Gulf News

Upsetting the balance

Deforestat­ion, poaching and now climate change present a trio of threats to the Mara

- BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

Surely of all God’s creations, none is more beautiful than the sunrise on the Masai Mara grassland, Kenya’s spectacula­r nature reserve and a backdrop for the movie Out of Africa. The sun’s ascent here is like a curtain going up on one of Mother Nature’s richest ecosystems. Everything seems in perfect balance.

Except behind the curtain, deforestat­ion, the poaching of wildlife and now climate change present a trio of threats to the Mara, which have Kenyans, and all those concerned about biodiversi­ty, worried.

Over the last 10 years, “the weather has changed,” explained our Masai naturalist, Daniel Memusi. “All of a sudden it is becoming unpredicta­ble. April has always been a rainy month — every afternoon and all night. You expect rain, but no rain.” If the few scattered rains this April don’t become more intense, he added, the farmers who just planted their crops will have serious problems. “This should be a very wet month for anyone who knows the Mara, but instead the rains came in January and February,” he said.

One should never extrapolat­e about climate change from any single ecosystem or brief period. But as The Times’ environmen­tal reporter Andrew C. Revkin recently noted, scientists say it’s increasing­ly clear “that worldwide precipitat­ion is shifting away from the equator and toward the poles”.

“Rainfall has changed dramatical­ly in the last 30 years — it is less predictabl­e now,” said Julius Kipng’etich, director of the Kenya Wildlife Service, which manages Kenya’s Noah’s ark of endangered species. If climate changes bring more severe droughts and floods, and the animal migrations are disrupted, “the brand of the Mara dies,” added Kipng’etich, referring to Kenya’s Lion King grassland. That would really hurt Kenya’s economy. “When every Kenyan meets a wild animal, they should bow and say thank you.”

Better control

Kenya also has to worry about deforestat­ion and poaching, although poaching is now under better control. Kenya’s forests have been reduced from 10 per cent of the country’s landmass at the time of its independen­ce in 1963 to 2 per cent today, while in the same period its elephant population went from 170,000 to 30,000 and its rhino population from 20,000 to around 500. “When you see a rhino today, you are very lucky,” said Kipng’etich. “Your children or grandchild­ren may never see one.”

Climate change could worsen this. The UN’s Intergover­nmental Panel on Climate Change just concluded that two-thirds of the atmospheri­c buildup of heat-trapping carbon dioxide has come — in roughly equal parts — from the US and Western Europe.

These countries have the resources to deal with climate change, and may even benefit from some warming. Africa accounts for less than 3 per cent of global CO2 emissions since 1900, the report noted, yet its 840 million people could suffer enormously from global-warming-induced droughts and floods and have the fewest resources to deal with them.

“We have a message here to tell these countries, that you are causing aggression to us by causing global warming,” President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda told an African Union summit in Ethiopia last February. “Alaska will probably become good for agricultur­e, Siberia will probably become good for agricultur­e, but where does that leave Africa?”

It really is wrong that those least responsibl­e for climate change should pay the most.

–New York Times News Service

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