Economic migration is one of the most prevalent threats to the wildlife and habitat of East Africa. Increasing populations and poverty in rural communities cause people to seek out land and natural resources that exist in protected areas. A large percentage of the rural population in many East African countries reside close to wildlife areas. Therefore, human/wildlife conflict is becoming an increasingly prevalent issue. The peripheral communities often bear the costs of coexisting with wildlife, understood by them as threats to household food and economic security. Elephants and buffalo can devastate crops in one night, and raiding predators can cause considerable stock losses. Such incidents can cause communities to take direct action against wildlife, where the costs of damage far outweigh the benefits. The outcome is often persecution of wildlife and in extreme cases complete depletion of an area.

Some of the most defining landscapes of East Africa are protected by their very nature of being remote and inhospitable. As pressures on the land increase, these last remaining wilderness areas are put at risk. Economic and political forces promote initiatives for resource exploitation and extraction, often in areas where the revenue generated is minimal in comparison to that which the land currently ‘produces’ in its natural state.
Populations of wildlife are threatened by a variety of factors. A complex web of administrative, social, economic, and political pressures makes the future of both wildlife and its habitat uncertain. In some cases, species have already become locally extinct as a result of the actions of man. Imagine a future world where lions have only been observed in photographs and mice are the only remaining simulation of elephants. This is not an unlikely scenario, in East Africa or in any other region where wildlife and human populations are struggling to coexist.

East Africa’s extraordinary wildlife is a precious asset and a source of national and regional revenue from tourism. People in the developed world are captivated by the thought of wildlife and open savannahs. Against a backdrop of escalating population pressure, industrial and agricultural development, and global economic demands, East Africa’s wildlife and the habitats which support it are under threat.

Importance of East Africa’s Wildlife
It is not easy to overemphasize the importance of East Africa’s wildlife and the magnitude of the potential losses being faced. It is a natural treasure that is a vital component of East Africa’s heritage. Although many international conservation groups and donor countries have focused attention on the region’s wildlife because of its global importance, it is essential to emphasize the importance of wildlife to the people who share their land with it. Imploring the value of wildlife to people living in rural areas on the margins of East Africa’s protected areas is not well understood in the West, nor is it fully appreciated by many urban East Africans. Our review of the issues concerning wildlife and people in the region is aimed at helping people make more informed decisions about their wildlife and natural resources. Recognizing the significance of wildlife to all citizens of East Africa and to the global community is the first step in ensuring that it is never lost. This can only be accomplished if the long-term benefits of wildlife and nature conservation are made clear to all interested parties.

Threats to East Africa’s Wildlife
A major cause of the decline in wildlife population and biodiversity in East Africa is the destruction of natural habitat. As human populations increase, the human presence becomes more visible. Increased settlement in the countryside often results in the development of rural and community areas around protected areas and the migration of people into wildlife-rich areas. This movement of people places enormous pressure on the land and often results in the degradation of the environment. Habitat loss and degradation have occurred in many ways. The cutting down of forests for timber and to clear land for farming is a major factor in the reduction of forest cover in both Uganda and Tanzania. In the highlands, forests have been cleared to make way for coffee-growing areas with disastrous implications for both the environment and the wildlife. It is estimated that approximately 80% of the original forest cover in the highlands has been lost in this way. In the Rift Valley, many of the forests and acacia woodlands have been cleared to make way for cultivation and in Kenya it is estimated that nearly 40% of this type of habitat has been lost. An increase in the frequency and extent of wildfires has also had a detrimental effect on the environment.

Another major cause of habitat degradation is destructive land use practices that lead to soil erosion. This includes overgrazing of livestock in and around protected areas and cultivation in unsuitable areas such as steep slopes and areas prone to flooding. In the uplands of Uganda and Kenya, continuous cultivation of steep marginal lands has heavily reduced soil fertility and has led to serious soil erosion in many areas. In Tanzania, the Usambaras and Ulugurus are considered to be under severe threat from soil erosion and siltation. The drainage of wetlands and swamps has also been commonplace all across East Africa and while some of this has been for water resource development, much has been done by poor people in search of fertile lands. This activity has great implications for the environmental health of these areas and the unique wildlife found within.

Overutilization of natural resources is another major cause of habitat loss and directly impacts the wildlife itself. While the collection of resources such as firewood, timber, water, and fodder are essential for many rural and community peoples, overcollection of these resources in and around protected areas can have seriously detrimental effects. This is also true of bushmeat hunting, which is a critical issue in many wildlife-rich areas. In some cases, entire wildlife populations have been wiped out or seriously depleted. It is generally the case that increased human activity in wildlife-rich areas increases in human-wildlife conflict situations which can result in injury and death of people and wildlife.
2. Conservation Efforts in East Africa