Issue of the Week: How Population Growth Affects Wildlife Conservation

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The human population is growing at an alarming rate. The United Nations estimates there will be an astounding 9.8 billion people on the planet in 2050. It is predicted that Africa will be home to 40 percent of the world’s population by the end of the century. The rapid increase in the human population will have drastic impacts on the world’s natural environment and create global challenges for conservation.

According to the African Conservancy, 240 acres of natural habitat is destroyed hourly, which can be directly attributed to the growth in the human population. Humans are replacing plants and animals in the landscape. Resulting declines of wildlife populations can be directly attributed to habitat loss.

Habitat fragmentation is another consequence of human expansion. As humans sprawl into new areas, they develop the land.  Roads and fences, agricultural fields and natural resource extraction industries are fracturing habitats. Small segments are not able to support the basic needs of many wildlife species (food, water and cover). Additionally, roads and fences prevent natural movement patterns of wildlife, and can severely decrease the biodiversity of a region.

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The South African Fynbos is one of the world’s most impressive botanical kingdoms with an estimated 8,500 species of vascular plants; of which 70% are endemic. But because the area has been heavily settled for several centuries, large swathes of natural vegetation, particularly in the lowlands, have been cleared for agriculture and urban development.

Continued development is inevitable as Africa’s population grows, but governments and conservationists should be working together to effectively manage Africa’s land. Wildlife can provide communities with employment opportunities and much needed revenue.

Wildlife is often seen as competition for cattle, as predators that eat livestock, or as a nuisance species that eats and tramples crops. Understanding that wildlife can be a beneficial renewable resource can increase social tolerance and decrease human wildlife conflict, and reduce habitat fragmentation.

SCI Foundation works to facilitate effective wildlife management around the world and hopes that Africa places conservation as a high priority as it expands. SCI Foundation sees this as being the most significant problem facing conservation today. We must be proactive and we need to think 50 even 100 years in to the future if we hope to be successful in conserving wildlife for generation to come.

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