October 2015, Volume 13-5

The IUCN report attributes the erosion of West and Central Africa’s biodiversity to habitat loss and degradation due to rapid urbanization, agricultural expansion and unsustainable resource exploitation, as well as unsustainable bushmeat harvest and the illegal wildlife trade. The rapidly growing human population of the 22 countries of the region is projected to rise to over 600 million in little over a decade, placing tremendous pressure on the region’s natural heritage

10% of the 2,471 amphibian, bird and mammal species native to West and Central Africa are threatened with extinction, as well as 17% of the more than 1,600 freshwater fish species. In the last decade, both African rhinos, the Black and White Rhinoceros, have been extirpated from the region, while the Scimitar-horned Oryx became Extinct in the Wild in the 1980s. Gambia, Mauritania, Senegal, and Mali have lost five or more of their historically native large mammal species. A few species, including Dama Gazelle and Dryad Monkey have global populations now down to only a few 100 individuals in the wild, while regional subpopulations of African Wild Dog, Lion, Cheetah, Giraffe, and Giant Eland are all Critically Endangered.

The decline of wildlife in West Africa in particular, can be attributed to extensive deforestation and forest fragmentation, primarily via wide-scale clear-cutting to replace forests with agricultural land and commercial plantations [editor’s emphasis]. Central African forests remain relatively intact, but roughly one-third of remaining forests are in logging concessions, suggesting that pressures are increasing. The region as a whole is also subject to extensive and increasing exploitation of its mineral and oil reserves, involving both large commercial, open-cast operations and artisanal activities [editor’s emphasis]. Mining operations have already led to the downsizing and degazettement of protected areas, including one World Heritage site. Even where forests remain intact, bushmeat hunting, especially for ungulates, is prevalent and off-take rates are often not sustainable. The black market demand for ivory and, more recently, pangolin scales, is further driving wildlife declines [editor’s emphasis].

The authors point out the inadequacy of national legislation in the region, especially in meeting global targets for biodiversity and protected areas. Furthermore, many sites important for biodiversity remain unprotected in the region, including more than one-third of sites known to hold the last remaining population of a highly threatened species. The information in the report [has been used] to improve management in eight protected areas in the region, such as Bouba-Njiidda National Park in Cameroon and Conkouati-Douli National Park in Congo. It will also add important context to the forthcoming EU strategic approach for African wildlife conservation.

The full report, An IUCN situation analysis of terrestrial and freshwater fauna in West and Central Africa, is available for download here.

Source: 12 June 2015 IUCN Press Release (edited for length)