Director, National Programme for Ecosystem Research, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Pretoria, South Africa
Africa has excited the imagination of explorers, naturalists, and conservationists more profoundly than any other continent. The writings of Rooseveld, Blixen, and Haggard brought the romance of the African veld into the homes of millions who had never, nor would ever, toil under the African sun. But the romance of the colonial era has now been replaced by the realism of thirst, starvation, and desertification. The wide open spaces are gone, and pressures on productive lands are greater than they can sustain. There is neither money nor trained manpower to implement comprehensive conservation programs in Africa today though the task of the conservationist in Africa is currently much greater and more urgent than it has ever been.
Credibility and realism are needed. But these qualities have not always characterized conservationists in Africa. The impressive heritage of national parks and reserves is a legacy from the colonial era, built on the favorite stamping grounds of repentant white hunters. Fortunately, a new era may be dawning as the result of the World Conservation Strategy (IUCN, 1980)—a program that can be explained in terms that are meaningful to the African husbandman. The concepts of biotic diversity and the sustainability of production and life-support systems carry with them the promise of tangible values and benefits to the community at large, not just to the affluent foreign tourist visiting parks that are national in name alone.
The question addressed in this chapter is quite simple. Given the diversity of African wild plants, animals, and ecosystems and the severe constraints on money, manpower, and time, how should one identify priorities for biotic conservation