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African conservation: recent successes and ongoing threats

The daily struggle for survival continually being faced by some of Africa’s most iconic and beloved species is an issue that, unfortunately, we’re still all too familiar with.

We all know the risks of failure to act – indeed, sometimes the statistics can be brought into alarmingly sharp relief, especially when data is compiled into tools like this Countdown to Extinction chart that measures potential rates of species loss against your own current age. And yet the general consensus is that we’re still not doing enough to prevent all manner of looming catastrophes that threaten Africa’s astonishing biodiversity and globally unique habitats even as we write.

However, while there’s still a real and pressing need to continue and increase our conservation efforts in so many areas, the picture has become far less bleak for certain at-risk species and landscapes over the last few years. Some truly heroic environmental efforts have yielded incredibly positive results for African wildlife in the recent past – and we thought we’d take a moment to note a couple of them here.

Rhino populations

As the WWF reported earlier this year, statistics show that 2015 saw the first annual decrease in number of rhinos killed in South Africa since 2007. The problem is far from solved, of course; one major downside of South Africa managing to stabilise its ongoing poaching problem has been a resulting slight increase in neighbouring countries like Namibia and Zimbabwe over the same period.

Controversy still rages over the moral implications of allowing limited sales for sport hunting of a species once known to be on the very brink of extinction, but the data is compelling: as John Robinson of the Wildlife Conservation Society told New Scientist magazine when the policy was first introduced over a decade ago, ‘giving [the rhinos] an economic value caused them to bounce back like crazy’.

Namibia

Despite the reported spill-over of rhino poachers from South Africa in recent years, Namibia is actually a startling success story in terms of conservation efforts having had a dramatic real-world impact. If any one nation has proved successful in quashing the deepening poaching crisis across Africa in recent years, it’s Namibia. As Mother Nature Network reported in 2015, it was the first African country to fully incorporate environmental protection into its constitution:

‘The Namibian government gave its people the opportunity to manage natural resources through communal conservancies. In cooperation with the government and nonprofit organisations, these conservancies have worked to protect land and wildlife. Today, more than 40 percent of Namibia is under conservation management, and the country is home to the world’s largest cheetah population, as well as flourishing populations of lions, black rhinos, zebras and other native wildlife.’

Bontebok

Not necessarily a name that many will be familiar with, the bontebok – a mid-sized antelope native to South Africa, Lesotho and Namibia – is nevertheless one of the most dramatic African wildlife success stories of them all. At the start of the 1930s, there were just 17 bontebok left in the wild: its population had been hunted to near oblivion by farming settlers who saw them as damaging, land-hungry pests.

Extinction looked a certainty until the surviving adults were moved to a purpose-built national park and a breeding programme established – in 2016, its conservation status is listed as ‘least concern’. And although we’ve known this particular story for far longer than the more contemporary examples mentioned above, it’s undoubtedly one that we can still draw untold inspiration and hope from today.

The Black Mambas

Earlier this year, a group of extraordinary African women travelled to the UK to receive Helping Rhinos’ coveted ‘Innovation in Conservation’ award. The all-female group of 26 anti-poaching wardens – established by Transfrontier Africa in 2013, and popularly known as the Black Mambas – have managed to transform the previously appalling poaching statistics in South Africa’s Kruger National Park.

By destroying snares and poacher camps, dismantling bush meat kitchens and turning offenders over to the authorities, the Black Mambas have managed to reduce illegal bush meat and poaching trade in the park by an incredible 76 percent in just three short years.

Better yet, their profile has risen dramatically as a result of exposure they’ve received for their great work, meaning that a generation of African schoolchildren are now being taught about the Black Mambas as an example of strong, positive role models for the future of African conservation.

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