Africa is comprised of some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems ranging from savannah, tropical forests, saline marines and freshwater habitats. These systems support about one-fifth of all known flora and fauna population. East African countries including Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda face threats, not only on an ecological level but also their socio-economic aspects as well. Tourism is a major economic driver for these nations and acts as a key pillar in development, generation of foreign revenue and alleviation of poverty. Many African cultures have also been exposed to the global population due to tourism.
Climate change, also called global warming, refers to the rise in average surface temperatures on Earth. The surface temperature has warmed 0.6o C in the last three decades. The last few decades of the 20th century were referred to as the warmest seen in over 500 years. Climate change is accredited to human activities that degrade land resources and increase greenhouse emissions into the atmosphere. Climatic factors such as drought are known to catalyse degradation effects but not to the extent of man.
Climate change encourages human-wildlife conflicts. With degradation of fertile and dry lands, humans seek after wildlife reserve for settlement and economic activities. This has been felt especially in Kenya where projects such as the Standard Gauge Railway and The Southern By-pass have cut through the National park leading to carnivores such as lions encroaching urban areas and preying on domestic animals (cattle and poultry) near the animal reserves.
Climate change threatens to alter all the rules that rivers have lived by for thousands of years. Some rivers experience increased flooding whilst others experience progressive drying. Rivers and wetlands are the main suppliers of water for both wildlife and humans in East Africa, disruption in the quality and quantity cause death and depletion of aquatic organisms. The Nile River being one of the world’s most important bird migration routes and home to over 266 fish and amphibian species is under threat of depletion.
The process of migration has fundamental impacts on ecological processes and biodiversity, it enables foraging and predation thus balancing energy flow within a system. Migration reduces incidences of disease transmission (Canine Distemper Virus that affects hundreds of lions) and enhances fitness among species; this enables certain characterisations that have been consistently inherited over time e.g. A buffalos strength or a Cheetahs speed Various mathematical models have analysed patterns of advanced breeding, they are dependent on the arrival time of the adults at the breeding site, as well as the delay between arrival and the start of breeding. These traits can change synchronously or asynchronously, and a mismatch between predator and prey abundance can cause population declines.
Rise in sea levels within the coastal regions of East Africa and Extreme droughts are among various other effects that face ecosystems that support wildlife. They further lead to spread of diseases such as the regular outbreak of Canine Distemper Virus (CDV), tick infestations and encourage extinction of rare turtle species like the logger head and green turtles
The Biodiversity Research Unit of the KWS warns in its annual report that unless urgent strategies are developed to counter the effects of climate change (coupled with poaching and hunting), management of wildlife could suffer irreparably. The report shows a recent increase in deaths in wildlife population due to rapid spread of infectious diseases as seen in the recently felt deaths of mass flamingos around Lake Nakuru suspected to be caused by H5N1 avian influenza (bird-flu).
Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents to climate change and climate variability, this is due to her low adaptive capacity as well as influence by other multiple stresses. East Africa’s major economic sectors are at threat to climate sensitivity, with huge economic impacts that we cannot afford to face. It is therefore important to prioritize combating of climate change to national development agendas as well as increase Environmental Security in parks so as to increase resilience of wildlife to this global phenomenon.
By Tracy Kimathi