An estimated 9% of the 458 fish species assessed in Lake Malawi are at high risk of extinction. This is worrying, not least because the lake, and the fish species that occupy it, are very unique.
With more than 1000 fish species, Lake Malawi has more distinct fish species than any other lake in the world. New species are discovered regularly and some scientists believe that the lake may contain more than 2000 species. As a result of this exceptional diversity the lake is considered a global biodiversity treasure because almost all of the species that it contains occur nowhere else on the planet.
Lake Malawi is immense. Located between Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique, it covers an area of more than 29,000 square kilometres, and holds 7% of the world’s available surface freshwater. Despite this Lake Malawi is under threat. Human activities, like deforestation in the lake’s catchment area and over-fishing, are taking their toll on the lake. A recent assessment by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed 9% of its evaluated species as “endangered”.
This is worrying not only from a biodiversity perspective, but also because this is one of Africa’s poorest regions and people rely on the fish for their livelihoods and for food.
What happens on land affects the lake. Increasing agricultural activity in the lake’s basin has caused soil erosion and sediments end up in the water. This affects water clarity, light penetration and, on settling, it smothers plants and algae – ultimately, harming the food resources on which fish depend.
Over-fishing has led to less diversity in the kinds of fish that are caught and has reduced the amount of fish caught by individual fishers. This is particularly true in the larger, more valuable, species.
The worst hit fish species are migratory endemic cyprinids, such as the critically endangered Ntchila. These fish migrate into rivers to spawn and so depend on the health of rivers that feed into the lake for their survival. Once abundant, this species has almost disappeared mainly because of the degradation of river catchments and sedimentation that smothers the gavel beds that they need for spawning.
The Chambo, a species of endemic tilapia, is also under pressure. This fish is highly prized as a food fish but, because of unsustainable fishing practices, catches have plummeted. Today they are less than 10% of their historic high in the late 1980s when more than 10 million kgs of Chambo were landed by small scale fishermen every year.
As a result, fisheries increasingly focus on smaller, less valuable species to sustain catches. When these smaller species were also eventually depleted, fishers were forced to go further offshore where it’s harder for fishermen to catch fish and those that they do are of lower value. This puts a severe strain on fishers, many of whom are already some of the poorest members of society.
Unfortunately it’s very difficult for the riparian countries, with their large population of relatively poor people who are locked into a natural resource-based economy, to reduce their dependency on the fisheries. And so, the overriding cause for all these effects is the poverty of the lake shore communities.
Freshwaters – and the animal and plant life that they contain – are in a state of crisis across the world. The fundamental driver of their degradation is the growth of human activity due to population growth, increased industrialisation and increased consumption of natural resources over the last century. As a result, the current rates of population decline in freshwater species are twice as high as those reported for marine and terrestrial life.
But there’s hope. In Malawi, where fish and fisheries are high on the national agenda, initiatives such as the IUCN Red-List assessment and Key Biodiversity Area identification projects which assess the status and distribution of freshwater species, help to guide policy and prioritise conservation actions.
In their natural habitat, the birds vanished into the canopy. It was split-second but fascinating sighting.
To then see the African Grey Parrot caged like a prisoner -- or any other wild creature -- is sickening to the core. I have never understood people who keep exotic pets in cages instead of leaving them in their natural homes. I would love to cage these people and feed them with treats. Maybe then they would value freedom.
Unfortunately, the yen for exotic pets is on the rise -- with tech-savvy traders finding that using social media is easy to market their illegal wares.
It is not limited to the African Grey Parrot but to anything from cheetahs to pangolins caught in the wild.
A report by World Animal Protection and World Parrot Trust titled "Illegal online trade in endangered parrots: A groundbreaking investigation" shows the horrific increase in the trade.
The population of the African Grey Parrot has crashed by between 90 and 99 per cent between 1990 and 2010.
In the international bestseller, Blood River -- Into Africa's Broken Heart by Tim Butcher, about his epic journey following the River Congo in 2000 in the footsteps of the Henry Morton Stanley's 1874 expedition, Mr Butcher describes meeting a man in the forest, dressed in rags, carrying a flock of African Grey Parrot tied to a branch. They are for sale in the city, which would take him days to reach.
The African Grey Parrot is only found in the equatorial rainforest that belts across Africa's waist. Poverty-driven citizens in war-torn countries make the parrot and other creatures easy targets for trade that is illegal.
What makes African Grey Parrots so attractive as pets is their ability to mimic people. Cute and caged, they make for amusing pets.
Online to Sell
The report shows that the online trade is rife with social media used as a marketing tool. Some 84 per cent of the export is from DRC with Nigeria, Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire sharing the rest.
Importers are largely Pakistan, Turkey and Jordan in the lead with China, India, Thailand and others trailing behind, including the North African countries. With little enforcement and lack of tracking systems, it is easy to trade.
One post showed more than 150 African grey parrots for sale online.
The report calls for action by including airlines, technology companies and government agencies to disrupt this trade and implement the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Flora and Fauna regulations to protect the endangered parrot in its natural habitat.
The parrots are largely flown out on commercial flights in terrible conditions, packed as cargo in tightly squeezed cages. Needless to say, the mortality rates are high and many are dead on arrival.
In one incident, on 15 August 2018, a shipment departed Kinshasa, DR Congo via Istanbul, Turkey, arriving in Kuwait two days later. Seized by Customs, the documentation listed a species of bird not on the Cites list. Under Cites, trade in the African Grey Parrot from the wild is illegal.
On the same dates, a shipment departed Kinshasa on Turkish Airlines for Beirut via Istanbul. Over 40 were dead on arrival. One cage photographed clearly shows the Turkish Airline logo.
The list is long. The mortalities high.
The finding in the report call for governments to strengthen the regulation of trade in wildlife, and for airlines to act on their commitments through agreements such as the United for Wildlife Transport Taskforce, the United for Wildlife Buckingham Palace Declaration, the International Air Transport Association and the Animal Transport Association.
Above all, it needs strong public awareness that life is not to be spent behind bars.
Source: East African