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The importance of protecting Africa’s endangered species

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Picture: framesequence via Getty Images – The Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda are a significant draw for tourists, and the income generated from gorilla tourism helps to support local communities and conservation efforts, the writer says.

By Dominic Naidoo

There are more than 100,000 known species of plants, animals and fungi in South Africa with both local and international scientists concurring that there may be at least another 50,000 species in the country waiting to be discovered.

These flora and fauna vary depending on their environment, creating unique ecosystems that are found almost everywhere on earth.

While all species are an important part of the ecosystem and food chain, some are considered cornerstone species.

Without these cornerstone species, the ecosystem will dramatically change or even fall apart. Known as keystone species, they are irreplaceable and help keep the ecosystem healthy and thriving.

Their importance is based on early research conducted by American zoology professor, Robert T Paine, who proved the existence of cornerstone species, organisms which keep habitat structures and food webs intact.

Professor Paine’s research on the removal of the Pisaster ochraceus starfish for the tidal plain on Tatoosh Island, Washington State, US, had an enormous impact on the region’s ecosystem.

The loss of the starfish allowed invasive mussels to push out other species. Benthic algae that supported limpets, sea snails, and bivalves were almost wiped out. Within six months, the biodiversity in the tidal plain was cut to half of its previous numbers.

Endangered species are critical components of the Earth’s biodiversity, and their protection is essential to ensure the health and well-being of the planet.

From providing essential ecosystem services to supporting cultural and economic activities, endangered species play vital roles in our daily lives. In this feature, I will attempt to explore the importance of Africa’s endangered species and the reasons why they should be protected.

Endangered species are essential for maintaining the planet’s biodiversity. Biodiversity refers to the variety of living organisms on Earth, including plants, animals, and micro-organisms.

Biodiversity is crucial because it helps to maintain ecological balance, ensure the stability of ecosystems, and support the overall health of the planet. Endangered species, as part of this biodiversity, contribute to maintaining ecological balance by filling unique niches in their ecosystems.

For example, bees are crucial pollinators that contribute to the growth of many plants and crops. The loss of bee populations could have disastrous effects on the Earth’s food supply and ecosystems.

Therefore, protecting endangered species is essential for maintaining the planet’s biodiversity and ensuring the sustainability of life on Earth.

According the the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), following drastic population declines over the last several decades due to poaching for ivory and loss of habitat, the African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) is now listed as critically endangered and the African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana) as endangered on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species.

Picture: namibelephant via Getty Images Signature – Endangered species are essential for providing ecosystem services. Elephants are one of Africa’s most important and influential keystone species. During times of drought, elephants are able to sniff out underground water deposits which they are then able to dig up and bring to the surface creating watering holes which not only support the herd but other wildlife as well.

Elephants are one of Africa’s most important and influential keystone species. During times of drought, elephants are able to sniff out underground water deposits which they are then able to dig up and bring to the surface creating watering holes which not only support the herd but other wildlife as well.

Eating 200-400 kilograms of fauna each day, elephants are important seed dispersal agents through their droppings which also act as fertiliser promoting new growth and eventually, new micro-ecosystems.

Due to their massive size, elephants are capable of trampling quite a few plants while walking from one area to another. This clears paths in densely vegetated areas, enabling smaller animals to move through more freely and safely.

The clearance of some thorny bushes also allows more light to reach the ground, which promotes the growth of new plant species, reduces competition and allows for greater biodiversity.

Surprisingly, even their dung creates little mini-ecosystems wherever they defecate, which can be up to 15 times a day. Their dung is a source of food for swarms of insects which in turn, attract multiple species of birds which feed on these insects.

Elephants also provide shelter for smaller creatures, especially amphibians and insects. For example, in Myanmar, a group of researchers observed that during the dry season, elephant tracks fill up with water, which creates an ideal environment for frogs to lay their eggs and for tadpoles to grow.

Their footprints also provide predator-free breeding grounds for frogs and act as connecting sinks for frog populations to connect, which strengthens genetic diversity.

Endangered species are essential for providing ecosystem services. Ecosystem services refer to the benefits that people and other living organisms derive from the natural world, including clean air, water, food, and other resources.

Endangered species provide critical ecosystem services, such as pollination, seed dispersal, and nutrient cycling.

Many endangered species have cultural significance, particularly for indigenous communities who rely on them for food, medicine, and cultural practices.

For example, the saiga antelope has significant cultural importance for the nomadic people of Central Asia, who have relied on this animal for their livelihoods for centuries.

Protecting endangered species is not just about preserving biodiversity but also about preserving cultural heritage and knowledge.

Endangered species also have immense economic value, particularly for eco-tourism. Protecting these species can help to generate income and support local communities.

For example, the Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda are a significant draw for tourists, and the income generated from gorilla tourism helps to support local communities and conservation efforts.

Protecting endangered species is not only essential for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services but also for supporting economic growth and development.

Economic and social benefits aside, protecting endangered species is an ethical responsibility. As the dominant species on the planet, humans have an ethical responsibility to protect and conserve other species.

Protecting endangered species is part of this responsibility and helps to ensure a sustainable future for all life on Earth. Additionally, protecting endangered species is essential for ensuring the well-being of future generations who depend on a healthy planet.

The extinction of endangered species in Africa can have significant and far-reaching effects on the ecosystem, as each species plays a unique and important role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem.

Here are a few ways that the extinction of endangered species in Africa could affect the ecosystem:

Loss of biodiversity

When a species goes extinct, it means that its unique genetic makeup is lost forever. This loss of biodiversity can have significant impacts on the ecosystem, as each species plays a vital role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem. The loss of a single species can have a ripple effect, causing changes throughout the ecosystem.

Disruption of food chains

Endangered species often play important roles in the food chains of their ecosystems. For example, if a predator species goes extinct, it can disrupt the balance of the food chain and cause cascading effects on other species in the ecosystem.

Reduction in ecosystem services

Endangered species can provide important ecosystem services, such as pollination or seed dispersal. If these species go extinct, it can reduce the ability of the ecosystem to provide these services, which can have impacts on other species in the ecosystem.

Changes in ecosystem structure

Endangered species can also play important roles in shaping the structure of the ecosystem. For example, if a large herbivore species goes extinct, it can lead to changes in vegetation patterns, which can in turn affect other species in the ecosystem.

All in all, endangered species are essential for maintaining the planet’s biodiversity, providing ecosystem services, supporting cultural and economic activities, and fulfilling our ethical responsibility as stewards of the planet.

Protecting endangered species is critical for the sustainability of life on Earth, and we must take action to ensure their survival. By conserving endangered species, we can contribute to the health and well-being of the planet and ensure a bright future for generations to come.

Dominic Naidoo is an Environment Activist and writer.

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