By Freddie Ugo
I know of no political movement, no philosophy, and no ideology which does not agree with the Peace Parks concept as we see it going into fruition today. It is a concept that can be embraced by all. In a world beset by conflict and division, peace is one of the cornerstones of the future. Peace Parks are building blocks in this process, not only in our region, but potentially the entire world.
– Former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, 1997
A Continent’s Conundrum Africa, the second largest continent by both population and land mass, is key to the survival of some of the world’s most unique and valuable ecosystems, ranging from tropical rainforest and savannah to temperate coniferous forests and mangroves.
The very existence of these ecosystems relies on the animals that live within them. None more than the largest of all, termed megafauna, such as elephants, lions, and rhinoceros. These species work as ‘ecosystem engineers’, whose very activities shape the world in which they live. Take savannah elephants for example, who often push over trees to feed on leaves and bark, playing a pivotal role in promoting a mix of grassland and forest, which helps foster a wider variety of species and larger carbon sinks. Africa boasts the highest population and diversity of megafauna in the world, but it is under severe threat. While many African nations are recovering from decades of armed conflict and the destruction it caused, continued population growth is leading to enormous stress on natural resources. It is a vicious cycle, where those worst affected by climate change are required to further exploit the land and resources simply to survive. With more than a third of the population of southern Africa being rural, this issue could not be more pertinent. Therefore, it is imperative that wildlife is restored and protected.
A map of the essential Trans-Frontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs), crossing the political borders of South Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. Photo: Peace Parks Foundation.
This is where the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF) comes in. Founded on February 1, 1997, by HRH Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, President Nelson Mandela, and Dr. Anton Rupert, the goal of PPF was to protect nature in southern Africa by facilitating the establishment of ‘peace parks’, or Trans-Frontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs). In other words, the aim was to create national parks and conservation areas that surpass national boundaries. Many borders, especially in Africa, owing to its history of colonialism, have very little to do with the geography of the area. The thought was that, as ecosystems do not ‘know’ political frontiers, connecting Protected Areas through cross-country corridors should enable the migration of megafauna, with the wonderful side-effect of generating a peaceful dialogue between participating African nations. What we see today, 26 years later, is the brilliant success of this visionary idea.
The vision of the Peace Park Foundation is “to restore a tomorrow for life on Earth”, by reconnecting Africa’s wild spaces, to “create a future for man in harmony with nature”. It does this by securing and channelling funds from international donors to national parks that are part of the various TFCAs, and ensuring that they are spent in the most effective and efficient ways. Through this work, PPF has successfully incorporated over half of the declared conservation estate area in southern Africa. At more than one million square kilometres, it exceeds the combined landmass of France and Spain.
A beautiful adult white rhino, successfully translocated by the Peace Parks Foundation. Here it will be safer and provide benefits for the surrounding ecosystem, simply by living in it. Photo: Peace Parks Foundation.
One of the most ambitious projects PPF engages in is the translocation of wildlife from areas of overpopulation to areas of decimation. By translocating groups of animals, it re-establishes extirpated populations – those that would have historically existed in an area but have since been lost because of poaching or habitat loss. It also helps to promote genetic diversity, whilst relieving pressures of overpopulation at the capture location. Through this initiative, Peace Parks has successfully reintroduced over 17,000 mammals across southern Africa. Recently, PPF successfully facilitated the cross-border translocation of five black and five white rhinoceros from the Manketti Game Reserve, South Africa to the Zinave National Park, Mozambique.
This sort of multi-national cooperation is made possible by the promise of mutual benefits, as rewilding includes community development and the creation of sustainable livelihoods. Millions of people living in and near TFCAs rely on these natural spaces to provide food and income. PPF, through their Community Development Programme, works directly with communities to promote economic growth and development based on the sustainable use of natural resources. This includes the provision and implementation of sustainable, community-based agriculture for food security, and many ecotourism-based projects.
To undertake such grand endeavours as these, PPF relies on the generous support of the donor community and dedicated partnerships with organisations that have been translocating wildlife for many years. These are massive logistically and politically challenging tasks, but it just goes to show how much can be achieved with constant support from donors and experts, the right political will and dedication, and a strong vision for the future.
Freddie Ugo is a team member of the Global Rewilding Alliance. Currently undertaking a Masters in Conservation Science at the Imperial College London, he spends his time between raising awareness for rewilding as a solution to global issues, and researching the effectiveness of its implementation globally.