Our friends at Africa Geographic Magazine recently published a list of African animals in decline. This is not the same as endangered which is defined as “a species whose numbers are so small that the species is at risk of extinction”. This “African Animals in Decline” list focuses on these animals and birds whose numbers are declining so strongly that it will be difficult for the species to recover meaningfully. There is some crossover on these two types. This unfortunate hit parade is as follows:
- Addax or White Antelope. This critically endangered Sahara native is believed to have less than 300 individuals left in its natural habitat. Prized by hunters and for its meat, it also suffers from severe habitat loss. Its salvation may lie in the many specimens kept in zoos throughout the world and its gradual reintroduction into protected areas.
- African Penguin (or ‘Jackass’ Penguin). There is much debate about the reasons why these smaller members of the penguin family are declining so fast but over fishing within South African and Namibian waters and human disturbance of breeding grounds are considered the principal reasons.
- African wild dog. This critically endangered dog has a population of about 5500 when once its numbers were considered in excess of 500,000. It’s habits are to roam in large areas and consequently only very few reserves can provide protection for the species. Numbers have declined to habitat destruction as well as poaching and diseases caught from domestic dogs.
- Black Rhino. Numbers have declined by 90% over 60 years and whilst there have been spirited initiatives and drives to restore numbers, the recent massive poaching by Asian syndicates to satisfy nebulous lifestyle and medicinal desires are endangering the rhino’s existence. There is a war being fought in South Africa for the rhino and the rhinos are losing.
- Grey crowned crane. This non migratory bird is the national bird of Uganda. Its numbers have significantly declined in the last 45 years due to a sad catalogue of human intervention. Habitat loss, live-trapping of adult birds for trade, egg collecting for trade, poisoning as retaliation for actual or possible crop damage. It is now classified as endangered.
- Lion. This iconic symbol of Africa and its bush has seen its numbers collapse from approximately 450,000 in the 1940s to around 20,000 today. Whilst its reputation is revered internationally, the reality is that many of these animals have been excessively hunted, their ranges have been curtailed and their prey depleted. They now only really exist in protected reserves and their isolated populations are prone to inbreeding. Their plight is a metaphor for what has been destroyed in Africa.
- Ruppell’s vulture. This predator of the skies is considered to be the highest-flying bird in the world and inhabits central Africa. Numbers have declined by 85% in the last 30 years to about 30,000 due to trading in medicinal parts and illegal international exports.
- Secretary bird. This large bird of prey appears on the coats of arms of Sudan and South Africa. Whilst it is largely admired in Africa for its striking appearance and hunting abilities, it is threatened by loss of habitat, deforestation, human disturbance, hunting and the capture of the species for trade despite it being a protected species.
- Southern ground hornbill. This black and red bird is the largest of the hornbill family. Owing to large scale clearing of the bird’s specialised habitat for agricultural purposes, along with its very slow reproductive and maturation rates, it is classed as vulnerable to extinction. An unfortunate habit of breaking house window panes when they attack their own reflections, leads to their persecution in villages as well as for various superstitious reasons.
- The Western Lowland Gorilla. Numbers have collapsed by 60% over the last 20 years. Surprisingly, it is the Ebola virus which is most responsible but continuous poaching and habitat destruction does not bode well for their recovery especially within the confines of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
African Animals in Decline by Nicolas Edwards