The right to shelter, food, and association are basic human needs recognized in many international charters and country constitutions. Like humans, wildlife also needs areas where they can find protection, nourishment, and mates to have any hope of survival. The area where a species can survive and meet their basic needs is known as its habitat. It is often useful to think of a habitat as a multi-dimensional space, characterized by suitable levels of many different environmental variables. Some species, including humans, are highly tolerant of changes in their environmental conditions; consequently, such generalist species find it relatively easy to move to a new area in the unfortunate event that their “home” is destroyed. In contrast, specialist species—those that can only survive within a narrow range of environmental conditions—often do not have anywhere else to go when their habitat is lost, and consequently they go extinct.
In a world where intact natural ecosystems are increasingly being altered by the activities of an ever-increasing human population and its consumptive needs, habitat loss has emerged as the number one threat facing biodiversity today. The expansion of human activity causes massive disturbances to natural ecosystems by altering, degrading, and outright destroying wildlife habitats. A number of specialist species have already been pushed to extinction. But even generalist species are increasingly falling victim to habitat loss: pushed out of their shrinking habitats, they come into conflict with humans while trying to meet their needs near urban centres and on agricultural land. Eventually our own lives will suffer, whether through lost ecosystem services, or sorrow for all the wonderful landscapes and species that have disappeared under our watch. In this chapter we delve into the causes and consequences of this increased competition for space between man and wildlife.
The primary threat to Africa’s biodiversity today is habitat loss and degradation.