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Why we need to conserve South Sudan’s habitats

It may come as a surprise to many that South Sudan has the second largest wildlife migration in the world. The white-eared Kob migration. It takes place between South Sudan and Ethiopia and happens every year from January to June where these animals move in masses from the floodplains of the Sudd and Bandingilo National Park to Boma National Park. But that is not all. The country is blessed with elephants, lions, leopards, cheetah, wild dogs and a great variety of antelopes. It also has a great variety of indigenous trees and other flora that is of importance to human beings as well as to the ecosystem.

However, despite the country being blessed with diverse flora and fauna, there has been habitat destruction that has caused wildlife numbers to decrease as their habitats are destroyed or encroached by humans. Elephant numbers for example decreased from over 80,000 in the 1960s to less than 5000 currently. Antelopes, giraffes and zebras have been hunted and killed for their meat while indigenous trees have been sold illegally outside South Sudan.
The main reason for the decimation of habitats in South Sudan has been the conflict. With the increased availability of guns, poaching has become easier. Another reason would be hunger. When people are hungry, they look for nature to provide for them wild fruits or wild meat, something that the country has in abundance. The conflict has also ensured that habitat conservation isn’t funded as it is supposed to be. Thereby leaving huge national parks teeming with plants and animals under the care of poorly equipped wardens and rangers.
But of what importance is habitat conservation? Why should we seek to conserve and protect the heritage that we were blessed with? One of the major reasons is so to not drive some animals into extinction. If we continue to poach and encroach habitats that sustain these animals, a few years from now, we could find ourselves telling our children of animals that once existed next to us but that are no longer there.

Not only is driving animals extinct bad for the environment, but it is also bad for us humans. Having wild habitats for animals serves as a barrier. It prevents emerging infectious diseases from jumping from animals to humans. Previously undisturbed habitats have been cleared to make way for humans and agriculture. This has brought wild and domestic animals together and helped facilitate the jump of diseases to humans.
One such example is the Ebola outbreak. Ebola is a zoonosis (an animal disease that can jump to humans), most likely spread to humans from bats. A lot of the medicines that we use as humans are also derived from chemicals that are produced by animals or plants. So by protecting nature we also protect the lifesaving drugs we rely upon, including anti-cancer drugs. Simply put, we cannot be healthy in an unhealthy environment. It is in our own best interests to preserve the natural world as much as we can. The exploitation of the natural world threatens our capacity to provide food and water for the people on earth. And things like pollution are directly harmful to human health.

And with climate change already wreaking havoc on our natural environment, we are facing more environmental issues than any other time in history. In order to preserve the earth for future generations, we need to reduce the amount of harm that human activities have on the environment. And support the natural world as much as we can. Nature itself is our biggest tool in the fight against global warming, and through conservation work, we can fully utilize nature’s contribution to the mitigation action that is needed to avoid a catastrophic increase in temperature. Everything from tropical forests to our coastline has a part to play in the fight against climate change, as well as protecting our communities. So it’s important to do all that we can to protect them.

And this is where pollution comes in. From plastics to water pollution to air pollution to oil pollution that leaves waste that renders land unusable. All these forms of pollution degrade the environment that we live in and the habitats that have our flora and fauna. The constant fires also decimate forest resources around us.

This means that it is time to consider what our actions today mean for us in the long term. If we destroy our natural resources today, what shall we live off tomorrow? What kind of a world will we leave our children? Will they be able to make a living out of the environment we leave them or shall we have destroyed it beyond repair?

This then calls for an attitude change towards how we look at resources. Wildlife for example, conserving them and earning from tourism might fund us for now, while preserving nature in the long term. Indigenous trees can be used for medicinal use that only requires a small part of the bark, roots or leaves thus leaving the tree intact for future generations to also benefit from the plant’s medicinal benefits.

Towards habitat conservation, other nations have been open towards funding conservation efforts in South Sudan. This includes projects such as the new Boma-Badingilo Landscape program launched by the US Government, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Government of South Sudan. These are big projects that will see to it that national parks retain the flora and fauna in their care.

But community mobilization and organization is extremely important when it comes to habitat conservation. The communities around places with indigenous trees and wild animals are the ones that are most affected by the decline or even increase in their numbers. They are the ones who seek to make a living using the resources that nature gave them and they are the ones in the best position to conserve what is next to them. After all, they would benefit from a thriving ecosystem and a thriving tourism sector as well. It is thus important that they take initiative when it comes to conserving and rehabilitating habitats.

South Sudan Environmental Advocates (SSEA) in partnership with (Sweden Base) CLENA Sustainable Future is at the forefront of advocating for habitat conservation, less pollution and more community based organizations as well as large projects that help preserve our natural heritage. We are well equipped to create awareness as well as come up with strategies on how to rehabilitate and conserve habitats in South Sudan.

Philip Ayuen Dot-Juba
YFOP Communications Team-South Sudan