At least 15 per cent of the world’s surface is governed by laws to protect its living species including plants, animals and fungi. But this is not enough. The most recent estimates suggest an additional 30 per cent of the planet’s surface needs further conservation attention. Without this additional protection, the world will continue to lose large numbers of species.
What does this look like when we scale down to the country level?
Our research focuses on Kenya. We looked into whether Kenya’s protected areas and policies adequately conserve its less well known mammals, birds and amphibians.
We examined 1,535 species.
We used this snapshot of the country’s biodiversity because of the availability of data for these groups and because many are under threat.
In Kenya, protected areas that are governed by wildlife laws fall under three categories: national parks (managed by the Kenya Wildlife Service), national reserves (managed by county governments) and conservancies. National parks and reserves cover about eight per cent of the country’s land surface. About 160 conservancies protect about 11 per cent of Kenya’s land.
These protected areas were generally established in areas with large populations of big mammals and are the focus of the current wildlife policy. This policy aims to protect species inside national parks and reserves and help landowners coexist with wildlife in conservancies. It gives landowners the right to benefit from wildlife. Despite this, we found that only 16 per cent of amphibian species, 45 per cent of birds, and 41 per cent of mammals are adequately conserved within government run protected areas and conservancies.
Our research shows that new, innovative wildlife policies and practices are needed to adequately protect many species.
We found that many of the areas with the highest number of different species are found where considerable human pressures exist.
These are often farmland areas, close to development, or rangelands. Substantial conservation efforts outside protected areas are required to ensure the longevity of these species in Kenya. Kenya needs to prioritise conservation interventions at the national level, across land-use types to conserve a large number of its mammals, birds and amphibians.
To do this, policymakers must use data to identify key areas of habitat and species range that can be conserved.
Kenya should also develop “National Red Lists”, as has been done in Uganda and South Africa. This could help target action for threatened species.
To monitor progress, there should be local programmes to collect and summarise data on the environment, biodiversity, land use, human demographics and economic indicators. This will help to prioritise action too.
Our research echoes international calls for landscape-based approaches to conservation. The call is to balance competing land uses in a way that is best for human well-being and the environment.
This would mean policy reforms that integrate conservation with all other sectors of land use.
Without this, landscapes in Africa may end up in a similar situation to those of Europe and America; needing expensive, large-scale restoration and recovery strategies to protect biodiversity.
Mr Tyrrell is a PhD candidate and Mistler Graduate Scholar, University of Oxford. Peadar Brehony contributed to this article.