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African freshwater animals and plants threatened


One in five species of plants and animals that live in fresh water in Africa is threatened with extinction. This is the conclusion of a comprehensive assessment of 5,167 freshwater species by 200 scientists over the past 5 years.

Some of the biggest threats to African freshwater species come from pollution and increased water abstraction for agriculture, the construction of dams and invasive alien species that threaten the local animals and plants.

Wetlands International, one of the partners in this study coordinated by IUCN (click to read their press release), emphasizes that these data are vital to use in decision making about the increasing number of developments projects in wetlands, such as the building of dams.

“Now all these data are available, governments in Africa have the responsibility to use them in their impact assessments, and make decisions that no further endanger biodiversity and the people that depend on these species,” says Ward Hagemeijer, Head of Biodiversity of Wetlands International.

Photo: Dams in the Niger River in Mali block the migration of many aquatic animals.

For the first time, fresh water species have been mapped to individual river basins. Even the loss of a single species can have a dramatic impact on people. In Lake Malawi, a group of fish, known as ‘chambo’ by locals, forms an extremely important source of food. Of these, Oreochromis karongae, an Endangered species, has been hugely overfished, with an estimated 70 per cent reduction in the population over the past ten years.

In Lake Victoria, a decline in water quality and the introduction of the Nile Perch (Lates niloticus) have caused a reduction in many native species over the past thirty years, threatening traditional fisheries. The study showed that 45 out of 191 species in this area are threatened or thought to be extinct and fisheries have strongly declined as a result.

Photo: many of Mali's Inner Niger Delta communities depend on fisheries for their food

Around the great lakes of Africa, fish provide the main source of protein and livelihoods for many of the continent’s poorest people. The livelihoods of an estimated 7.5 million people in sub-Saharan Africa depend on inland fisheries. These new data will be invaluable for conservation efforts to safeguard these fisheries, freshwater supplies and the many other associated resources.

The EU-funded evaluation of freshwater species was done for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, including all known freshwater fish, molluscs, crabs, dragonflies and damselflies, and selected families of aquatic plants. Wetlands International contributed to the evaluation by monitoring and assessing many of the wetlands in Africa.

For more information:
Wetlands International, Alex Kaat
Phone: +31 (0) 6 5060 1917 / E-mail:

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