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ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Africa's game parks have lost well over half of their big mammals, such as the lions and buffalos that draw millions of tourists each year, to rampant hunting and farming since 1970, a study has found.
The continent-wide study by specialists, including from the London Zoological Society and U.N. environment programme (UNEP), late on Monday found big mammal populations inside national parks declined 59 percent between 1970 and 2005.
"These results illustrate that African PAs (protected areas) have generally failed to mitigate human-induced threats to African large mammal populations," the report in Biological Conservation journal said.
Elephants and rhinos were not included in the study because of special trade restrictions relating to them.
"It's perhaps not (surprising)," UNEP spokesman Nick Nuttall said on Tuesday. "Africa has undergone a large population increase since that period of time. There's incredible pressure from hunting for food."
Another pressure was conversion to agricultural land.
Nuttall said a comparative study would be needed on wildlife loss outside national parks to determine if they'd at least managed to slow the decline of mammal populations.
At a wildlife conference in 2002, governments around the world agreed to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss, but no government had achieved that target, Nuttall said.
African leaders are increasingly becoming aware of the economic value of the animals in their parks -- especially the "big five" mammals -- lions, rhinos, elephants, leopards and buffalos -- that are favourite tourist attractions. But tackling poachers in the vast stretches of savannah, woodland or forest that parks protect has proved tough.