The shocking slaughter of Africa's wild life
THE wild life of eastern Africa is the wonder and envy of the rest of the world. Unique in abundance and variety, it has been gravely diminished in the past and is seriously threatened in the immediate future. Its natural habitats and wild lands cover more than half of its immense area, and are of tremendous potential importance if properly used. But they too have been reduced in extent, their value has been sadly reduced by improper use and they are threatened with drastic misdevelopment in the immediate future.
The future of African wild life is bound up with that of the conservation of natural resources. Both are now in the balance. The next five or at most ten years will be decisive in determining whether they are headed downhill towards a point of no return, or set on the upward path of beneficial development.
Let me state the African situation in ecological terms. The ecological problem is fundamentally one of balancing resources against human needs, both in the short and in the long term. It thus must be related to a proper evaluation of human needs, and it must be based on resource conservation and resource use, including optimum land use and conservation of the habitat.
Over the whole of south-eastern Africa, the wild life resource has been shoclingly reduced from its astonishing past abundance. In spite of this, the wild life of this region is still a resource of unique value. It must be preserved both as an object of study and as a spectacle to be enjoyed. Its scientific study is a necessary basis for proper land use policies, and an increasing number of people from all over the world are finding unique satisfaction and interest in it as a spectacle.
Proper management of wild lands can yield a large crop of meat as well as numerous ancillary animal and plant products. The meat-crop could in particular areas be commercially profitable, but of more general importance is the fact that it would go a long way to satisfying the Africans' meat-hunger, which springs from the region's marked protein deficiency.
This in turn would help in reducing the threat of poaching to African wild life. "Poaching' today is in reality a large-scale illegal trade in slaughtered wild animals. It is by no means confined to killing for meat; all too often it takes the horrible and wasteful form of merely taking the valuable trophies, such as rhino horn, wildebeest tails, or elephant ivory, and leaving the slaughtered carcasses to rot.
The poacher's methods are not only wasteful, but extremely cruel. It is bad enough when gangs of bowmen with poisoned arrows wait near a waterhole or at a gap in a prepared barrier, and shoot large numbers of animals, which then die an agonizing death. However, pitfalls are worse; in the Serengeti, for instance, whole series of carefully-sited pitfalls have been laboriously dug, providing proof of the value of the proceeds.
What is needed is a comprehensive and conservationist land use policy for the region, based on a proper survey, to decide which land should be allocated primarily for agriculture and for commercial or industrial development; which allocated for game-cropping, watershed protection, forests, National Parks and Nature Reserves, or merely kept undeveloped in reserve until its best use can be determined; and which could be best developed by establishing a fruitful symbiosis between wild life and domestic stock.
Wild life in Africa as a resource may be summed up in the phrase Profit, Protein, Pride and Prestige, with enjoyment and scientific interest thrown in. It can yield Profit from tourist revenue, sales of meat and trophies, and Protein from game-cropping schemes; it can be a source of local Pride and international Prestige; while its importance as a source of scientific knowledge is very great.
To let the wild life die or be destroyed would be to allow a precious element in that rich variety to be submerged forever in the drab monotonous flood of uniformity that is threatening to engulf our mass-produced technological civilization. Unesco has roused world opinion to save the threatened monuments of Nubia: it should take on the responsibility of rousing world opinion for the equally worthy task of saving the threatened wild life of Africa.
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