Other than poaching of species for their parts, habitat destruction is one other major cause for both animal and plant species heading to extinction. As the human population continues to surpass individual animal species, we have encroached on wild spaces from wetlands, to forests and even hills. When we see a space, we begin to develop ways we can utilize it forgetting there are other species who actually inhabit these spaces. Just as we need a home, other species need a place to live too. We need food but so do other species. We need space, but animals which create large territories to thrive also need this space. In most cases, we do not realize our damage until it is too late.
Nairobi was once a green zone. When rivers flowed clear and forests thrived. Kibra, Kenya’s largest informal settlement, was once a forest. Ngong Road forest stretched through Dagoretti. Nairobi National Park stretched through Mlolongo providing migration routes for species heading to the Amboseli ecosystem. Kajiado was a haven for wildlife as species roamed freely. Then, the need for human settlement arose and what better way than to create settlements in wildlife areas.
Over time, the laws have been biased towards settlement and development versus the environment. With no clear guidance and the added input of corruption, the environment has had to suffer over development. This is a sad state affecting not only Kenya but many other countries from Namibia, to Brazil to India. Whether developed or not, all countries have had a part to play towards species extinction. Developed countries, for instance, may not boast of their wildlife like in African countries. Rapid population growth and the need to develop at a fast rate led to the extinction of many species. Some species were consumed as food, while others were hunted for meat. Others were cut down to build settlements. The dodo, for example, was eaten into extinction by not only the humans, but the introduction of invasive species such as rats which inhabited and displaced the species. The term, as dead as a dodo, simply signifies the non-existence of the species today. A tale only in story books but in most cases, forgotten.
Habitat destruction is mainly as a result of land use change, such as agriculture, and economic development. These are challenges that can be solved. Land use change can be a shift from livestock keeping to farming, converting a wildlife area into a farm, and even logging. Economic development includes settlements, urbanization such as skyscrapers, roads, railways and ports. Involving all stakeholders, whether, in economics, engineering, agriculture, architecture, environmental conservation research and others, we can build ideas towards sustainable use of land and development considering the environmental implications. Maintaining wildlife habitats does not mean being against any economic change. It is all about creating a win-win situation for the planet. As the human race, our advantage is the ability to reason. With this, instead of actively destroying our planet, we can choose to create. We can choose to build roads that do not affect wildlife but consider their movement thus building overpasses and underpasses that will be used – this is after carefully monitoring and researching on the species movement. We can choose to develop our towns in ways that will accommodate wildlife, remembering birds are part of the ecosystem and so are insects too. City planners need to have a green space mindset especially considering the psychological impact of wild areas to our well-being.
When we develop with the environment in mind, we are assured of the availability of green spaces for future generations. Of more importance, we are assured that species will continue to thrive in their natural habitat.
Can we do anything about the damage already done especially in terms of fencing which has prevented animal species from moving from one ecosystem to another? The human race has coexisted with animals since the beginning of time. Even though we have had to survive, we still have managed to adapt and develop ways of sustaining generations. Fencing wild populations should not be an option. Yes, human-wildlife conflict is majorly affecting people living within wildlife zones. However, with close to 75% of wildlife living outside protected areas, the thought when we fence them inside the protected areas it will lead to peaceful coexistence between people and wildlife is a wrong mindset. Working together with government, we can ensure solutions are innovated to mitigate human-wildlife conflict. We can also educate communities, considering their situation, and not what we think they should do. Communities are vital for successful conservation practices all across the globe. When their needs are met so will the needs of wildlife be met.