afrol News, 15 July - One of East Africa's main tourist attractions, the density of large mammals in its famed national parks, is rapidly declining, a new study shows. The "Big Five" are especially threatened.
African national parks like Masai Mara and the Serengeti have seen populations of large mammals decline by up to 59 percent, according to a study published in the latest issue of the scientific journal 'Biological Conservation'.
The parks are each visited by thousands of tourists each year hoping to spot Africa's "Big Five" - lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino - but the research shows that "urgent efforts" would be needed to secure the future of the parks and their role in tourism.
British scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Cambridge University created an index of change in population abundance for a multitude of species in 78 protected areas throughout Africa.
At a continental scale, the index revealed an average decline of almost 60 percent in the population abundance of 69 key species including lion, wildebeest, giraffe, buffalo and zebra between 1970 and 2005 in the national parks visited by millions of tourists each year.
There was however great variation by region with populations increasing in Southern Africa, declining by more than half in East Africa and 85 percent declines in West Africa. The massive declines in West Africa were likely due to the lack of financial and personnel resources, high rates of habitat degradation and the growing bushmeat trade.
Safari tourism is underdeveloped in West and Central Africa, while it is among the key attractions to visitors going to East and Southern Africa. The negative numbers for East Africa's famous national parks therefore could have a severe impact of future tourism revenues foe the region.
Despite the severe losses, the rate of decline had slowed over time, the study found, indicating that management of the areas has been gradually improving. "But more support is needed," the zoologists concluded.
"Although the results indicate that African national parks have generally failed to maintain their populations of large mammals, the situation outside the parks is almost undoubtedly worse. Many species like rhino are practically extinct outside national parks," ZSL researcher Ian Craigie commented.
Director of ZSL Conservation Programmes, Jonathan Baillie, said the results were a matter of concern. "The results are far worse than we imagined, but the increasing population trends in Southern Africa provide hope and demonstrate that protected areas can be very effective for conserving large mammals if properly resourced," he said.
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