The zebra snake antivenom projectJune 18, 2012
Valuing our EnvironmentJune 18, 2012
by John Hanks, Conservation International, Cape Town Regional Support Office, RSA
Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs), also referred to as “peace parks”, are relatively large areas that straddle frontiers between two or more countries and cover natural ecosystems encompassing one or more protected areas. They can extend far beyond a simple conservation initiative involving national parks and game reserves, incorporating such innovative approaches as biosphere reserves and a wide range of community-based natural resource management programmes. Emphasis is placed not only on the conservation of biodiversity, but also on the need for job creation through the growth of tourism, and on the promotion of a culture of peace.
The visionary concept of a network of TFCAs across Africa has gained considerable momentum over the last few years. Dubbed a pipe dream by many, sceptics were silenced by the opening of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park between South Africa and Botswana by presidents Mbeki and Mogae in May 2000 – a triumph for transfrontier conservation. Africa’s first formally gazetted transfrontier park has provided a catalyst to the process and a prototype for future development. The signing by the Environment Ministers of South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in November 2000 of a protocol for the establishment of the Gonarhezou/Kruger/Gaza TFCA was widely welcomed in conservation circles as the first step in creating one of the continent’s largest contiguous protected areas.
Another significant step towards extending this economic and environment partnership ideal was taken when an ambitious plan was unveiled at a trilateral meeting in May 1999 held in Dar es Salaam, attended by representatives of the governments of Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania, as well as development agencies, donors and NGOs. Delegates endorsed a proposal to create a TFCA stretching from Lake Malawi/Nyasa to the Indian Ocean, spanning an area of over 100 000 km2, and incorporating designated protected areas in all three countries.
Namibia has been closely involved with these exciting new developments. The following areas all have the potential to become TFCAs, and in some of these the process is very much in hand:
- Ai-Ais / Richtersveld TFCA. Namibia’s Ai-Ais / Hunsberg Reserve Complex forms a natural link across the international border to South Africa’s Richtersveld National Park. Steps have already been taken by the two governments to formally to designate this TFCA, opening up a unified area with some stunningly spectacular scenery characteristic of the arid and desert environments of Southern Africa and incorporating both the Fish River Canyon and the Ai-Ais Hot Springs. Dissected by the Orange River, this TFCA will include a significant part of the species-rich Succulent Karoo biome. The list of Red Data
Book and endemic plant species is impressive, making the TFCA one of the most species-rich arid zones in the world, an undisputed hotspot of biodiversity, and consequently of special interest to Conservation International.
- Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. The Park is 37 991 km2 in extent, of which 9 591 km2 (27%) are in South Africa with the remainder in Botswana. The area represents a large ecosystem relatively free of human influence, an increasingly rare phenomenon in Africa. The 60 mammalian species recorded include large herds of ungulates, mainly gemsbok, springbok, and blue wildebeest, and to a lesser extent red hartebeest and eland. These ungulates and an abundance of rodents support many carnivores and the TFCA has built up a deserved reputation as one on the few ecosystems in Southern Africa where a variety of large predators can be maintained. Leopard, brown and spotted hyaena, lion, cheetah, bat-eared fox and the highly endangered wild dog are all well represented. A total of 264 bird species have been recorded, including many species endemic to the arid south west region of southern Africa. The Namibian Government has expressed interest in having the TFCA extended into Namibia to embrace privately-owned farm land on the western boundary.
- Orange River Mouth Wetland Park. Negotiations are already under way between the Namibian and South African Environment Ministries to develop this Ramsar site into a TFCA.
- Upper Zambezi / Okavango “Four Corners” TFCA. This is seen as a flagship partnership project initially involving Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, placing emphasis on tourism development, especially initiatives involving local communities, and the conservation of biological diversity in the four countries. Angola should logically (both biologically and geographically) eventually be the fifth partner. Conservation International has already started working on an elephant research project to study the transboundary movements of elephants between the four countries, a project which should help to identify the location of permanent corridors linking the national parks and game reserves within countries and across the international boundaries.
- Skeleton Coast / Iona TFCA. There is growing interest in trying to promote this linkage between Namibia and Angola, an initiative of particular interest to Conservation International.
An increasingly wide range of government departments throughout SADC are coming to recognise the importance of TFCAs for biodiversity conservation, job creation through enhanced tourism and the promotion of a culture of regional peace and stability. At the same time has come the realisation that participating governments need to take ownership of the process, a most encouraging development which has been welcomed by development agencies and NGOs, many of whom have expressed interest in helping the process move forward.
This article appeared in the 2001 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.