Opinion: The space race

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The human population is fast approaching eight billion people – growing and developing at a rapid rate. Our insatiable desire to explore and challenge boundaries means we constantly scour the universe for planets capable of supporting human life.

Back on Earth, three female African wild dogs are ready to disperse from their pack. They will head into the unfamiliar in the hopes of joining up with a group of males to form their own pack and carve out a new territory. Their fate is unknown.

It appears that all humans and animals want is space.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), “Habitat loss is the main threat to 85% of all species described in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.”

It’s a constant battle for conservationists to keep endangered species from going extinct, but their habitat is also at risk of disappearing – cleared to make way for urbanisation, infrastructure, plantations and agriculture.

Genetically modified crops allow agriculture to expand into previously unfamiliar territory; drought-resistant tomatoes can now grow in semi-arid areas. These no-go farming zones used to be a haven for wildlife. Plantations have replaced rainforests – the lungs of the earth and a haven for countless species.
While Africa needs to develop, it should not be at the expense of life-giving ecosystems and wildlife.
Game reserves and national parks provide pockets of protection for wildlife while preserving natural ecosystems. As humans eat into the boundaries of national parks the human-wildlife conflict escalates. Wildlife corridors and migration routes are also cut off, so natural dispersal and gene flow are affected.
The African wild dog is an indicator species that is threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation. A viable population of wild dogs requires large tracts of wilderness as they hold big territories (depending on game availability) and are capable of running long distances. Because of their nomadic lifestyle and exceptional hunting skills, they are likely to come into conflict with communities. They are affected by snares, and as protected areas shrink, the dogs face increasing pressure from larger predators like lions.

A solution is the opening up of wildlife corridors and transfrontier conservation areas. A transfrontier conservation area is an ecological region on the borders of two or more countries. In the Southern Africa Development Community, there are 18 existing and planned transfrontier conservation areas. Wildlife corridors create space for animals to migrate between protected areas and result in larger more connected parks for species to thrive. After all, if the land goes, where will the animals go?

 

Written by Georgina Lockwood

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