A number of Africa’s most famous, beloved and beautiful species are in rapid decline.
It is often shouted from the rooftops those animals that are listed as endangered or only have limited numbers left, and rightly so. However there are other species whose numbers, although appearing great in number, are fast being depleted. The population numbers of the ten animals and birds listed below are decreasing at a rapid rate and while they may not have the least numbers to top the “10 most endangered species list”, they are certainly facing population crashes with little hope predicted for the future.
1. Western lowland gorilla
The population of the magnificent Western lowland gorilla has seen a rapid decline which can be attributed to high levels of commercial hunting and the devastating Ebola virus. The population has quickly gone from absolute abundance to a decline of more than 60% in the past twenty years and with gorilla reproductive rates being extremely slow, there is little hope for recovery. Despite a large portion of the population living within protected areas, poaching poses a serious threat to the species. To add to the problem, experts suggest that within the next 20 to 30 years habitat loss will also pose a greater threat due to use of land for agriculture, timber extraction and mining.
2. African penguin
Due to the over-fishing of our oceans by commercial fisheries, the African penguin has seen a very rapid population decline with a trend that shows no sign of reversing. This massive decline is put down largely to food shortages and environmental fluctuations. Additional threats come in the form of human disturbances which have a negative impact on breeding birds as well as nesting sites. Egg-collecting and mortality from oil spills also pose serious risks and with harbours continuing to be built alongside breeding colonies this problem is only on the increase. The present African penguin population is confined to areas near to major shipping ports.
3. Black rhino
Throughout most of the 20th century, the black rhino boasted the largest population numbers of all the world’s rhinos with estimations lying at about 850 000 individuals. However by 1960 only about 100 000 individuals remained due to land clearances for human settlement and farming, large-scale poaching and relentless hunting of the species and between 1960 and 1995 the population decreased by a dramatic 95.6%. While numbers are steadily on the increase today, current estimations are still 90% lower than three generations ago with one of four sub-species now considered extinct.
4. Ruppell’s vulture
This particular species has seen a very rapid decline due to a loss of habitat, persecution, hunting for trade and poisoning. Over the past 30 years, the Ruppell’s vulture populations have declined by up to 85%. Vultures are traded for parts in local medicinal practices while they are also a commodity on the international trade markets. It is now common practice for poachers to lace carcasses with poison to kill vultures to prevent the large congregations of birds at carcasses from alerting officials. Many African countries have few laws in place regarding the obtaining of these poisons and penalties are so minimal that they are no deterrent.
This species is believed to have undergone a decline well exceeding 80% over the past three generations. The current estimated population lies at less than 300 individuals due to severe hunting and habitat loss. Formerly widespread across the Sahelo-Saharan region, this species is considered to be at a very high risk of extinction in the near future. The only known remaining wild population survives in the Termit/Tin Toumma region of Niger with seldom, rare and unconfirmed sightings occurring in other isolated areas in Africa.
6. Southern ground hornbill
This species is in very rapid decline in Africa, particularly in South Africa. Threats such as habitat destruction and persecution have caused the species numbers to drop with a dramatic decrease in numbers expected for the future. One major threat is loss of nesting habitat due to agriculture and fires while widespread livestock grazing on grassland areas is evident, specifically in Kenya with only 10% of the suitable habitat for these birds remaining. The birds are known to break house window panes when they attack their own reflections, leading to the persecution of the birds in villages. The Southern ground hornbill is also poisoned as a superstitious “cure” against drought, and collisions with power-lines are also increasingly causing mortalities. These birds have very slow reproductive and maturation rates so the longevity of the species is at great risk.
7. African wild dog
African wild dogs have disappeared from much of their former range in recent years and a current population estimate lies at just 6 600, with only 1 400 mature individuals. Populations are declining due to human encroachment and the resultant habitat fragmentation, plus direct persecution and infectious disease carried by domestic dogs. This human conflict is unlikely to be reversible and in fact is no doubt going to increase in the coming years. As the African wild dog is known to roam large territories, only a few reserves are able to provide protection for the species. The African wild dog is virtually eradicated from North and West Africa, and greatly reduced populations remain in Central Africa and North-east Africa.
8. Grey crowned crane
The past 45 years (3 generations) have seen a very rapid population decline due to habitat loss and the illegal removal of birds and eggs from the wild. Wetland breeding areas have been lost due to excessive land-use, drainage, mining and overgrazing while the birds also fall victim to the activities of fisheries and the hunting of large mammals in these wetlands. The species is ever threatened by the live-trapping of adult birds for trade as well as egg-collecting particularly in Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda with the demand being local and from the Middle and Far-East for the pet trade and captive facilities. The Grey crowned crane is living increasingly close to expanding human populations and being exposed to disturbance and hunting. A large number of these birds are killed annually by poisoning as retaliation or to prevent crop damage.
9. African lion
While these magnificent beasts once roamed large tracts of Africa and beyond, populations have crashed dramatically to an estimated 450 000 in the 1940s and less than 20 000 animals today. Extensive trophy hunting, persecution in defense of life and livestock, prey base depletion, habitat loss and isolated breeding populations place increasingly downward pressure on populations.
10. Secretary bird
The population is experiencing a rapid decline due to human disturbance, habitat degradation, hunting and the capture of the species for trade. While this magnificent bird may appear on South Africa’s coat of arms as a symbol of protection, human activities are causing its population numbers to crash. Although the species occupies a vast land range, individual estimates do not exceed five-figures. Disturbance by humans negatively affects breeding while hunting, nest-raiding and live capture for the pet market also occur across a range of countries in Africa.