Africa’s Rift Valley Saved by Parks

New book underscores importance of protected areas and long-term conservation monitoring

Book documents changes in climate, habitat, wildlife, and conservation in globally important region spanning five countries

The Ecological Impact of Long-Term Changes in Africa’s Rift Valley is published by Nova Publishers (https://www.novapublishers.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=19950)

NEW YORK (May 3, 2012) – A new book produced by the Wildlife Conservation Society and Albertine Rift Conservation Society (ARCOS) documents how well-managed protected areas with good law enforcement have saved wildlife in Africa’s Albertine Rift Valley despite decades of insecurity and war.

The book documents how the Albertine Rift Valley, one of the most wildlife-rich regions on the planet, faces a variety of challenges from climate change, pressures on wildlife and plant communities, and changes in both human demography and attitudes toward conservation.

Entitled The Ecological Impact of Long-Term Changes in Africa’s Rift Valley (Nova, 2012), the book is edited by Director of WCS’s Albertine Rift Program, Andrew Plumptre, and was a product of a conference supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The book looks at changes in 11 research sites in the Albertine Rift over the past 50-100 years. Each chapter is authored by several scientists who synthesized data from their respective sites from the time when data were first collected until the present.

“The Albertine Rift, which contains not only spectacular wildlife, but also some of the highest human densities on the continent, gives us insight into where Africa is heading as human populations increase and the effects of climate change are increasingly felt and recognized,” said Plumptre. “The conclusions of the book show that areas that were not designated as protected have largely been lost. As some currently question whether protected areas are the best strategy for conservation, this book is a strong argument for their important role.”

In Uganda for example, where 95 percent of all large mammals were killed during the 1970s and 1980s by poachers, there are virtually no elephants, lions, hyenas, buffalos, and large antelope species living outside of protected areas. In fact, throughout the Albertine Rift, large mammal sightings are increasingly rare in natural areas outside of protected areas.

Decreases in wildlife – particularly elephants and hippos, which play a key role in shaping the savanna vegetation through their grazing/browsing effects –are leading to changes in plant communities. Meanwhile, as climate change together with forest clearance affects rainfall levels and temperatures, there is evidence that fruiting patterns of trees are being affected at some sites with a decline in fruit production, while some high altitude species may be lost as their habitat vanishes.

“One of the key findings is that most sites are not stable and that their ecology is changing meaning that conservation of the sites needs to be flexible and plan for these changes,” said Plumptre. “Scientists and conservation practitioners in many disciplines will need to combine their efforts to ensure this biodiverse region is still conserving the unique species found here, such as the mountain and Grauer’s gorillas, in the next 100 years.”

The Albertine Rift is about the size of Maine, spanning some 33,700 square miles (87,500 km) across five countries. It contains more than half of Africa’s bird species along with large numbers of amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. More threatened species are found in the Albertine Rift than any other region on the continent—including critically endangered mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, and elephants. The region’s mountains and forests provide many crucial resources to local people, such as clean water, fuel wood, and non-timber products such as rattan cane and honey, and draw a growing number of ecotourists. 

“The Albertine Rift Regional Research Conference, which brought together xx researchers involved in biodiversity monitoring in the region, is a good example of collaborative effort which helped to understand our complex and diverse region”, said Sam Kanyamibwa, Executive Secretary, Albertine Rift Conservation Society. “We are grateful to the MacArthur Foundation for their funding support."

Contact: 
STEPHEN SAUTNER: (1-718-220-3682; ssautner@wcs.org)
JOHN DELANEY: (1-718-220-3275; jdelaney@wcs.org)

The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide. We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the Flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes toward nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth.

The Albertine Rift Conservation Society has been promoting collaborative actions in the Albertine Rift since its establishment in 1995. Through collaborative actions regionally, nationally, and in its focal landscapes, information sharing, NGO support and networking, ARCOS works with governments, communities, other conservation organizations and the private sector with focus on three main priorities: conserving biodiversity and ecosystem services, climate change and environmental governance and threat mitigation.
Visit: www.arcosnetwork.org

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