Big Mammals Disappearing in Africa's National Parks

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As if the dramatic decline in some big cat populations over the last two decades wasn't bad enough, it turns out that they're not the only mammals struggling to survive on the African plains. Many animals considered staples of the savannah, like zebras, elephants, giraffes, and rhinos, too, are dwindling in numbers -- with African national parks seeing nearly a 60 percent drop in the population of many big mammals. At this rate, soon folks on safari may have to rely solely on their imagination as these majestic animals continue to die off.According to ScienceDaily, researchers from Cambridge and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) surveyed 78 protected areas throughout Africa in order to determine the overall health of the continent's animals, including many of the most easily recognizable creatures. The decline of wildlife in these National parks, which account for 15 percent of the African landmass, suggests a wider decline large mammal species.

Many of Africa's iconic species are among the hardest hit. The report indicates that in some of the most popular national parks the population of such species as lions, wildebeests, giraffes, buffalos and zebras has declined 59 percent between 1970 and 2005 -- and in other parts of Africa, the numbers have fallen even more dramatically, in some cases up to 85 percent.

Habitat changes, financial hardships, and the illegal bushmeat trade are thought to be responsible for the dwindling populations.

But as bad as things may be for wildlife living within Africa's national park system, animals outside its boundaries hardly stand a chance. Ian Craigie from the ZSL explains:

Although the results indicate that African national parks have generally failed to maintain their populations of large mammals, the situation outside the parks is almost undoubtedly worse. Many species like rhino are practically extinct outside national parks.

Only time will tell which iconic African mammals will be around for future generations and which will be lost for the ages. Perhaps one day, when our children's children discover scenes of wildlife living free on savanna plains, it will seem to them from another world -- and in a way, it just may be.