EU's new strategy for African wildlife

African White-backed Vulture is one of eight vulture species on the continent to be threatened with extinction by poisoning. Photo: Bernard Dupont (commons.wikimedia.org).
African White-backed Vulture is one of eight vulture species on the continent to be threatened with extinction by poisoning. Photo: Bernard Dupont (commons.wikimedia.org).
The EU is developing an all-round strategy to protect African wildlife after 16 per cent of the continent's birds were found to be endangered.

Back in 2013, BirdLife International published State of Africa’s Birds, the first ever Africa-wide assessment of the threats facing birds in Africa. It found that a shocking 16 per cent of African birds are Globally Threatened or Near Threatened, such as the Critically Endangered Taita Apalis and all eight species of African vultures.

The major causes of these declines, such as habitat loss and degradation due to agricultural expansion, hunting, illegal trading of animal parts and plants, and human population increase (along with poisoning in the case of the vultures), have affected a large proportion of African species, and not just birds. Illegal killing and trade in particular have been the focus of political attention, mainly relating to mammals such as elephants, which have crashed from 5-10 million in the 1930s to only 500,000 today, and lions, 30-50 per cent of which have disappeared in the last two decades.

In response to this wildlife extinction crisis, the European Commission has begun the process of developing a new strategy, whose overall objective is a “full suite of viable populations of the unique wildlife heritage of Sub-Saharan Africa maintained in healthy, functioning and resilient ecosystems, supporting livelihoods and human development.” 

A report entitled Larger than elephants: Inputs for an EU strategic approach to wildlife conservation in Africa is the first stage in the development of this EU African Wildlife Conservation Strategy, and was published on 9 September as part of the EU flagship programme 'EU Biodiversity for Life' (B4Life). The strategy aims to identify principal threats to wildlife and appropriate responses over the next decade.

The document also clearly recognises the challenges to species that are smaller than elephants, including birds – particularly Afro-Palearctic migrants like the European Turtle Dove and Roller – whose numbers are drastically declining. The document identifies the need for better tracking and monitoring, identification of causes of their mortality, protection of key wintering and stop-over sites, increased protection of wetland sites and ensuring that the reforestation of the Sahel region is bird-friendly.

But there is another problem, often given insufficient attention, which the strategy aims to tackle: land degradation and the destruction of ecological services, like the pollution of water sources and loss of grazing grounds and biodiversity. We know that rural livelihoods in Africa depend on natural resources and ecological services; in State of Africa’s Birds, the former president of Botswana noted the “socio-economic contributions that birds make to improving rural livelihoods”. Thus, working with rural communities to raise awareness and find joint solutions to conservation problems – both those relating to individual species and unsustainable use of resources – are hoped to deliver the strategy’s aim of supporting “livelihoods and human development”.

The BirdLife secretariats in Africa and Europe will engage closely with the development of the strategy and co-ordinate efforts using the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), the African-Eurasian Migratory Landbirds Action Plan (AEMLAP) and the forthcoming Species Action Plan for European Turtle Dove.
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