The establishment of a transfrontier conservation area between two countries is characterised by lengthy negotiations and considerable planning.
In the case of the Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, contact started informally between conservation officials on the ground before the first formal contact was made. At initial meetings planning was discussed before the sides established a small committee involving South Africa’s park authority, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, and on Namibia’s side the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. The various committees drafted a memorandum of understanding that was signed in August last year by the two environmental ministers. This set in motion the planning process needed to eventually proclaim the park.
Under the memorandum of understanding several committees were constituted and their modus operandi established. The committees include national technical committees, bilateral committees and a ministerial committee. The national technical team involved all role players from Government’s side including the Police, Defence Ministry, Customs, Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, Environment officials, Works and Transport and the Ministry of Agriculture’s Veterinary and Water Affairs sections. Various working groups responsible for planning and management, finance, community relations, customs and security were established from the national technical team.
Joint working groups were then established between the countries. Once the two sides have drafted their management plans, a joint management plan needs to be compiled. Issues concerning park management, such as the control of invasive alien plant species, anti-poaching, tourism and the zoning of the park are being discussed. The final step will be drafting a bilateral treaty dealing with sharing of revenue, crime, border issues and the management of parks. This treaty has to be approved by Government before being signed by the respective heads of state to establish the park officially.
While there is no standard formula for co-operation on transfrontier conservation areas, the principle for co-operation in all sectors amongst neighbouring countries was established through a SADC treaty.
Namibia will have the distinction of being part of the second transfrontier park (TFP) in Africa when plans to officially open a park with South Africa go ahead at the World Summit on Sustain-able Development.
The two heads of state, President Sam Nujoma and President Thabo Mbeki, are expected to sign the bilateral treaty for the proclamation of the TFP that will link the Ai-Ais Hot Springs Game Park with South Africa’s Richtersveld National Park across the Orange River at the summit in Johannesburg.
Holger Kolberg, Principal Con-servation Scientist of the Directorate Scientific Services dealing with transfrontier conservation areas (TFCAs), foresees that the park will contribute considerably to the status of Namibia’s conservation efforts. “The park will increase Namibia’s international profile in conservation even more,” he says.
TFPs show a country’s willingness to co-operate with its neighbours towards achieving conservation and tourism goals. These areas are also referred to as Peace Parks – a concept that started in South Africa with the broad understanding that such co-operation will also promote peace and good relations between neighbouring countries.
The Ai-Ais Richtersveld Trans-frontier Park will be Namibia’s first and South Africa’s second TFP since the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park with Bot-swana was opened in May 2000. A first for Africa, the latter was called a triumph for transfrontier conservation. Two existing parks immediately opposite each other in South Africa and Namibia, covering an area of more than 6 000 km2, will be part of the park.
According to Kolberg, the park will be important for the conservation of succulent Karoo plant species. The list in the Red Data Book of endemic plant species indicates that the park will be one of the most species-rich arid zones in the world and an undisputed hotspot for biodiversity. “It is the only protected area where these rare and endemic plant species occur.”
Re-introduction of game
The intention is to re-introduce game such as giraffe, black rhino, mountain zebra and even hippopotamus, all species that once occurred in the area. Inside the park with its famous landmark, the Fish River Canyon, and another tourist attraction, the Ai-Ais Hot Springs Resort, several new tourism developments including an exclusive private lodge, new walking trails, campsites and a 4×4-route that will link up with a route in Richtersveld are planned.
The aim, however, is to encourage tourism developments outside the park. Once the park has opened, substantial tourism growth is expected at towns like the nearby Rosh Pinah. According to Kolberg, the idea is that the surrounding communities benefit from the park. The Sendelingsdrift border post will be re-opened as the only direct route between the two areas, for which a ferry system that was formerly in operation at the river will be restored.
The memorandum of agreement between the two countries for the establishment of the park was signed in August last year. The bilateral treaty for the proclamation of the park will be based on a joined management plan drafted from individual management plans.
Countries involved in a TFCA retain their sovereignty over their land. Marketing of the park as a tourism destination will be a shared responsibility. A new name and emblem for the park will still be decided on.
Conserving ecosystems across borders
Namibia considers two types of transfrontier conservation initiatives. The first incorporates parks across borders, Transfrontier Parks (TFPs), while the second involves parks, conservancies and other areas on both sides of a border, called Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs). The initiatives endorse the principle objectives of TFCAs applicable in Southern Africa to promote ecosystem conservation and natural resource management where populations, communities and ecosystems are arbitrarily divided by international borders. Another objective with the initiatives is the promotion of co-operation amongst neighbouring countries, particularly in the field of regional tourism development. Apart from the obvious advantages inherent in co-operation and co-ordination amongst neighbouring authorities, the viability of protected areas and tourism developments in these areas may be radically enhanced by presenting programmes as joint efforts between two or more countries. This aspect is of particular relevance where migratory species of wildlife are involved, and where the activities of one country may directly affect the conservation and tourism development of another.
This article appeared in the 2002 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.