Before I travel to southern Africa last summer, I could not imagine an African savanna that didn’t feature its amazing migrations. However, Africa’s plains seem to be becoming increasingly devoid of wildlife. My investigation revealed that instead, fences were marching across the Savannas.
A review of 24 large mammal species that used to migrate frequently revealed that many migrations have become extinct. The fences kept animals from moving, sometimes within reach of the food and water they needed. These fences were able to stop massive historical migrations. Since the 1950s, millions of wild animals, including wildebeests, hartebeests, springbok, and others, have died from thirst or hunger.
This is a serious problem that has not been address. The threat of the total collapse of the Greater-Mara ecosystem is being pose by Kenya’s fences, which form groups and act as virtual battle lines. Recent global studies of 57 species moving mammals have shown that the planet’s most extraordinary natural events are in danger.
Divided Land Migrations
Botswana is home to some of the most beautiful free-range wildlife on Earth. To protect European beef producers against foot-and-mouth disease, (FMD), fences built to divide the country into 17 islands.
Fencing can be expensive, especially fencing that is strong enough to stop migrating animals. It also favors a small percentage of cattle owners. This keeps local livestock farmers from the export market. This is because wildlife-based tourism has overtaken livestock as a percentage of GDP in countries such as Botswana.
The colonial-era subsidies for the fencing system have been remove, leaving behind a system that is losing and that can hinder local farmers, tourism, and sustainability. Many savanna landscapes have become conflict areas between wildlife and local people.
A rare positive story emerged against this grim backdrop. It driven by patient advocacy and myth-busting science. Except for the African buffalo, wildlife is not a major factor in transmission of foot-and-mouth disease. Ironically, it is more likely that cattle will spread it. Many areas, such as the Kalahari desert, don’t have cattle or buffalo so fences there are not use for disease control.
It has proven that these fences can cause migrations to restart after careful scientific research. After a small portion of the fence was removed, the longest recorded animal migration, among zebras in Botswana, began again a few years back.
Place Is More Important Than Process
One Health, a relatively new scientific approach, is perhaps the most significant breakthrough. One Health is a problem solving strategy that addresses issues at the intersection of wildlife, domestic animals and human health. It took a huge effort from veterinarians and other scientists to find a solution, in collaboration with animal health organizations and communities. Instead of focusing on the geographic origin of livestock, it examines the entire meat production process – from farm and fork – through an animal safety lens.
This method was originally developed to prevent illness from contaminated foods by astronauts in 1960s. This method is used in every aspect of the food industry: from vegetable growing to canning and meat processing. It means that even in foot and mouth zones, vaccinations, veterinary surveillance and standardised meat preparation can ensure wildlife-friendly beef.
It is one thing to know the solution and another to convince policymakers to implement it. Soon, the One Health team shifted its focus to advocacy and policy. After years of dialogue and research between sectors that seldom sat together at the same table for many years, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), in 2012, issued the Phakalane Declaration on the Adoption of Non-Geographic Approaches to Management of Foot and Mouth Disease. These non-geographic approaches aren’t dependent on fencing.
Put Policy Into Practice Migrations
This unanimous statement made by experts in southern African animal health. It heard around the globe. In 2015, a real policy breakthrough made in Paris when the World Animal Health Organisation, OIE, rewrote Terrestrial Animal Health Cod to allow international trade in fresh meat from countries and zones affected by foot-and-mouth disease.
Ngamiland, which is home to world-renowned wildlife, and the Okavango Delta, recently list as a World Heritage Site. Ngamiland committed to revising its fencing with wildlife-friendly beef in late last year.
Botswana also lies at the center of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier conservation area. This area spans Angola Botswana Namibia Zambia Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe and is home the largest remaining elephant population in the world. Cornell University’s Animal and Human Health for the Environment and Development (AHEAD), has been working with local partners in the resolution of FMD-related conflicts at the largest peace park Africa. Non-fence solutions were also at the forefront of a multi-country summit that took place in late 2016.