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Preserving Africa's Natural Heritage for Humans and Wildlife

Africa has some of the most diverse and productive wildlands in the world, teeming with huge populations of large migratory mammals. But the continent also faces tremendous challenges, including extreme poverty, the highest human population growth rates in the world, limited economic opportunities, and rapidly changing political systems. They combine to create tremendous pressure on both people and natural resources. In the face of these challenges, conservationists work with Africa’s governments, institutions and people to preserve the continent’s natural heritage for both wildlife and humans.

Judy Gona is the chief executive officer of the Ecotourism Society of Kenya. She spoke with Voice of America English to Africa reporter Ashenafi Abedje about how wildlife contributes to Africa’s overall development.

“Wildlife has its contribution in many economies of African countries, given that it’s one of the abundant natural resources which has helped many of these countries to bring in the foreign exchange which they very much need for international trade. To that extent you can say that wildlife has contributed to overall ‘development.’ I say development in quotes because of the fact that it brings the much needed foreign exchange.”

Gona discussed the traditional African view of the relationship between humans and wildlife. “I think Africans coexisted with wildlife for a long time. Their lifestyle, especially where wildlife is found, you’ll find a lot of these communities have nomadic lifestyles so their lifestyles did not interfere with the existence of wildlife. And because of their numbers and population wildlife had its space and people had their space. People traditionally do not hunt wildlife for economic gain. If they used wildlife, it was to supplement their diet.”

She said that although Masai communities are not known to kill wild animals, it has occurred when they want to prove a point. “Masai communities are not known to kill wild game inasmuch as I know. When they have done it, they have done it as a way of raising awareness and letting somebody listen to their plea. And this is specifically to do with human-wildlife conflict in terms of wildlife invading farms and in terms of wildlife killing livestock.“

Gona also explained how the benefits from wildlife are distributed between communities and managing authorities. “The distribution of benefits from wildlife, which is basically tourism, to summarize, it will never be equal; but it can be made equitable between the managing authorities and the communities….”

Gona listed many wildlife conservancies that have proven to be successful ventures in the areas of managing funds and preserving wildlife. She says there are up to thirty “good examples of what a good partnership between community and managing authorities can do to distribute benefits equitably.”

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