Seasonally, most wildlife species move from one place to another in search of food, water, and of course, a mate - this is known as wildlife migration. This common idea of migrating to better resources is shared amongst many species, from mammals to birds and reptiles, and is integral to their survival and reproduction.
Unfortunately, with the man-made creation of borders (whether that be between countries or the fencing around certain parks as we have in South Africa), these natural migration trails have become disrupted, restricting wildlife movement to areas of excess resources.
how big of an issue are we talking about here?
This is a massive issue since migration trails like Wildebeest use in the Serengeti are over a million years old. These animals' livelihoods rely on seasonal movement from areas of lower resources to those with more resources, causing them to become sequestered in these low-resource areas until the following rainy season brings food and water.
Disrupting the way of life these animals have known for millennia is detrimental to their survival - they were not created for surviving these extended periods without food or water. Many farms or reserves provide food and water during these periods, but with this comes the age-old controversial question - do we leave the circle of life to play out, or do we provide additional resources in areas where we have prevented access to them?
On top of all this, our wildlife is just as important to our environments as our environments are to our wildlife - without this migration, many plants aren’t pollinated, many others aren’t eaten and kept in check, nutrients aren’t adequately distributed, pests aren’t kept in control, and our ecosystems break down.
surely over time, our wildlife has adapted to these restrictions?
Some animals, such as Impala, have the ability to prolong their pregnancies or abort them altogether if the rainy season is late and they anticipate there will not be enough food and water to go around. This is a perfect example of the detrimental effect this restriction of wildlife movement has on their reproduction.
Many antelope also have the ability to produce highly concentrated urine, which allows them to retain as much water as possible. There are also behavioral adaptations such as the avoidance of direct sun or restricting activity during the hottest times of the day, but there is no getting around it - in the absence of adequate resources, whether that be via man-made provision or migration, these adaptations are a bandaid on a bullet wound.
now for the most elegant of solutions - wildlife corridors
Also known as migration pathways, these corridors are areas of land or water that connect fragmented habitats and allow migrating wildlife to move freely between their summer and winter ranges. In this way, these species that rely on seasonal movement can have continuous access to an adequate habitat.
A beautiful example that is currently being used and began to be put together in 2009 is the Futi Corridor - this absolutely gorgeous strip of land spanning almost 68,800 hectares connects the Northern borders of Tembe Elephant Park and Ndumo Game Reserve to the Southern border of Maputo National Park in Mozambique.
Courtesy of the Peace Parks Foundation.
Although animal movement in this area is completely unrestricted, the movement or presence of people is highly controlled with only a single seasonally-accessible road passing through the corridor alongside the magnificent Futi River. This beautiful initiative allows wildlife to migrate from the South African region as the dry season sets in (around May or June) to the Mozambican side which would be flooding during summer.
As the summer rains begin to cause the water sources in Maputo National Park to flood, the animals then migrate back to South Africa where the spring rains would have brought plenty of food and water for everyone!
benefits vs. costing or labor of wildlife corridors
As with most elegant solutions, this one comes with a price - fencing adequate to contain wildlife costs in the range of R55,000 - R110,000 per kilometer. Additionally, the creation of these corridors could potentially be labor intensive if they need to be cleared. Some of these areas haven’t been made use of by wildlife in many years which introduces many factors that need to be seen to, such as:
People living within these corridors who may pose a threat to wildlife
Overgrowth of bush or forest that may restrict access to these animals
the provision of fencing around these corridors to allow safe passage of our wildlife from one region to the next
Luckily for us, in the situation of wildlife corridors, the cumulative benefits far outweigh the restrictions:
Supporting the survival and reproductive success of migrating wildlife
Maintaining the health and diversity of ecosystems
Providing important ecosystem services and supporting local economies
Promoting conservation and the long-term sustainability of natural resources.
Courtesy of the Peace Parks Foundation.
The restrictions that do exist can be minimized by working in collaboration with partners wherever possible to make these corridors happen! Wildlife corridors are only ever truly successful if government agencies, conservation organizations, private landowners, and local communities work together to provide the funding, resources, and support necessary to protect and enhance wildlife migration routes and promote conservation.
what can I do?
Making use of parks or reserves that have worked tirelessly to create these corridors is a lovely way to contribute towards the continued protection and support of the migration pathways we already have.
Donating or volunteering at organizations such as the Peace Parks Foundation can also go a long way in helping these conservation warriors create the pathways we haven't been able to yet.
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