The Eastern Afromontane Hotspot has suffered—and in parts continues to suffer—civil unrest and conflict, some of which has led to large-scale displacement of the human population. Some of these conflicts have had disastrous direct consequences for biodiversity and ecosystems, as well as indirect impacts due to the resulting lack of law enforcement and investment in conservation.
Weak governance, lack of institutional capacity and limited security of land tenure have also impeded conservation efforts in many parts of the hotspot. Additional threats to the hotspot's biodiversity include:
Expansion and intensificaton of agriculture
The expansion of agriculture is a reflection of the importance of this activity as an economic sector and source of food and livelihoods in the region. Much of the original forest and grassland areas within the hotspot, especially at lower elevations, have been converted to agricultural land for food production to feed the large and increasing number of people.
In addition, farmers use fire to clear fields prior to planting and, given that most of the land outside protected areas is under agricultural use, fires pose a significant threat.
Growing energy needs lead to increased deforestation for fuel wood, the main energy source in the region. Degradation, fragmentation of habitats and unsustainable exploitation of natural resources are the most important threats to biodiversity in the region.
It is likely that all major natural forest areas of the hotspot have been logged for timber at some point. In some countries, such as Democratic Republic of the Congo, there are still substantial timber resources, but much of the forest area within other hotspot countries has been lost.
Legal commercial timber extraction within forestry concessions occurs in some forest areas (mostly lowland), but much of the current logging within the hotspot is believed to be illegal; it is also unsustainable and poses a threat to forest biodiversity. Details of the illegal timber trade are not available as it is secretive, often controlled by powerful elites and poorly studied.
Climate change is directly affecting the hotspot. Modifications of climate patterns, together with expected extreme fluctuations such as drought or heavy rainfall, are expected to be significant in the Afromontane ecosystems, in particular at the highest elevations.
Hunting and bush meat
Hunting for bush meat in eastern and southern Africa was viewed in the past as a subsistence activity undertaken by traditional hunter-gatherer societies. However, increasing human populations, acute poverty and widespread unemployment in the region, as well as demand for improved living standards (including more protein in the diet), have encouraged widespread illegal hunting of wildlife for both commercial and subsistence purposes.
Commercial trade in wild plants and animals
Commercial trade in wild animals and plants occurs in the hotspot. Much of the hotspot's commercial trade in wild animals and plants is unsustainable, but there are no accurate figures on numbers traded. There is concern over the harvesting and trade in plants for traditional medicines, on which many hotspot inhabitants depend. These plants are vulnerable to overexploitation, for both national and international trade, triggering increased scarcity and even loss of species.
Both plant and animal invasive alien species threaten biodiversity across the hotspot. They can have considerable economic costs as crops are lost to parasitic plants. The total alien invasive species recorded for several African countries included 22 in Ethiopia, 26 in Zimbabwe and 35 in Kenya, but these species may be underreported. Several pose a threat to native biodiversity and are considered an increasing problem affecting many protected areas.
Read more about these and other threats in chapter eight of our ecosystem profile (PDF - 4 MB).