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Why our national parks have become dinosaurs

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By ALEX O. AWITI

Posted  Monday, August 23   2010 at  00:00
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The present-day park and reserve system is in fact a dinosaur that faces imminent extinction driven largely by the destabilising change in landscapes and ecosystems as a result of the complex, uncertain and nonlinear dynamics of human population growth around parks and reserves, habitat degradation, habitat fragmentation and climate change.

To preserve wildness as much as possible has become Mission Impossible.

What is worrying is that despite the evidence of their inefficacy, conservation authorities in East Africa still believe parks and reserves, as conceived a century ago, to be the only tools for biodiversity conservation.

Ecological understanding and management policies of the 1900s are no longer tenable in the context of 21st century socio-ecological imperatives.

Cutting-edge ecological understanding has moved on but park-centric conservation practice seems immutable.

I know few ecologists who still believe that in the absence of human disturbance, natural ecological processes will lead inevitably to ecological balance.

Diversity of resources

Today, parks and reserves in East Africa, large or small, are islands in a sea of humanity.

They are isolated and wildlife is trapped in habitats that lack the requisite diversity of resources.

Historical migration corridors that predate parks and reserves and that hitherto enabled spatial and temporal distribution of resource utilisation are either threatened or no longer accessible.

Spatial connectivity among currently isolated parks and reserves has the best chance to preserve ecological memory, optimum diversity, and adaptive self-renewal, a key component of ecological resilience.

Resilience in this context is the capacity of parks or reserves to absorb disturbances — drought, floods, habitat degradation, disease epidemics — and reorganise while undergoing change, so as to retain essentially the same function and structure — savannah, forest, wetland).

Designing spatial connectivity among parks and reserves must take a holistic ecosystems approach.

This means that the location and connectivity of parks and reserves must be based on a dynamic understanding of how wildlife uses landscape components, especially pasture and water.

We have much to learn from the centuries old migration corridors of wildebeest to inform the design principles for spatial connectivity between and among parks and reserves, both at national and regional levels.

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