Facing a dust storm

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The world is undergoing an extinction crisis — the most rapid loss of biodiversity in the planet’s history.

This loss is likely to accelerate as the climate changes. I have chosen to dwell on wildlife in this introductory article for the year because I am aware most people were holidaying in some of the country’s tourism hotspots for game watching among other activities.

One can therefore not imagine visiting a wildlife sanctuary and fail to locate game (and currently they are no longer in abundance as they used to be a couple of years ago), because that will of course remove the fun of holidaying in the well established national parks in Zimbabwe.

The country is known for its abundant wildlife — the flagship elephant, rhinos, lion, buffalo, zebra, gazelle, wildebeest, to name but a few.

Sadly, in December last year Parks and Wildlife Management Authority boss Vitalis Chadenga indicated climate change was fast affecting these “flagship” species that have over the years made Zimbabwe one of the top tourism hotspots at local, regional and global level.

Water is running short in Hwange National Park — home to over 50 000 elephants and host to other species — buffalo, rhino and other small game.

The park has exceeded its carrying capacity of approximately 25 000 animals. Several thousands of game have succumbed to water shortage across the country, while others yielded to veld fires, poaching and drought among other factors.

And so the direct impact on species that humans make use of or with which we compete, affects human communities in a very immediate way: the loss of biodiversity is our loss as well.

Arguably, we also have an ethical responsibility to address the rapid increase in the rate of global species extinction that has been caused by our own actions.

Climate change is of course expected to become one of the major drivers of extinction as a result of changes in the breeding time of species and shifts in distributions caused by the variation in temperatures and precipitation regimes.

And so, when climate change disrupts ecosystems that provide global services, the implications are even more serious.

With regard to rainfall generation, the potential impact on food security is huge because weather systems that water crops in the temperate world can be traced back to evapotranspiration in the three main tropical forest blocks.

During the Durban COP 17, it was estimated 30% of plant and animal species will be at higher risk of extinction due to global warming and that a significant proportion of endemic species may become extinct by 2050 as a consequence.

Average annual temperatures have risen steadily over recent months and even higher increase is predicted for the years ahead.

There is no doubt this is most pronounced in Africa where current climate models project a mean temperature rise of 3-4 degrees Celsius across the continent by the end of this century, approximately 1,5 times the global average increase.

Changing climate will be responsible for the increased frequency and severity of veldt fires. Not only are the fires becoming more intensive and more frequent they are also likely to spread into ecosystems that have not traditionally caught fire.

Not being adapted to fire, the ecosystems will suffer greater and longer-lasting damage.
In Zimbabwe, fires consume thousands of hectares of forests, causing the loss of biodiversity and human and animal lives, and Gonarezhou National Park comes to mind.

Wildlife was almost decimated due to human factors, and Environment minister Francis Nhema probably needs to push hard this year to protect our precious forests.

Ominously, most forest fires are started by smokers, poachers or herders, should we not be more responsible this time around?

Can we imagine, one starting a forest fire because s/he is digging for a rat or hare and/or carelessly discarding a cigarette stub.

In any case if our Mighty Creator wanted us to smoke, he would have designed us with a chimney! Must we allow the dust storm to scatter us?

Happy reading . . .

millenniumzimbabwe@yahoo.com or follow me on http://twitter.com/wisdomdzungairi