Africa Wildlife Foundation at COP-21: “Our mission is to protect the wildlife of Africa”

Adaptation, survival and extinction rates among wildlife have been connected to climatic and environmental factors and variability. They rely on seasonal changes for migration and breeding, under which intolerable levels of climate change would account for the disruption of biotic interactions. Currently, animals in the wild are suffering because of global warming, which is reflected in their inabilty to maintain their habitats, or a stable food chain, threatening their existence altogether.

In 2012, science researchers in Kenya discovered that the African cheetah is gradually losing its ability to reproduce, and in other parts of Africa, elephants are threatened as well because of the pressure put on their space.

As represenatatives from different parts of the world gather to discuss the impact of climate change on the world at COP-21 in Paris, various animal conservation organisations and concerned individuals are joining them to speak on behalf of wildlife. The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), a renowned advocate for wildlife conservation on the endangered continent, is filled with the hope that they can make a change by lending their voice to the ongoing climate talks.

Ventures Africa spoke to Kathleen Fitzgerald, Vice President of Conservation Strategy for the AWF, for commentary on how advocacy for African wildlife is integral to the conversation at COP-21.

Given that a lot of animals are already experiencing instability in their natural habitats, what do you think we need to do to address global warming?

Global warming should be avoided, for both people and wildlife. Making our globe cleaner is better for everyone.

What people need to consider in relation to climate change and wildlife in Africa, and globally, is that it is not happening in a vacuum. Already, in Africa wildlife face a series of threat, including poaching and habitat loss, and when you add climate change you see instances in many landscapes where it is already pushing wildlife and people to a tipping point.

The AWF’s presence at the COP-21 is first to create awareness about the threat facing wildlife and people in Africa, pertaining to climate change, and secondly to advocate for a global agreement that reduces pollution, which would help reduce the impact of climate change. In addition, we are pushing for an increase in funding for Africa, because while Africa is not one of the major polluters globally, it is already one of the most impacted continents for climate change, and that will only get worse.

People are feeling the impact of climate change, and they don’t have the resources or resiliency to adapt. This is a priority for AWF, and one of our major programmes sees us working with communities that live with wildlife, in order to help them to adapt to climate change.

In Southern Kenya, for example, a result of climate change is an increase in human-wildlife conflict, because water is a scarce resource in an arid the landscape. This area is where we have one of the most important populations of elephants, and they have to go to the same source with people for water. What happens next is retaliatory killing of wildlife, and other chain of effects that have an impact on wildlife.

Will humans be impacted from changes in animal behaviour due to climate change? 

Africa is growing and changing, with an increase in human population, as well as infrastructure development across the continent. What we have been advocating – and firmly believe – is that with good planning, human and wildlife can coexist. And we are trying to implement that in the areas we work in. We look at wildlife and the areas that they need to survive, and we makes plans, with climate change in mind, through a system of modelling. This happens either in a special analysis laboratory, or we project based on the implications of climate change that we are aware of. We also look at the human population, and how they need to survive.

The biggest change in animal behaviour has to do with movement, and sourcing for food and water, and the greatest impact is habitat stability. As Africa changes, the weather becomes more radical, and the lands become more arid, putting both humans and animals in a situation where they have to adapt.

AWF has spent the last 15 years working on a large landscape scale, and that is one of the greatest mitigation and adaptation mechanisms that we believe that Africa needs to implement. Because, by working on such a scale, wildlife is enabled to adapt to movement, sourcing, and accessing different foods and water sources, which fragmented and isolated lands won’t help with.

In Africa, habitats are changing because of human impact and plant use, and adding climate change to that basically accelerates these changes. The wildlife then need to move and adapt to new habitats, and without protecting large connections of landscape, they are unable to do that. We need to ensure that there’s space for the wildlife to adapt.

In your opinion, is wildlife conservation getting enough attention at COP-21?

No, it’s not. And that is part of why we are here; to raise awareness about the implications of climate change on wildlife in Africa, because our mission is to protect the wildlife and wild lands of Africa. As an organisation, the AWF witnesses and feels the direct impact of climate change on the wildlife that we are working with.

What do you think it would take for the world, and the representative authorities at COP-21 as well, to show more responsibility towards conserving wildlife?

We are starting to see governments recognise the value of ecosystem services in Africa, and it has a direct link to wildlife. Governments have begun to note that the value of the ecosystem goes beyond protecting areas, and revenue for parks, and really has to do with water, air, among other things that have an impact on humans and the economy.

If you look at agriculture, for example, it’s a major growing area on the continent, and without adequate water and good soils, it’s not going to thrive. It’s excellent that governments are showing concern now, and we are encouraging it to continue, while considering the broader picture.

What would you describe as a ‘win’ for wildlife in Africa in terms of the talks?

The best outcome would be a global agreement, and we are hopeful that the leaders this year would achieve that, by setting targets for reduction in pollution and financial support for adaptation and mitigation in Africa.

Another major conversation here also is forestation and conservation, and Africa’s forests are critically important for the globe, and for mitigation, and we are seeing that play a central role in the discussions here, and AWF is advocating for an increase in support for the protection of the forests, because that would mean that the wildlife and forest-dependent communities would be helped to come up with ways to thrive in line with forest conservation.

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