Animal behaviour has been in constant mode of change for millennia, the most radical of which was when the first creature left the water for the first time. Change in behaviour is determined by changing conditions, be they climatic or geomorphic. Many of these changes have occurred in the past two hundred years.
Africa is a continent with one of the highest human population growth rates in the world. As a result, more land is needed each year to provide for this rapid growth. This in turn results in the shrinking of ranges of natural areas for wildlife. Historically African people lived in communion with the wilderness but with colonialism came western influences and new ethics, the most dangerous been materialism.
Pay to stay
Today it is believed that the wilderness must pay to stay. With over-population and hunger as constant threats in Africa many people subscribe to this philosophy. On the negative side, placing a value on wildlife has opened up the illegal trade in animal products, hereby putting some species in danger of extinction.
Unless there is a major shift in human consciousness the present mentality will govern the way forward in conservation.
With the the increase clamour for land in Africa wilderness areas are shrinking. Animals traditionally moved unhindered by fences and human settlements but today the movements have been restricted to conserved areas. Game reserves and national parks have set up wildlife management policies to protect these preserved areas.
As part of the management plan artificial waterholes are set up to provide water during the dry season, a season where game would historically have moved vast distances in search of water. This has tempered part of the animals’ survival instinct as water is now permanent throughout the year.
Fences of death
Fences have stopped the migrations of many species, mainly in southern Africa, and have changed the behaviour of animals dramatically. The vast herds of springbok of two hundred years ago, that would take days to pass a point, have been wiped out. These days, springbok are non migratory animals occurring in small herds on farms and protected game areas. Where’s your passport, mammal?
Veterinary control fences set up to adhere to foreign export laws have played havoc with the wild herds of Botswana. The laws are to stop wildlife moving into areas of domestic stock to prevent the transferring of diseases.
Until thirty years ago large herds of wildebeest migrated between the central Kalahari region and the Okavango Delta; this was before a fence was erected on the northern boundary of the central Kalahari region.
The fence was erected whilst the animals were in the drier south. With their first movement north the animals were pinned against the fence. Faced with thirst and starvation hundreds of thousands died. Since then, the wildebeest population in Botswana has dropped by 90%. The remaining 10% have adapted to a new non-migratory existence. This adaptation has helped the wildebeest numbers become stable.