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Conservationists 'On the Fence' About Protections for Wildlife in Drylands

May 06, 2015 05:12 PM EDT

(Photo : Sarah Durant/ZSL)

Conservationists are "on the fence" about using barriers to protect wildlife populations living in dryland ecosystems, according to a new study.

Some nations are considering erecting fences to keep wildlife, such as cheetahs, in and people out. For example, Uganda intends to fence all of its national parks to stem human-wildlife conflicts, while Rwanda recently erected a 120-kilometer fence around Akagera National Park. Such new policies must be developed before fences are erected - particularly in dryland ecosystems where mobility is essential for both humans and wildlife.

However, researchers from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and other groups, who were behind the study, warn that fences haven't definitively been proven as effective management tools in the past, particularly in drylands.

"Large-scale fencing can disrupt migration pathways and reduce access to key areas within drylands, such as seasonal foraging areas," lead author Sarah Durant of ZSL said in a press release. "This can lead to severe reductions in migratory wildlife populations and may prompt wider impacts on non-migratory species."

According to Durant and her colleagues, policies are needed to evaluate whether fences should be erected in the first place or not. To determine this, they say policymakers should consider factors including wildlife movement and distribution, climate change predictions, costs and benefits to local people.

"Fencing can initially appear to be an easy conservation solution," noted co-author James Deutsch of WCS. "Yet, unless fencing strategies have local community support and financing for maintenance, there is a danger that they may generate more problems than they solve."

The authors suggest that The United Nations Conventions on Migratory Species (CMS) and to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) are appropriate international agreements for leading to the development of policies and guidelines on fencing drylands.

The findings are described further in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

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