Wildlife 'is the brand of Africa,' says leading conservationist
March 3rd marks World Wildlife Day. As Africa continues to struggle with a decline of its wildlife population, sustainability and conservation are essential to the continent's future, says conservationist Kaddu Sebunya.
Kaddu Kiwe Sebunya is the president of the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), a conservation organization that works to protect wildlife, conserve wild lands and ensure economic development near those lands. He visited Germany recently to discuss the foundations's new development agenda and other programs planned in cooperation with the German government.
DW: Which African countries does AWF work with?
Kaddu Kiwe Sebunya: We work across Africa in different forms. We have offices in 17 countries but we run programs in many countries south of the Sahara. So most of our work through these institutions touches almost the entire continent.
Illegal trading of wildlife has been a major cause of destruction for many of Africa's species. So which animals remain under threat?
Lions, rhinos and pangolins are the main species that are hunted. But we are in a crisis as far as elephants are concerned. We lose more than 30,000 elephants annually across the continent. Lions are half of the population they were in the 1970s. The demand for the scales of pangolins has increased dramatically in Asia and we would like to see that stop. Uganda has no rhinos left except of a few in a sanctuary and Mozambique lost its last rhino recently. We are losing the animals which are essential for development and for our heritage.
And what about the wild lands?
Wild land is important because we cannot conserve wildlife without their habitats. That is the conservationist aspect. Wild lands are so important to Africa as a source of water for agriculture, for hydro energy. These lands control our climate and they are so important for food, security and livelihood.
So what does the African Wildlife Foundation do to improve environmental conservation?
We engage African leaders at a very high level to discuss the importance of wildlife and wild lands. We have been involved in the demarcation of national parks in many countries in Africa, the development of wildlife policies and the development of institutions that now manage protected areas.
But we don't approach conservation as an idea itself. Conservation has to be a part of our heritage. It has to be part of our development aspirations. So we do use a mix of approaches and tools for conservation. Of course most of our work is driven by science. We also do protected area management and all the issues surrounding the management of wildlife and wild lands inside a protected area. We do educational programs. We build schools to increase awareness and education among communities.
Can you tell us where you are now relative to where you were ten years ago?
There has been a lot of improvement. Africa now has over 1,000 protected areas. Many are managed and the institutions exist. Tourism in many countries is a huge contributor to GDP. I think the challenge today is how we link the success of conservation to development.
What happens in terms of sustainability?
Sustainability is an issue and I think it starts with ownership. Africa needs to own its conservation. That is a new change we would like to see in Africa. Our mission as an organization is to ensure wildlife in a modern Africa. We need to ask ourselves: What is the role of wildlife? What investments should we make now? Are there areas we shouldn't touch? Why?
That question has to be managed, owned and processed by Africans. The role of our wildlife is very important to our aspirations, to the Africa we want. You cannot imagine Africa without elephants or rhinos. That is the brand of Africa. That is what makes us Africans.