Washington, July 8 (ANI): A new study has indicated that long-term declines of elephants, giraffe, impala and other animals in Kenya are occurring at the same rates within the country's national parks as outside of these protected areas.
"This is the first time we've taken a good look at a national park system in one country, relative to all of the wildlife populations across the whole country, and we found that wildlife populations inside and outside of the parks are declining at much the same rate," said David Western, an adjunct professor of biology at UC San Diego, who headed the study.
Western said this finding, while surprising to those who regard national parks as sanctuaries where wildlife populations are protected, illustrates the problems that maintaining these protected areas can create on wildlife and ecosystems inside as well as outside of the parks.
"What we're now beginning to understand is that the pressures around the parks are also affecting the wildlife in the parks," said Western, a former director of the Kenyan Wildlife Service, which commissioned the study two years ago.
His research team, which included Samantha Russell, a research scientist at the African Conservation Center, and Innes Cuthill, a biologist at Britain's Bristol University, compiled data from more than 270 counts of wildlife in Kenya over a period of 25 years.
"Many of the population changes that occur are drought-driven, occurring over a 5 to 10 year period," said Western.
"These data cover a long period of time and overcome that seasonal periodic drought-driven effect on wildlife," he added.
The scientists noted in their study paper that many of Kenya's 23 national park and 26 national reserve boundaries do not take into account the seasonal migrations of animals.
So when land surrounding the parks is allowed to be developed for agriculture and other uses, migratory routes and important sources of food for wildlife are destroyed.
"The most disturbing finding from our study is that the biggest parks do not provide insulation from wildlife losses," said Western. "In fact, the biggest losses are occurring in the big parks, rather than the smaller ones," he added.
Western said that to protect Kenyan wildlife from further declines, the Kenyan government needs to set policies to share the profits of ecotourism with local communities so that they can reap the economic benefits of protecting the wildlife and ecosystems within and surrounding the national parks. (ANI)