A NEW STRATEGY for the times
BILLY DODS ON
In light of unparalleled levels of poaching and development in Africa, AWF adjusts its species strategy to provide more targeted wildlife protection.
n 1859, a French–American explorer named Paul du Chaillu brought tales— and evidence in the form of skins— from the African bush of a large, hairy ape that eerily resembled humans. Du Chaillu’s proof of the gorilla’s existence shocked many; at the time, Westerners knew nothing about the species. More than 100 years later there were still huge gaps in our knowledge of the behavior and ecological needs of gorillas. The same held true for many of Africa’s other wildlife species. So it made sense that AWF’s species protection strategy in the 1970s and 1980s centered on supporting independent researchers who were studying behavior and applying their findings to the development of a conservation plan. Aligning with wellknown researchers such as Dian Fossey,
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Jane Goodall, and Cynthia Moss gave AWF access to new information about
mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, elephants, and other species. As time passed, we adjusted our species conservation strategy to create an internal cadre of up-and-coming African researchers. AWF identified, provided training for, and employed species scientists such as Bernard Kissui, based in Tanzania, and Gosiame Neo-Mahupeleng in Botswana, who have been able to give us direct insight into species behavior, populations, and threats.
Address today’s realities This long-standing support of species research helped increase AWF’s body of knowledge about Africa’s wildlife and, as important, directed the organization’s actions on the ground. Collaring lions, for example, allowed AWF field staff to empirically determine where they roamed and then target communities that would most benefit from human– wildlife conflict mitigation efforts. Wildlife censuses provided data on how many species inhabited a landscape, allowing AWF to tailor interventions for
wildlife at risk. This was applied species research in action. But times, as they say, are a-changing. Poaching has escalated dramatically, while an ever-burgeoning human population continues to encroach upon once-pristine natural habitats. The result has been a worrying decline in a number of well-known African species. Alarmingly, more than 35,000 elephants were poached in 2012, and 480 rhinos have been killed in South Africa between January and mid-July of this year. (In contrast, 448 rhinos were poached in South Africa in all of 2011.) All four of Africa’s great apes are either Endangered or Critically Endangered. And lions, which numbered between 100,000 and 200,000 in Africa in the last century, now total less than 40,000. “AWF’s species conservation strategy must adapt quickly to rejuvenated threats that have arisen in the past several years. It cannot remain constant in this changing environment when poaching has escalated so significantly,” points out AWF CEO Patrick Bergin. AWF has therefore modified its wildlife conservation strategy to address today’s realities. The new strategy provides more
Poaching has escalated while an ever-burgeoning human population continues to encroach upon once-pristine natural habitats rigorous, targeted species protection— and funnels funding to where it is most needed. Specifically, AWF has launched a new Species Protection Grant Program, which provides grant funding to assist important stakeholders on the ground with targeted conservation efforts. Grants will fund six primary areas of work that AWF has determined deserve additional support: • Rhinos • Elephants • African apes • Large carnivores • Awareness • Law enforcement “When there’s a crisis situation like this, we need to prioritize. You always have to prioritize because there are simply not enough resources to go around,” says Philip Muruthi, senior director of conservation science for AWF.
conservation philosophy. “We believe the best way to conserve wildlife is to prioritize large landscapes with high levels of biodiversity and economic potential,” says Bergin. “We must ensure these landscapes remain ecologically viable and become economically productive based on the sustainable wildlife resources that live there.” By focusing on key species through its Species Protection Grants, AWF hopes to address the issues around at-risk wildlife populations while also having a significant economic impact across an ecosystem. “Conserving elephants requires that you must conserve habitat, water resources,
and so on,” Muruthi explains. “A crucial element of our strategy is to ensure that many ecological services are also conserved and perhaps improved by saving this species. Species cannot be viewed in isolation; they must be viewed as integral parts of a larger and complex landscape.”
OPPOSITE AWF has adjusted its species conservation strategy to counter more effectively the violent poaching of African wildlife such as elephants and rhinos. BELOW AWF’s Species Protection Grants will provide focused funding for large carnivores such as lions (below), rhinos, elephants, great apes, law enforcement, and awareness.
Hit the ground running AWF has hit the ground running with the new grant program (see “Species updates” on pages 10–11). The Rhino Summit, which AWF hosted in April 2012 with Kenya Wildlife Service (see “An African solution to poaching,” Africa Geographic, Fall 2012), was an important step in this evolution. This essentially prompted efforts to focus on concrete ways to conserve specific rhino populations, and we’ve subsequently provided critical support to projects across East and southern Africa. Meanwhile, the new African Apes Initiative, launched earlier this year (see “Africa’s apes in decline,” Africa Geographic, Spring 2013), is providing the vehicle for identifying recipient partners for AWF’s African apes grants. And AWF’s partnership with WildAid (see “AWF urges consumers to say ‘No’” on page 2 for more) was the launch of our “Awareness” efforts.
Underlying philosophy As times change, and our species strategy evolves, AWF stays true to an underlying
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