Taking the positives out of Africa’s threatened species

May 3, 2013 Conservation
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Another day, another rhino killed and another lion poached.  We are in a very sad time in Africa, where our once-thriving mega-herbivores and great predators are threatened with extinction and genetic bottle-necking.  Lions are being reduced to a population that is only a fraction of what it was 100 years ago due to habitat loss, poaching and unsustainable sport hunting, while rhinos continue to be poached on a daily basis for nothing more than their horn – made up of essentially a lot of fingernails.

Considering these alarming declines in these great creatures, it does however bring a new level of respect and admiration for the work that is being done to conserve these species and protect their future and what our generations to come will be able to experience.  Wilderness Safaris and the Wilderness Wildlife Trust (WWT) have many people who are doing great work to turn this negative tendency into a positive one.

While rhino populations continue to plummet in South Africa in particular, our efforts to conserve the unique sub-species of desert-adapted black rhinos in the Kunene region of Namibia continues to flourish.  The Save the Rhino Trust (SRT) continues to play a crucial role in understanding the rhino’s movements across the Kunene region where the SRT tracking teams are out daily.  Due to their commitment and the support from camps such Desert Rhino Camp, these rhino numbers seem stable for now and in some cases increasing.

In Botswana, Poster Malongwa together with Kai Collins and Map Ives, have had tremendous success with the rhino reintroduction project in Botswana.  Wilderness Safaris and WWT work together with the Botswana Defence Force and Botswana Department of Wildlife to maintain this new growing population of rhinos in the Okavango Delta.  Several horn implants also allow the team to rigorously monitor these now free-roaming rhino populations.

The work being done by Neil Midlane in the Kafue National Park in Zambia on lions is playing a vital role in better understanding the lion dynamics in the Kafue and what their greatest threats are.  The use of satellite collars has been pivotal in understanding the lion distribution in Zambia’s Kafue National Park and what their greatest threats are.  Poaching has been identified as a serious risk to the lions roaming this great wilderness area, with many lions found carrying wire snares.  Together with Wilderness Safaris and the camps we have in the Kafue National Park, WWT and the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) this research will hopefully soon assist us in designing management interventions to combat the threat on Africa’s great cat in the Kafue.

More recently, Simon Dures has begun a study on the lion genetics in Botswana.  With a startling drop in lion numbers across Africa, an improved understanding on the effects this has on the genetic diversity in lions is critical to the survival of this species.  Using biopsy darts, DNA samples are collected from lions across the Okavango and Linyanti with very little disturbance to the lion and no risk of injury.  Once the laboratory work is complete, which is being assisted by the Zoological Society of London and the Imperial College of  London, the impacts of declining lion numbers on genetic diversity will be better understood.

So while there are a lot of threats to our great African herbivores and predators, there are other forces at hand doing their best to combat these negative influences and bring about a positive growth and safe haven for our African heritage.  If we focus on these places, people and organisations that are doing their best to conserve these species, then perhaps the tables will turn and what was once a threat of extinction will turn into a capacity that allows these animals to have their deserved share of Africa.

About the author: Brett Wallington is the Group Sustainability Coordinator of Wilderness Safaris coordinating many of the sustainability initiatives across the 4Cs (Commerce, Conservation, Community and Culture.  His passion is developing safari experiences that create a positive impact on the conservation of the area visited while making positive sustainable impacts to any local communities.  Respecting local cultures and introducing guests to these cultures also forms a crucial aspect of sustainable ecotourism.  After completing a degree in environmental sciences, Brett began his career as a guide in the Sabi Sands adjoining the Kruger National Park in South Africa, a passion of his that continues today, although with a slightly more directed purpose.

Travel with Brett: Take your safari experience to another level and travel with Brett and go behind the scenes of what makes Wilderness Safaris a leader in sustainable ecotourism.  With Brett as your private guide, you will be granted an all access pass and experience some of the conservation and community efforts first hand.  


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By Brett Wallington

Brett joined Wilderness Safaris in May 2011 and has been a key player in the company’s progress towards adopting the 4Cs approach to sustainability. Recognised by the influential Mail & Guardian newspaper as a Climate Change Leader in 2014, Brett now heads up the US Sales Business Unit, based in Johannesburg.

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