original listing of 101 species and adds 30 more. Similar rapid improvements of the data base on mammals, fishes, and plants have been witnessed in the new editions of these volumes. Although most of these changes in status reflect the inadequacies of the original data rather than real changes in the field situation, the existence of the RDBs triggered an upsurge of interest in monitoring rare species. This activity has been followed by the launch of annual counts of storks and cranes at a southern African scale; monitoring of all RDB bird species is now undertaken within a national bird atlassing project (Hockey and Ferrar, 1985).

Perhaps the most ambitious and detailed monitoring project yet undertaken in Africa is that initiated in the Kruger National Park in South Africa in 1975. Following on 50 years of data collection on large mammal numbers and distribution, rainfall patterns, and fire occurrence, the current program includes a network of climate, vegetation transect, and fixed-point photographic stations plus detailed helicopter and fixed-wing aerial counts of 12 species of large mammals, estimates of forage and water availability, season and extent of controlled burns and wildfires, and other information, with a sampling scale of 4-square-kilometer units within the Park’s 19,853 square kilometers. The aerial and ground survey data are integrated within a series of computer programs, which provide a robust data base for the analysis and interpretation of large-scale patterns of change in savanna ecosystems (Joubert, 1983).

Even more detailed monitoring of the dynamics of large mammal populations has been undertaken at Sengwa Wildlife Research Area in Zimbabwe, where the movements and social behavior of the elephant population have been tracked by radio telemetry for over a decade. The elephant study is supplemented by 20 years of detailed transect surveys of the habitat use of 15 other species of mammal. The Kruger Park and Sengwa projects, along with similar studies elsewhere in Africa, provide the practical experience and theoretical framework for much less sophisticated monitoring systems for implementation in countries with more limited resources. Ironically, the lessons learned in such extended and expensive exercises are seldom noted by expatriate conservation biologists sent to Africa.

LESSONS LEARNED

The review in this chapter is far too brief to provide more than a superficial treatment of the problems and progress in conserving biodiversity in Africa. A few key points arise from experience in this field over the past 20 years.

  • African ecosystems are not as fragile and vulnerable as is popularly believed. Throughout their evolution, they have been subjected to enormous environmental pressures—including the hunter and the fire maker through the last few hundred thousand years. But current accelerated rates of change leave little room for complacency regarding the identification of real rather than perceived conservation priorities.

  • Biotic diversity is not linked to the distribution of elephants, rhinos, and other so-called charismatic megaherbivores. The massive investment in conservation campaigns directed at these species does more for the souls of the donors and the



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement