African wildlife often conjures images of rhinos, zebras, or elephants, but there are hundreds of animal species that call Africa home. For instance, did you know that wolves are native to parts of Africa? Or that the okapi is a relative of the giraffe, but has the stripes of a zebra? As we observe World Environment Day this month, let’s remember that truly healthy environments have many kinds of wild biodiversity, including the lesser-known species of fauna and flora.
Several Aid for Africa members support wildlife preservation of well-known and lesser-known species. The Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN) supports independent conservationists who work actively with local communities to protect endangered wildlife and preserve their natural habitats. It supports on-the-ground conservation efforts for iconic lions, elephants and cheetahs, but also for the painted (wild) dog, the Ethiopian wolf and the okapi.
What’s an okapi? It’s the only surviving relative of the giraffe,and lives only in the forested areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. WCN supports efforts to protect the okapi that are focused on communities living near okapi habitat. These efforts include identifying better farming practices that maintain healthy ecosystems and educating community members about biodiversity conservation. For example, to reduce hunting pressure on okapis, new fish-farming programs supplement animal protein in local diets.
The Ethiopian wolf is the only species of wolf in Africa, as well as the rarest and most endangered canine in the world. Only about 500 Ethiopian wolves remain in the rugged Ethiopian highlands. WCN supports protection efforts that include monitoring wolf populations, vaccinating domestic dogs that spread disease and educating local residents and school children through school environmental clubs, tree planting and camping trips.
The WCN uses innovative strategies to protect native species on the ground by involving local community members in their projects. Ultimately, their conservationists want to be able to withdraw from the regions where they now work. This will require developing the capacity of local communities to carry on their conservation work using strategies that are culturally compatible and meet the evolving needs of all concerned, including the wolves, okapis, and painted dogs — oh my!
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