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Biodiversity: Africa

Five internationally recognized 'biodiversity hot spots' (areas of particularly high species richness and endemism, and under particular threat) are found in the African region (Mittermeier and others 2000). These are the Western Indian Ocean islands, the Cape floristic region, the Succulent Karoo (the most species-rich desert in the world), the Upper Guinea forest and the Eastern Arc mountain forests of Eastern Africa.

Part of the Mediterranean Basin hot spot, home to 25 000 plant species and 14 endemic genera, is also found in Africa (Quézel and others 1999). The continent possesses several other areas of great importance for biodiversity. These include the highlands of Ethiopia; the forests of the Albertine Rift in Burundi, eastern Congo, Rwanda, and adjacent parts of Kenya and Uganda; the western escarpment of Angola; and the miombo woodlands of interior Southern Africa (Mittermeier and others 2000).

In the past three decades, habitat loss and degradation has been a major issue throughout Africa, particularly in dryland areas. In humid areas, the bushmeat trade has also had a significant impact on biodiversity. Biodiversity resources are extensively used for subsistence and commercial purposes. For example, approximately 70 per cent of the wild plant species in Northern Africa are used as sources of traditional food, forage, medicine and agroforestry, and half have more than one use (Ucko and Dimbleby 1969, UNESCO and UCO 1998, WWF and IUCN 1994). The richness and diversity of ecosystems in Africa underpins a flourishing tourism industry, which is an important source of foreign exchange for many countries. For instance, Southern Africa's wildlife attracted more than 9 million visitors in 1997 bringing in a total of US$4.1 billion (SADC 2000).