To Fence or Not to Fence?




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Serengeti migration
To Fence or Not to Fence?
post by
Reinout Verbeke

Large-scale fencing can hinder migratory species and lead to population collapse. An international group of biologists and ecologists identified the gaps in knowledge and provided a framework to better understand the impacts of fencing on wildlife, people and ecosystems. Two of our biologists collaborated on the study.

The Serengeti migration in Tanzania and Kenia is the world’s largest remaining large mammal migration, with nearly 2 million animals making an annual exodus across an ecosystem that is nearly 30,000km2. Now rare, large mammal migrations are thought to have once been a much more widespread feature of the world’s dryland systems. Fencing and human encroachment have resulted in a dramatic reduction in these wildlife phenomena.
Fencing has been used worldwide to protect remnant wildlife populations from overhunting, poaching or invasive species and to reduce human–wildlife conflict and human encroachment. In Africa, after a proliferation of fencing initiatives in the 1960s and 1970s, there has been a recent resurgence in calls for large-scale fencing to protect biodiversity, and to separate wildlife from people, livestock and crops.

A large group of researchers, among whom Roseline C. Beudels-Jamar and Pierre Devillers from our Institute, recently published an article on developing fencing policies for dryland ecosystems, as a timely reminder that there is still much we don’t know about the impacts of fencing on wildlife, people, and ecosystems.

In the article the scientists identify six research areas where incomplete or poor information hinders the use of appropriate fencing: economics (which conservation interventions, including fencing, deliver conservation success and at what cost?), edge permeability (understanding what constitutes a “hard edge” for different species in the context of overall conservation), reserve design (the impacts of fencing in relation to the design of reserve boundaries), connectivity (fencing can prevent access to the critical seasonal resources of migratory species), ecosystem services (how the delivery of services like watershed protection or plant and animal harvesting, is compromised or enhanced by fencing initiatives?), and human communities (some of the poorest members of communities may be particularly dependent on natural resources from the fenced areas). The article is published in Journal of Applied Ecology.


Our colleague Roseline C. Beudels-Jamar and co-author Sarah M. Durant (Institute of Zoology London) wrote a blogpost on the subject.

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