Good Fences Make Good Neighbours: The Wildlife Factor
Wilderness has always been an important concept to me. To be perfectly honest, I have always been pretty much a city kid. This is a big admission for me. All my life I dreamed of having a place out in the middle of nowhere, with no neighbours to complicate my life. A few years back I found my dream in a house on a small lake, several miles from town. I have never been so frustrated by boredom in my life! Back to the hustle and bustle of city life for me!
Even though I cannot live without the social and cultural benefits of city life, one of the things that make the noise and the hassles bearable is knowing that there is wilderness to escape too. I am distressed that there are certain areas of the city where it is not safe for me to be at night, but it is reassuring to know that there are places in the world where I am not part of the dominant species. There are places and animals who will hunt me down and eat me, not for the papers in my wallet or jewellery around my neck, but to feed their young, just as I would them.
The encroachment of mankind on wilderness has had a negative impact on the planet’s large carnivores. No where is this more obvious than in Africa. To those of us who don’t live there, Africa is important because it is where the mega-fauna, specifically lions and elephants live. However, to the subsistence farmers who live there, these marvellous species are little more than pests which destroy crops and livestock. In the case of lions, they are pests with the potential to eat people! It is little wonder the locals tend to not share the rest of the world’s enthusiasm for the mega-fauna.
Dr. Craig Parker of the Lion Research Center at the University of Minnesota is one of the scholars advocating fencing off lion habitat in order to preserve the species. This seems contrary to the normal perception of wilderness in the rest of the world. We expect a steady progression from highly urbanised areas through residential areas to farm and range-lands until we reach “wilderness” where the predators roam free.
A lion fence is an expensive symbol, but it may be a necessary one to preserve the species. The fence is a stark and obvious reminder that mankind maintains dominion on one side, on the other the natural world is the priority.
We can suppose that the local population would welcome such a demarcation, but there are some obvious pitfalls. First of all, lions require a lot of space. A pride of lions will not flourish in a few square meters. Not only does the fence block expansion into lion territory (not to mention turning preserves into zoos), but the fencing required is expensive. The necessary barrier is estimated to cost $3000/kilometre.
Without the fences, half of the African lion populations could face extinction in the next few decades.