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Sunday, May 9, 2021

A Toxic Mix of Poverty, Development and Animal Tragedy

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On a frigid night in a mountainside village in northern Tanzania, an elephant swam up behind Sam Chikwa. In his 30s, the horned beast was more than twice his size. Ms. Chikwa, who lives in Mawa National Park, often spends nights sleeping in the forest, braving a total of eight meters of snow in the winter. What scared her most that night? A cockroach.

She also heard a rumbling sound. She looked up and saw gunfire.

“I just knew there was trouble,” Ms. Chikwa said.

A fire erupted in a nearby hillside, destroying vegetation and threatening a wide variety of wildlife. For Mr. Chikwa, who works for the Tanzania Wildlife Authority, the incident was the first time he had ever witnessed shooting.

Watch a video report on the shooting and destruction of the forest here.

Mount Kilimanjaro, home to some of the world’s most spectacular wildlife, has long been the last bastion of wilderness in Africa. A collapse of the forest it encircles, however, threatens the national park’s already narrow economic base and threatens the lives of scores of forest animals.

Over the past two decades, the effect of humans and destructive human activities like fires and mining is increasingly known to have a negative impact on wildlife, and it is posing a threat to the park’s irreplaceable biodiversity, experts say.

In the past decade, about 1,300 hectares of mountain forest have been lost to fires, according to data provided by the park. Hundreds of deer have been killed in fires, including those that burned on Mount Kilimanjaro. Seventy different types of animals — from bears to lions — have been killed in fires in the last decade, as well as a variety of reptiles and birds.

The destruction of the forest is not limited to Tanzania. The same country’s Mount Kilimanjaro is now threatened by a series of fires that has threatened wildlife and threatened forest management. Conservationists who have been monitoring the area for decades say that the area had for the most part remained quiet and undeveloped due to growing industrialization of more arid areas of Africa. But that situation has changed in recent years.

“When there are strong factors of human impact, as in mining and agriculture, we should be asking ourselves,” said Walter R. Wahlo, a conservationist who grew up at the park in the 1980s.

These factors include rapid population growth; illegal poaching of wildlife, farmers encroaching on parkland to use its resources and fights between animals and people, conservationists say.

“This is a prime example of a place where population growth and development are interfering with a biological time-out in order to allow nature to survive,” said Dr. Maurice Kombo, director of the Tanzanian Association of Wildlife Aides, which provides advocacy support to local wildlife and forest communities.

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