Africa tops megafauna protection

African countries go the extra mile to protect their largest species, scientists say.

A lion, lioness and their young cubs rest in the grasslands of the Phinda Game Reserve.

Four of the top five countries with the best records for protecting their megafauna are African © Steve Winter/Panthera

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Which nations make the most effort to protect their large wild animals or megafauna?

The answers are not only surprising but have significant implications for the conservation of large carnivores and herbivores across the planet.

According to researchers, four of the top five countries with the best records are African, with only three Asian and four European countries in the top 20.

Botswana has the highest score in the analysis, followed by Namibia, Tanzania and Bhutan.

The scientists developed their ‘conservation index’ by looking at three things – the geographic spread of large animals within a country, the proportion of their habitat that is strictly protected and the proportion of GDP that is put into their conservation.

Any herbivore or omnivore above 100kg, or carnivore above 15kg, counted as megafauna.

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Lions are one of the most iconic megafauna species © Christian Sperka

Dr Peter Lindsey, of the big cat conservation group Panthera, says they chose to measure individual nations’ contribution to protecting biodiversity through megafauna for a number of reasons.

“In general, they are doing poorly, are difficult to live with and have very strong roles as keystone species,” Lindsey says. “They also engender unparalleled passion among global citizens.”

Lindsey carried out the research after seeing sheep grazing in a British national park.

“What kind of sacrifice is it if a national park is used for sheep and human habitation and there are no moves to reintroduce indigenous species, such as lynx or wolves, that once occurred there?” Lindsey says.

“In Zimbabwe, people are poor and depend on crops or livestock, and so affected much more by large animals such as lions and elephants. It’s a good example of the inequity in terms of the conservation effort and sacrifice made by different countries of the world.”

Read the full paper in Global Ecology and Conservation

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