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Endangered species

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature defines an ‘endangered’ species as one in imminent danger of extinction; a ‘vulnerable’ species will become endangered if current trends continue. The term ‘endangered’ is used for both categories.

Endangered Mammals

One of the most endangered mammal species in Africa is the wild dog (also called the Cape hunting dog); Zambia is one of only six countries where it exists. It is similar in size and appearance to a large domestic dog – with long legs, large rounded ears, and patchy black, yellow and white colouring.

Wild dogs survive in a range of habitats, and hunt over a very wide area. This has often been their downfall, as they move outside national parks into farming areas where they kill livestock, an outcome of the reduction in number of their natural prey (small mammals). As a result, they are shot or poisoned by farmers. Others get caught in poaching snares or pick up diseases from domestic dogs. Despite this, after a shaky few years, packs of wild dog have been seen in increasing numbers in Kafue, South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi National Parks, and a small captive breeding program has been established in Lusaka.

The most endangered animal in Africa is the black rhino. Numbers dropped catastrophically from 60,000 in 1970 to less than 3000 by the late 1980s as they were poached for their horn (used for traditional medicines in Asia and dagger handles in Yemen). The entire black rhino population of Zambia was destroyed at this time.

There only about 5000 white rhinos in Africa, but this species is not endangered because nearly all individuals are in South Africa, where they breed successfully. In Zambia you can see five white rhinos in the Game Park near Victoria Falls.

Several of Zambia’s antelope species are endangered, most notably the roan, under threat because its natural habitat (grassland) has been taken over for farming. The oribi, and the suni are also under threat.

The honey badger is endangered; it hunts chickens because its natural prey has been reduced and so is frequently poisoned by farmers. However, in national parks it’s often seen at night. The pangolin (anteater) and aardvark (antbear) are very occasionally seen, but are endangered outside national parks when they eat insects poisoned by insecticides, or get stuck in electric fences. Aardvarks are also hunted because their claws are used in traditional medicine.

Endangered Birds

Top of the list of Southern Africa’s endangered birds is the Egyptian vulture. This bird lives in East Africa, but occasionally comes south to Zambia and Botswana. Other endangered birds of prey include the Cape vulture, the lappet-faced vulture and the bateleur eagle, although all can be seen in Zambia – especially in national parks. Countrywide, populations are falling simply because the birds don’t get enough to eat, as small animals and other prey are taken by human hunters or find their own habitats reduced.

The ground hornbill, a black turkey-sized bird with a prominent red bill, is also threatened in farming areas, although in the protected environs of national parks sightings are common.

One of Africa’s rarest birds is the shoebill stork which is found in one place in Zambia, and just a few other places in Africa.

Also near the top of the endangered list in Africa is the wattled crane, a tall, long-necked wading bird with characteristic nodes (or wattles) under its bill. It inhabits wetland areas, which are a particularly threatened habitat as they are drained to provide farming or housing land, flooded under dams, or silted up because of soil erosion. Compared with some other countries in Southern Africa, the chance of seeing wattled cranes in Zambia is quite good – especially in Kafue National Park.

Another wetland bird, which occurs notably in the Zambezi Valley between Zimbabwe and Zambia, is the African skimmer. It is also threatened by human intervention, this time by power boats: Their wakes flood the skimmers’ nest sites.