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Conservation Biology in Sub-Saharan Africa

John W. Wilson
Richard B. Primack


Texte intégral

We are excited to present the very first conservation biology textbook dedicated entirely to an African audience. The need for this work has never been more pressing than now. Africa has some of the fastest growing human populations on Earth. This growth, together with a much-needed push for development to ensure that all Africans can live healthy and prosperous lives, exerts unsustainable pressure on the region’s rich and unique biological treasures. Consequently, Africa is losing its natural heritage faster than ever before. It is sobering to consider that there is a very real risk that our children may never have the opportunity to see gorillas, rhinoceros, or elephants in the wild.

1To address this alarming loss of Africa’s natural heritage, there is an urgent need to produce the next cohort of well-trained conservation leaders, able to confront conservation challenges head-on, and to secure a sustainable future for all. This effort starts early, by exposing children from a young age to the wonders of the natural world. But it is also important to ensure that those children who later choose a career in biodiversity conservation are well-prepared for the road ahead. To facilitate this capacity building, we have compiled this textbook, designed for use in conservation biology courses, and as a supplemental text for other courses in the natural sciences and environmental policy. While the main target audience for this book is early-career conservationists, we strived for a balance between theory, empirical data, and practical guidelines to also make the book a valuable resource for mid- and late-career professionals. To further remove obstacles to training, we made every effort to ensure that this work is accessible to as wide an audience as possible. For that reason, we are making this textbook available for free, under a Creative Commons (CC BY) license, to guarantee the rights for anyone to use and spread this work to whoever wishes to make a difference in the future of Africa’s biodiversity and its people.


This textbook focuses on the Afrotropics, one of Earth’s eight major terrestrial ecozones. This area includes continental Africa south of the Sahara Desert, continental islands (e.g. the Seychelles) that drifted away from Africa millions of years ago, and oceanic islands with a volcanic origin (e.g. the Comoros archipelago, São Tomé, and Príncipe) which share many biological characteristics with the Afrotropics. This area is also generally known as Sub-Saharan Africa, which we use throughout this book as a convenient and acceptable way to designate this ecologically (African parts of Afrotropics) and geographically (Africa south of the Sahara) distinct region.

Composite satellite image of Africa, with the Sahara Desert (sand-coloured) in the north and the Afrotropical ecoregion’s tropical ecosystems (in green) further south featuring prominently. The area between the sand-coloured and green regions is the Sahel, which marks the northern boundary of the Afrotropics. Photograph by NASA, https:// satellite_orthographic.jpg, CC0.

Deviating slightly from the typical scope of some other books focussed on the Afrotropics, this textbook does not cover south-west Arabia—these areas, together with North Africa, are covered in a sister textbook to this one, published in Arabic (Primack and El-Demerdash, 2003). Similarly, this book excludes Madagascar and the Mascarene Islands, which are covered in two sister textbooks published in French (Primack and Ratsirarson, 2005; Primack et al., 2012). The text does cover a few areas not usually considered part of the Afrotropics, but which share several affinities with the Afrotropical region. These additional areas include oceans within 200 nautical miles from Sub-Saharan Africa, and oceanic islands in the Atlantic that are usually treated as part of the Palearctic realm, namely Cabo Verde, St. Helena, Ascension, and the Tristan da Cunha archipelago.

Taxonomy and the IUCN Red List categories

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) maintains a comprehensive online database ( that summarises the threat status of many species on Earth. The classification system used to compile this database is discussed in detail in Section 8.5. We foreshadow this discussion by alerting readers that the threat status of each assessed species that is mentioned in the text is indicated with one of the seven acronyms mentioned below, right after its scientific name. To facilitate this indication, we generally follow the IUCN’s taxonomy in this textbook. We are fully aware that the lag time between taxonomic updates and IUCN assessment updates may create the appearance that this textbook’s taxonomy might sometimes be outdated. We made every effort to highlight important taxonomic discrepancies when relevant to the text. For common names, we tried to use the most-widely used terms across Africa.

EX Extinct
EW Extinct in the Wild
EN Endangered
VU Vulnerable
NT Near Threatened
LC Least Concern
DD Data Deficient

Organisation of the book

This book contains 15 chapters and four appendices. While there is broad overlap in the topics covered in each chapter, the first three chapters are meant to be introductory, while chapter four provides an overview on the importance of biodiversity for our own wellbeing. Chapters five to seven outline the most important threats to biodiversity, while chapters eight to fifteen suggest overarching solutions to the current biodiversity crisis. We ensured that the main body text, which is nearly entirely comprised of examples from Sub-Saharan Africa, covers examples from a range of organisms living in terrestrial, freshwater, and oceanic environments. Within the main body text several words are written in bold-face—these represent the first mention and/or explanation of specialist terms listed in the glossary. Also included are over 50 Boxes, authored by conservation researchers and practitioners from governments, universities, and nongovernmental organisations in West, Central, East, and Southern Africa. These case studies cover interdisciplinary topics such as public health, sacred spaces, energy, agriculture, law, sustainable development, and leadership. They expose readers to the voices of conservationists in the region, provide compelling examples of on-the-ground work, and offer insights into real-life conservation issues readers may face in their careers.

2In each chapter, following the main body of text, there is a brief summary of main take-home messages, a list of discussion questions, and a list of suggested readings. The discussion questions are formulated in such a way that there are no definitive right or wrong answers—rather, they are meant to stimulate discussion among readers so that they can develop their own conservation philosophies. We tried to restrict the suggested reading lists to works that are freely available either on publisher websites or online depositories accessible through Google Scholar ( com). Note that the suggested readings are not meant to be absolute; in fact, they should be adapted to meet local contexts and syllabus requirements. Each chapter concludes with an extensive bibliography, which serves to provide a starting point for readers interested in specific conservation topics, and lecturers interested in adapting the suggested reading list. The textbook concludes with four appendices, meant to encourage readers to take the field’s activist spirit to heart.

3While we have made every attempt to ensure that the content is current and comprehensive, we recognise that mistakes do creep in; the field of conservation biology is currently also rapidly evolving, including being more inclusive of previously marginalised communities. We thus plan on continue updating this text, and welcome comments and suggestions from readers who share our interest in protecting Sub-Saharan Africa’s natural heritage.



Primack, R.B., and J. Ratsirarson. 2005. Principe de Base de la Conservation de la Biodiversité (in French) (Antananarivo: University of Antananarivo).

Primack, R.B., F. Sarrazin, and J. Lecompte. 2012. Biologie de la Conservation (in French) (Paris: Dunod).

Primack R.B., and M. El-Demerdash. 2003. Essentials of Conservation Biology (in Arabic) (Cairo: Mars Publications).

Table des illustrations

Légende Composite satellite image of Africa, with the Sahara Desert (sand-coloured) in the north and the Afrotropical ecoregion’s tropical ecosystems (in green) further south featuring prominently. The area between the sand-coloured and green regions is the Sahel, which marks the northern boundary of the Afrotropics. Photograph by NASA, https:// satellite_orthographic.jpg, CC0.
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