Niassa faces a rapid reduction in natural forest habitat through human encroachment. Threats to the vulnerable dryland forest include the expansion of shifting subsistence agriculture, charcoal trade, tobacco farming and open cast mining. It is recognized that a stable local economy through sustainable agriculture and well managed use of natural forest resources is key to stemming continued deforestation.
The ACNN will assist the implementation of a range of initiatives designed specifically to impact a reduction in deforestation in the area and protect remnant wildlife populations under threat.
ELEPHANTS – A CONSERVATION CRISIS
Elephants in Niassa have over the last several years faced unprecedented levels of persecution by poachers. Illegal syndicates, largely operating from Tanzania, are highly organised and better equipped than ever before. They have led to the destruction of up to two-thirds of the region’s elephant poulation.
In recognition of this overwhelming frenzy of poaching, the Niassa Reserve is attracting significant attention from major international organizations, who are offering assistance. Conservationists are extremely concerned about the situation. Protection for elephants remaining outside the Reserve is also critical.
It is estimated that over 100 elephants are currently poached every day in Africa. In addition, the bushmeat trade, has driven the reduction of other wildlife in Niassa. Primarily through the widespread use of snares, remnant populations of wildlife are extremely vulnerable outside the Niassa Reserve.
A dominant characteristic of the Niassa landscape are the many granite hills or ‘inselbergs’ that rise out of the miombo forests. These elevated habitats provide a fascinating mix of rare biodiversity that has recently been studied by a scientific expedition led by the Belgium based research organization BINCO.
The expedition spent four weeks traversing the Niassa landsacpe to set collection traps, recover specimens and make observations.
A focus for the ornithologists was the observation of the rare Long-Billed Tailor Bird, found only within these few tiny patches of forest. Separate from another remote population of the same bird in Tanzania, the Niassa variant is possibly a new sub-species and had only ever been seen by two prior ornithologists who visited one of the montane forests a few years ago. This expedition was therefore the first to be able to study the bird in detail, capturing live specimens for blood sampling and DNA analysis, whilst making close observation of territorial behavior and daily habits.
Laboratory analysis is still underway to confirm a range of new invertebrates and even reptiles which will take some time to conclude. Aside from the value of this new understanding, was the immediate confirmation of two stark facts. Firstly, that biodiversity within the remnant montane forests of Niassa is indeed specialized and provides unique habitat for the likes of the Long-Billed Tailor Bird. Secondly, that the inevitable interference of man
threatens this biodiversity.