Human-wildlife conflict is a major challenge in Africa. Livestock, crops and even human lives have been lost due to the interaction of wildlife and people surrounding protected areas. This can be attributed to the growth of human population, intense agricultural development and the constant need to develop economically in African countries. This reduces the space for wildlife to roam freely. Conflict with humans and wildlife is an age-old challenge which has increased over the cause of time. Snakebites have always caused havoc in snake prone areas. Even seeing the end of a snake already raises panic. In recent years, many regions of Africa have been affected by drought. It’s not only humans who suffer but also wildlife. During such periods, predators have been known to roam outside protected areas in search of easy prey. Large herbivores roam outside protected areas invading farms in search of food. When this happens, humans and wildlife are always at crossroads.
Wildlife roamed the African continent freely. There were no boundaries. There were no fences. They would even cross country borders in large numbers more than they do today. Wildlife species are also not aware that there are 54 countries in Africa. They do not know they are in Kenya or have just crossed the border to Tanzania. Yet, as the highly ‘thoughtful’ human race, we want to limit wildlife movements. We want to fence them. Is this a good idea?
Politicians have jumped into the fencing idea as a way to ensure the people they serve are kept free from human-wildlife conflict. Just recently, the Deputy President of Kenya promised a fence along Meru National Park. In Kajiado, the governor urged Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to fence the Amboseli National Park or face the loss of wildlife. The Tsavo ecosystem has been in constant debate whether it should be fenced or not. Nairobi National Park has not been left to chance either. With the limited resources available in Kenya Wildlife Service to pay for every human-wildlife conflict case reported, the options are limited.
Fencing wildlife is not a bad idea considering the loss caused by wildlife to humans. It is also not a good idea, not only in terms of the cost of electric fencing but also in terms of species heterogeneity. Most of Africa’s wildlife require large tracts of rangeland for seasonal migrations. Cheetahs, for example, require huge tracts of land for their territories. They are therefore vulnerable to movement restriction. Predators also need to move where their prey is. Fencing a predator such as the cheetahs may also result in spatial heterogeneity of the species affecting future populations which may be vulnerable to diseases due to limited gene spreading. Fencing may also contribute to the loss of coping strategies that have enabled communities to coexist with wildlife. In hindsight, fencing does not prevent poaching.
Conservation organizations in Africa are developing alternatives to solving human-wildlife conflict other than fencing. This is an opportunity to drive a kind of innovation and development that is both sustainable and equitable. This includes engaging and supporting communities living around protected areas to coexist with wildlife as our ancestors did keeping both wildlife and cultures alive and going as far as investing in innovations that reduce human-wildlife conflict. We can develop areas around wildlife zones by fencing homesteads or improving cattle bomas and farms to prevent the death of livestock and prevent loss of crops respectively.
Our ideas in terms of solving human-wildlife conflict need to be positive and creative enlisting support from key stakeholders. As African nations continue to grow rapidly, developing the African economy should be sustainable precisely to the extent that we invest in their development considering both humans and the environment.
Featured Image: © Anthony Ochieng