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One transfrontier park in Namibia is already a reality, another is currently in the process of being created and a third is past the initial stage. Countries involved in TFPs retain the sovereignty over their land, but share management and marketing. The principal objective of transfrontier parks and conservation areas is to promote ecosystem conservation and natural resource management where populations, communities and ecosystems are arbitrarily divided by international borders, and to promote co-operation between neighbouring countries specifically in tourism development.
President Sam Nujoma of Namibia and Thabo Mbeki of South Africa signed the treaty for the first trans-frontier conservation park between the two countries in September 2003. This was the first step in a process that will ultimately lead to a conservation area that will include the Namib Desert belt along the Namibian coast and the Iona Park in southern Angola. At the time of going to press the official name of the 6000 km2 park, thus far referred to as the Ai-Ais/ Richtersveld TFP, had not yet been announced.
In August 2001 a memorandum of understanding was signed between the two countries and in October 2002 a management plan was accepted by both, a major step forward in the development of the park. The management plan provided guidelines of how the park should be managed, using existing strategies to develop tourism in the area as a foundation for future tourism development. At the moment there are limited tourism facilities in the new park, but indications are that development will follow soon. The aim is to develop accommodation and other tourism facilities outside the park to benefit surrounding communities. There are currently five campsites and three guest houses in the Richtersveld National Park, with the Hobas Camping Site and Ai-Ais Hot Springs Resort in the Fish River Canyon on the Namibian side. The Sendelingsdrift border post will be re-opened as the only direct link between the two areas. Indications are that the ferry system will be restored.
The park spans some of the most spectacular desert mountain scenery in Southern Africa and is home to 56 mammal species, of which six are endemic/indigenous to the region. The intention is to reintroduce rare and endangered species such as the black rhinoceros, giraffe and Hartmann mountain zebra. The park will also be important for the conservation of endemic plant species. It is considered to be one of the most species-rich arid zones in the world and is an undisputed bio-diversity hot-spot. The new park is important for the conservation of the species-rich Succulent Karoo biome.
This article appeared in the 2003/4 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.