BirdLife International and the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) have recently launched a new initiative to prepare a conservation and investment strategy for mountain ranges across eastern Africa, from Saudi Arabia and Yemen in the north to Zimbabwe in the south.
Collectively termed the Eastern Afromontane Biodiversity Hotspot, the region covers a total area of more than 1 million square kilometers across 16 countries and is made up of three ancient massifs: the Eastern Arc Mountains and Southern Rift, the Albertine Rift and the Ethiopian Highlands.
“The Eastern Afromontane Biodiversity Hotspot is incredibly important for wildlife and people,” said Julius Arinaitwe, BirdLife’s director for Africa. “It’s very species-rich, with around 7,600 plants, 1,300 birds, 500 mammals, 350 reptiles, 230 amphibians and 890 fishes recorded so far. Many of these can be found nowhere else on earth. The hotspot also provides vital ecosystem services for millions of people.”
Despite the huge biological and socioeconomic value of the hotspot, about 15 percent is currently under any level of protection, and only 10 percent of the original vegetation remains in pristine condition.
“The primary threat is habitat loss, due to conversion of land for agriculture, plantations and commercial estates, as well as logging,” said Arinaitwe. Other threats include fires, mining, development of infrastructure, gathering of firewood, and collection of plants for medicinal use, while hunting and disease have led to major declines in the populations of many species.
The Albertine Rift has some of the highest human population densities on the African continent, with up to 750 people per square kilometer in parts of Rwanda and Uganda. Consequently, much of the land was long ago converted to agriculture and pressures on the remaining lands are enormous.
The profile will define conservation outcomes, the conservation targets in a hotspot that need to be achieved in order to prevent species extinctions and biodiversity loss.
“The biodiversity profile will be a rapid assessment of biological priorities and the underlying causes of biodiversity loss in the hotspot,” added Pierre Carret, technical advisor for CEPF. “It will focus in particular on the socioeconomic, policy and climate change dimensions to the hotspot and will set out clearly the priorities for future CEPF investment.”
Preparation of the Ecosystem Profile will be undertaken on behalf of CEPF by BirdLife International and Conservation International. BirdLife International is the lead organization responsible for overall coordination and preparation of the profile, as well as delivery of the final product and expects to work alongside all interested stakeholders including 11 national BirdLife Partners during the project.
National-level consultations with stakeholders—including researchers, conservation organizations and community and government leaders—are under way. Stakeholders in Ethiopia met with the profiling team in December, the meeting for Kenya was held in January, and meetings for Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Uganda are set for February. The information gathered from these meetings will inform multinational meetings planned for later in the year.