As human populations soar across the African continent, critical wildlife habitats are increasingly under threat. Deforestation, unsustainable agricultural practices, and human-wildlife conflict are leading to rapid declines in many large mammal populations. A recent report by the United Nations Children's Fund estimates that Africa’s population will more than triple by the year 2100, and by 2050 the continent will be home to almost 1 billion children under 18 years of age. If the negative social and economic effects of this rapid growth are not mitigated through sustainable strategies, many of the world’s most unique species will be at grave risk of extinction.
While the fight to conserve Africa’s wildlife and ecosystems presents many challenges, ongoing efforts in the region are proving that people and wildlife can thrive living side by side. In honor of World Wildlife Day, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) is highlighting two Commitments to Action that demonstrate how holistic approaches based around conservation can be mutually beneficial for both communities and wildlife.
Women and Walls for Tanzania’s Wildlife
As dominant predators in the food chain, lions are essential to keeping entire ecosystems in balance. A 2012 Biodiversity and Conservation study reported that lion populations in Africa had dropped as low as 32,000, a nearly 90 percent decline over the last century. This drastic decrease can largely be attributed to increasing human populations and expansion. Through its 2014 Commitment to Action, the African People & Wildlife Fund (APW) is utilizing a two-pronged strategy to protect lions while also improving the livelihoods of local communities in Tanzania.
The first prong involves the expansion of APW’s successful Living Wall program. Living Walls, which are constructed by attaching chain link fencing to planted living trees that serve as fence posts, are predator-proof corrals that protect valuable livestock—and therefore community wealth. This protection in turn prevents the retaliatory killings of lions by community members. APW will bring an additional 150 Living Walls to a region north of its current focus area over the next three years, adding to the 500 walls already in place.
A lion pride in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater
Photo credit: African People & Wildlife Fund/Laly Lichtenfeld
Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld, executive director of APW, explains, “By putting Living Walls in new regions and increasingly throughout northern Tanzania, we give people room to breathe. We give them a moment to be able to reflect, to not be constantly harassed by this wildlife, and to have the chance to think about it in a different way.” Living Walls save the lives of approximately 75 lions each year, and APW’s most recent wildlife surveys show growth in local lion populations.
The strategy’s second prong is based on APW’s belief that local Maasai women are uniquely positioned to be shepherds of the environment. Through the distribution of microgrants, women are able to start environmentally-friendly businesses such as beekeeping to generate sustainable income for their families. By providing essential training, APW helps ensure that the businesses can withstand economic and ecological volatilities over the long term.
Maasai women learn how to work with bees and honey
Photo credit: African People & Wildlife Fund/ Brendan Buzzard
In return for the microgrants, the women undertake conservation projects such as planting trees, picking up trash, protecting local water sources, and promoting environmental cleanliness. The fund will be scaled financially over time to ingrain strong conservation ethics and ensure the growth of environmentally-friendly enterprises. To date, 17 microgrants have been awarded, and plans are in place to distribute 63 more over the next three years.
Due to community participants' improved livelihoods, demand for both the Living Wall and microgrant programs is even greater than anticipated. According to Lichtenfeld, “Working with communities is often very time-consuming and it requires a huge amount of patience. But when you do get the programs working and you get that commitment, the outcomes and the importance of having rural communities engaging in conservation are so compelling and so important that it makes this effort truly worthwhile.”
Linking Conservation and Primary School Education in Africa
African communities living in isolated rural landscapes often find it difficult to access basic services and educational opportunities. Due to high poverty levels that are intensified by this isolation, many are forced to exploit the surrounding natural resources to survive. Through its 2013 Commitment to Action, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) has committed to building or upgrading five Conservation Schools in priority wildlife landscapes across sub-Saharan Africa over the next three years. These schools provide the opportunity for students to gain a quality education while developing a sense of responsibility for environmental stewardship.
Kurt Redenbo, director of corporate relations for AWF, describes, “We augment the existing national school curriculum with conservation-themed lesson plans, as well as develop extracurricular activities that encourage kids to go beyond the classroom to learn more about the wildlife and the biodiversity in their surrounding environment. A lot of these kids, even though they might live near these magnificent parks, may never see wildlife.”
STUDENTS LEARN ABOUT NATURE AT ILIMA PRIMARY SCHOOL in the drc
PHOTO CREDIT: AFRICAN WILDLIFE FOUNDATION
To date, the Ilima Primary School and adjacent teacher housing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been built and opened. Updates will be made to two existing schools in Tanzania and Zambia, while a cluster of schools is being designed for rural communities in Ethiopia's Simien Mountains National Park. The African Conservation Schools program is part of AWF's larger commitment to sub-Saharan Africa to respond to urgent threats to wildlife through inclusive, holistic, and sustainable approaches.
THE NEWLY-CONSTRUCTED ILIMA PRIMARY SCHOOL
pHOTO CREDIT: AFRICAN WILDLIFE FOUNDATION
Investing in the Future of Africa
Both of these CGI Commitments to Action are helping to build a foundation for healthier, more prosperous families that can peacefully coexist with critical wildlife populations for generations to come. Kathleen Garrigan, senior communications and media relations officer for AWF, explains, “Investing in the future of wildlife means investing in Africa's future generations. In the end, the communities are our number one conservation partners. They will determine the fate of the wildlife and natural resources that surround them.”