Plains Zebra and other ungulates stand under threat

The indigenous people around the world, before they made a major decision, used to sit around and ask themselves, ‘How does this affect our people seven generations ahead?’ – Jane Goodall

Recently, the Plains Zebra Equus quagga, a very common, widely distributed zebra species in Sub-Saharan Africa, became a Near Threatened species by under IUCN redlist status. Though they may range to approximately 750,000, the plains Zebra has faced declines in local populations having recently become extinct in Burundi. Most giraffe sub-species and antelopes such as, The Grevy’s Zebra,  the Mountain Bongo, Hirola Antelope, Addax, Mountain Nyala and other ungulates in Africa mentioned here, are also under threat. The good news is, we still have time to prevent their extinction. However, ungulates such as the Rhinoceros, in this case the Northern white rhino may not be as fortunate.

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Why are ungulates facing decreasing populations in Africa?

Hunting of wild ungulates for their meat and hide poses a major threat for some, if not most, of this species. Bush meat, as it is commonly identified, provides a cheaper substitute for a family’s average daily protein consumption in remote areas of Africa. Though in some parts of Africa wild ungulates are culled, commercial harvesting and the trade of wildlife is considered a threat to biodiversity. Civil wars happening in some African countries reduce population of most wildlife species and their habitats as this is the most readily available food source for people fighting in the war.

Competition with livestock for limited food resources which may results to spread of tropical diseases such as anthrax, from livestock to wildlife, encroachment by farming on much of its habitat resulting to habitat loss, drought and desertification are also slowly making wild ungulates susceptible to extinction.

We can protect the plains zebra and other ungulates through education and awareness; organizations such as BEAN address bush meat consumption in Eastern Africa, setting aside safe space for wildlife and promoting sustainable livestock management. With 70% of wildlife living outside protected areas, designated wildlife corridors could be established which link protected areas allowing wildlife to migrate to their feeding grounds.

You cannot protect the environment unless you empower people,  inform them , and you help them understand that this resources are their own and they must protect them. – Wangari Maathai

Ungulates play an important role in modifying the ecosystem. Ungulates influence the nitrogen cycle by changing litter quality, thereby affecting conditions for Nitrogen mineralization, and by adding readily available Nitrogen to upper levels of the soil in urine and feces. As a result of these additions, natural heterogeneity in the spatial distribution of Nitrogen within landscapes is amplified by ungulate selection of habitats and patches.

In grasslands, ungulates often reduce the extent, frequency, and intensity of fires, while in shrub lands and forests, their effects can increase the likelihood of crown fires, while reducing the likelihood of surface fires.

Therefore, ungulates are important agents of change in ecosystems, acting to create spatial heterogeneity, modulate successional processes, and control the switching of ecosystems between alternative spaces.

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However, population management of ungulates should be considered in cases where the population of a wildlife species exceeds the carrying capacity leading to ecosystem instability in an area to avoid land degradation through suppression of food resources or spread of a tropical disease as was experienced in Lake Nakuru National Park.

Each Species is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius. – Edward O. Wilson

 

 

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