Unfortunately, humankind has come to measure wealth in terms of material goods: what kind of car you drive, the size of your house, whether you buy a watch at expensive jewellers, etc. Fortunately, South Africa is known for its “Living Wealth” which refers to its vast biodiversity – or what is now being considered as the last frontier for our planet. This Living Wealth is, however, constantly being threatened by humans who prey on animals and natural resources for profit. How is South Africa handling it? How can South Africa preserve its biodiversity while pushing for economic growth?
What Does Biodiversity Mean?
The question of biodiversity addresses how animals, plants, and humans can live in the same environment without negatively impacting on the population or growth of any one species. In short, it’s about preserving each and every species and not tampering with its natural habitat or any of the interrelationships.
South Africa has so much diversity, and in an area that’s about 1% of the total land surface of the planet you find around 10% of the world’s fish, bird and plant species and 6% of the world’s reptile and mammal species. Since South Africa has become known for having this wealth, many unscrupulous locals and foreigners exploit the wildlife to make easy money. The toll is showing and the country has more endangered species than any other.
The threats are coming from humans – no one else. Poachers kill and smuggle animal parts for money, progress tears down natural habitats for roads and infrastructure, and alien vegetation and animals are brought in for whatever reason which end up destroying and killing local species.
The Red Data Books or RDBs lists all the threatened and endangered animals and plants in a specific area. The South African government uses the Red Data Books to guide them on what species to concentrate their efforts and funds on.
What Is Being Done To Preserve Biodiversity in South Africa
Even with the 582 nature game reserves and parks in South Africa, the race to preserve the biodiversity is still not enough. Less than 35% of the species are protected. Thus the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was adopted. It is an agreement signed by 100 countries not to trade in threatened and endangered species.
There are 4 levels of conservation that the CITES recognizes:
- Extinct – no longer exists
- Endangered – in danger of extinction
- Vulnerable – believed to be moving towards endangered
- Rare – small populations at risk
The use of the word “threatened” refers to species under the categories of Rare and Vulnerable while the use of the word “endemic” refers to species that live only in one area and nowhere else.
Why Is Biodiversity So Important to South Africa?
The history of South Africa shows that its economy was built on its rich natural resources, mainly agriculture, farming, and mining. It’s also the why many Europeans migrated to South Africa. They saw a land of opportunity and potential wealth. This is why Johannesburg (and the Gauteng region), which is a mineral-rich province of South Africa, is the hub of economic activity and the target of immigrants.
The country has 2 hot spots for biodiversity: The Succulent Karoo and Cape Floristic Kingdom, and is rated the 5th richest country in endemic animal and plant species in Africa, and the 24th richest country in endemic animal and plant species in the world. All this happened in spite of limited water resources.
If South Africa’s indigenous biodiversity is skewed permanently and the ecosystems fail because of human intervention, the country and the rest of the world will experience a major natural catastrophe. There will be a lack of food supply, trees and plants will die, and improper land use will make the soil poor and unable to sustain life.
There can be little doubt that conserving South Africa’s vital ecosystems will prove more important than protecting the market prices of Jefferys Bay property (to use an example). This responsibility falls to all South Africans.