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The Great African Die-Off

“Big Five” animals of Africa declining at unprecedented rate

According to a new study in the journal Biological Conservation, African national parks like Masai Mara and the Serengeti have seen populations of large mammals decline by up to 59 percent.

Scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Cambridge University have been studying 69 species, including the Big Five – lions, elephants, buffalo, leopard and rhino – in 78 protected areas throughout Africa. From 1970 to 2005, there has been an average decline of almost 60 percent in those populations.

Why is this happening? Poaching and loss of habitat are the main culprits. People often hunt illegally for bushmeat inside wildlife parks. “There are literally hundreds of national parks in Africa,” said Ian Craigie of the U.K.’s Cambridge University, who led the study. “Most do not monitor their animals enough. Many species like rhino are practically extinct outside national parks.”

A study at the Masai Mara reserve in Kenya, a popular tourist destination for safarism has similar findings. Between 1989 and 2003, the local giraffe population declined by 95 percent, the warthog population by 80 percent, and the hartebeest by 76 percent. “The situation we documented paints a bleak picture and requires urgent and decisive action if we want to save this treasure from disaster,” said Joseph Ogutu, the lead author of that study.

The declines vary in different parts of the continent. Populations have increased slightly in southern Africa, but have shrunk by more than half in East Africa and are down 85 percent in West Africa, due to lack of funds, high rates of habitat degradation and the growing bushmeat trade.

This video is the first ten minutes of the PBS Nature episode, The Vanishing Lions, about efforts to save the lions of Africa from hunting and poaching — including how the whole business got underway when the European imperialists took up safari hunting as part of their plunder of Africa.