Victoria Falls in Zambezi will be inside the conservation area. (Wikipedia Commons)
Five nations in Africa have come together to create the world’s largest conservation area for wildlife. World Wildlife Fund’s Chris Weaver tells host Bruce Gellerman that the new preserve will allow migratory animals like elephants and rhinos to roam more freely.
GELLERMAN: Well, from Senegal we now head south to what will soon be the largest wildlife conservation area in the world. Five nations in Southern Africa, Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, recently agreed to create the reserve, roughly the size of California, by connecting existing conservation zones. It seems when it comes to protecting animals, especially those that migrate, the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. Chris Weaver is the Namibia director with the World Wildlife Fund.
WEAVER: You have animals that historically move between these five countries on a seasonal migration basis but due to a number of borders that were created through colonial governments - they’re rather fictitious borders, and then war in Angola for two decades - we ended up in a situation where the migration corridors were closed off. For example, Africa’s largest elephant herd of almost 250,000 elephants, has been bottled up in Botswana for decades.
GELLERMAN: So you’re physically going to remove fences?
WEAVER: Well, some of it has already been done. The plans are to remove another hundred kilometers of fences between Botswana and Namibia, but also the plans are to remove a lot of mines that were put into southeast Angola during the war, making that area a much more wildlife friendly area.
GELLERMAN: So there have been mines there, from the war? This long?
WEAVER: Yeah. There were roughly two million mines in Angola from the war, from 1975 to around 2001.
GELLERMAN: So you’ve got around half of the elephants on the African continent in this five nation area, what other animals are there?
WEAVER: We’ve got pretty much all of the more charismatic species that you see in southern Africa. The big five, which is: elephants, lion, leopard, rhino and buffalo, and then we have other species like eland, kudu, and we’ve got oryx. And then water species would be animals like crocodiles and hippo, so there’s quite an attractive mix of wildlife from a tourism perspective.
GELLERMAN: So what is the tangible benefit to the animals? Okay, so they can go back and forth across these international borders, how does that help them?
WEAVER: Well, most of this is what we’d call a semi-arid type habitat and animals need to follow the rains and move through areas. During the dry season they need to go to where there is water along the rivers. And during the wet seasons, they need to move away from the rivers so that they can get grazing and browse for their food. So it’s quite critical, that, if you want your optimal populations to recover in these areas, so that they have the habitat and the range to expand and move on a seasonal basis.
GELLERMAN: What about the people living in this region? How does this conservation area, this new conservation area, affect them?
WEAVER: Well, in the past, communities were never allowed to benefit from wildlife. And as a result, if they used wildlife for meat, for example, it was considered poaching, and people were arrested and put in jail. So people were being asked to live with the wildlife, dangerous species, like elephants, lions and leopards, but never allowed to benefit from it. So as a result, there was heavy poaching and there was actual resistance to living with it.
Now, what happened in southern Africa over the last 20 years is that governments realized that if communities were going to live with wildlife, they have to benefit from it. So they passed policies that said: if you form a recognized conservation management unit, such as a trust in Botswana or conservancy in Namibia, then you get the rights to the benefits to the wildlife as long as you responsibly manage them.
And that’s exactly what has happened in Namibia and Botswana. Namibia, for example, in 2010, the communities gained six million dollars in benefits from wildlife, there are about 1,700 full-time jobs and about 8,000 seasonal jobs that have been created through the conservancy movement, which created a lot of incentive for people to live with wildlife now.
GELLERMAN: Chris, can this model work in other parts of Africa do you think?
WEAVER: There are, I think it’s around 20-25 of these trans-boundary initiatives in southern Africa - they are all in a formative stage. I would say that some struggle much more than others because many have been very top-down with little thought being put into how do you involve the local community and build capacity at the ground level to make it real. And that’s one of the real advantages of KAZA, you do have that capacity on the ground in at least three of the five countries.
GELLERMAN: Could this actually have the effect of bringing peace to this area, to stabilizing borders, to stabilizing the nations?
WEAVER: This is actually one of the silver linings. Most people, when they think of conservation and wildlife, they think of biodiversity and their love for animals, but what conservation can do in this case is that it can create stability between five governments that haven’t worked that closely in the past and create a common vision and a cohesiveness in attainment of that vision over time, which in turn helps regional stability in southern Africa.
GELLERMAN: Well, Chris Weaver, thank you so very much.
WEAVER: Well, thank you, and thank you for showing interest in our program down here.
[MUSIC: Youssou N’Dour “Africa Remembers” from Eyes Open (Columbia Records 1992).]
GELLERMAN: Chris Weaver is Namibia director with the World Wildlife Fund.
GELLERMAN: Coming up, great advances in computing change the way we test chemicals and see the ancient world. Stay tuned to Living on Earth!
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