ARK AFRIKA - MISSION
We will save and protect the genetic diversity of African wildlife (focusing on rhino as a flagship species) that remain, while we still can, ensuring that in generations to come, our children's children will not see the last elephant or rhino on the planet that can no longer breed.
But how can we do this? We have to create an A R K that can store as many samples from as many African species, with as many individuals of these species as possible. These can be harvested not only from live animals, but also from any poached animals, meaning even if an animal has already been lost to the gene pool, we can salvage those genetics. The Ark will be the 'seed bank' of Africa, storing and preserving live cellular material (skin, eggs and sperm), into the future, and which can then be used at any stage, to infuse new life and diversity into a wild population.
This is a massive undertaking, requires, not only a huge effort in collecting the samples, but also the right technical and scientific back up. Specialized equipment is needed to process and freeze samples at very low temperatures. Collaboration will be a key to success.
We have already successfully collected and frozen our first samples from poached rhino in South Africa, but need support to bring the A R K truly alive.
Africa is one of the last remaining places on planet earth where wildlife roam free in wide open spaces. Everyone knows the iconic images of the African savannah, with herd of antelope on migration, the silhouette of giraffe against the skyline and large family groups of elephant walking across an ancient landscape.
Sadly, the wildlife of those amazing images are under serious threat. In recent years, there has been an explosion in wildlife crime in Africa. It seems that no animal is immune to the greedy desire of poachers and wildlife traffickers. Serious criminal syndicates now operate across Africa, trafficking vast quantities of everything from ivory and rhino horn to pangolin and African Grays.
Wildlife tracking is now rated as one of the top four global crimes, along with human trafficking, weapons, and drugs. International leaders from the UN are now intervening in an attempt to stem the tide, but as monetary estimates of this trade is as high as $23 billion per annum, it is not going to be easy to eradicate. The victims, of course, are the wildlife of Africa (and the communities that depend upon them). They are being irrevocably wiped off the planet that they have roamed for millions of years.
Some animals will naturally survive the onslaught, as gallant rangers fight fearlessly on the ground to protect these species. However, every animal we lose, results in an irretrievable loss to the gene pool of that species. This may not be an immediate threat for some animals with larger populations, but to certain species, it can have catastrophic consequences. Low diversity within a species gene pool results in reproductive failure, sterility, inbreeding, increased expression of recessive genes which can result in susceptibility to pandemic diseases.
White rhino are one such species. Having almost been wiped out completely at the turn of the 20th century by hunting and poaching, their numbers were reduced to approximately 50 individuals. Thanks to the skillful conservation work of the then Natal Parks board, lead by Ian Player in KZN, the population numbers recovered to a staggering 20,000. However, these animals remain closely related as genetic diversity does not recover at the same frequency as population size. In fact, white rhino have less diversity within the population than black rhino, which due to lower numbers are considered more highly endangered (IUCN red data list).
The question is, are we going to do enough in time, to save Africa's iconic species? Opinions are divided in the conservation world, but ultimately, we don't know the answer. Lets fill the ARK before it is too late.