of the world's land surface.

Kenya, which has a population of around 40 million, has 49 parks and reserves covering 8 percent of its 224,081 square miles (580,367 square kilometers).

Continued on Next Page >>




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