The addition of Kafue National Park in Zambia, and Boma and Badingilo National Parks in South Sudan added considerably to the African Parks portfolio of land now under formal management agreements. Positive discussions with the governments of Angola and Ethiopia also progressed a number of parks through the development pipeline.
These gains in protected areas under the stewardship of African Parks are described in the 2022 Annual Report from this remarkable organisation. You can download a copy of the report by going to https://www.africanparks.org/about-us/financials-and-annual-reports where you will find the link to the document.
African Parks is a non-profit conservation organisation that takes on the complete responsibility for the rehabilitation and long-term management of national parks, in partnership with governments and local communities. The current portfolio manages 22 national parks and protected areas in 12 countries, covering over 20 million hectares in Angola, Benin, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The organisation was founded in 2000 in response to the dramatic decline of protected areas on the continent, due to poor management and lack of funding. African Parks utilises a clear business approach to conserving Africa’s wildlife and remaining wild areas, securing vast landscapes and carrying out the necessary activities needed to protect the parks and their wildlife. African Parks maintains a strong focus on economic development and poverty alleviation of surrounding communities to ensure that each park is ecologically, socially, and financially sustainable in the long-term.
From the 2022 Annual Report, the following extracts from the CEO’s Letter and Executive Summary may be of interest to readers. Peter Fearnhead is the CEO of African Parks, and he does not attempt to hide the challenges of the year under review – working in Africa is not easy!
CHALLENGES – In February, the violent extremism in Burkina Faso and the broader Sahelian region spilled over into northern Benin, culminating in three devastating attacks in W and Pendjari national parks. Seven African Parks employees (four rangers, two drivers and the Francophone chief instructor), as well as a Beninese soldier, lost their lives in these incidents.
In the months that followed, attacks continued both in and around Pendjari and W, with several casualties sustained by the Beninese army. We took immediate action to secure our personnel by evacuating staff not involved in park law enforcement activities, reinforcing our bases, and adapting our way of operating. We also met with the President of Benin to discuss our role in W and Pendjari national parks and the challenges we face.
The Beninese Government expressed strong support for our continued management of both parks and committed to providing additional security to create a safer environment in which our staff could operate. The loss of lives to militant attacks in W National Park, in Benin was one of African Parks’ most severe challenges to date.
In Malawi, we lost a ranger in Liwonde National Park and also in Majete Wildlife Reserve. Both deaths were a result of assaults by poachers. These tragic incidents highlight the significant risks faced by rangers in protecting biodiversity, and the critical importance of continued training and equipping our teams to ensure they can conduct their work in as safe a manner as possible.
In addition, our organisation-wide death and disability benefit goes some way to reducing the economic burden incurred by the dependents of our employees killed
in the line of duty. As poor governance, poverty and climate change leads to increased tension and pressure on natural resources, it becomes increasingly important that we retain consistent and positive engagement with local communities to build strong partnerships and relationships. In this way we reduce the likelihood for friction in these challenging environments.
Early in the year, Cyclone Ana wreaked havoc across much of Malawi. Majete Wildlife Reserve and Liwonde National Park experienced extreme flooding and extensive damage to infrastructure. Thankfully, no human lives were lost in the parks, and the few animals which escaped were retrieved. African Parks also supported national relief efforts with helicopter transport to inaccessible areas as well as food provision and medical support to affected communities.
Given the scale of our operations, it’s inevitable that we’ll be faced with difficult and heart-breaking incidents every year. We take each of these challenges as an opportunity to learn and improve our management in all areas under our responsibility so that, where possible, we can prevent them from happening again.
BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION – Again this year we undertook major feats in translocating wildlife to ensure range expansion and population increases for Africa’s most vulnerable species. In January and February, we moved over 900 buffalo from Zakouma National Park to Siniaka-Minia Wildlife Reserve in Chad – the largest-ever buffalo translocation to take place. Despite some losses, the project was largely successful and once additional infrastructure is in place, a second phase will occur in 2024.
At the end of July, we concluded our second-largest elephant translocation to date: moving 263 elephants from Liwonde National Park to Kasungu National Park in Malawi. In addition, 431 other animals were moved from Liwonde to Kasungu and 947 to Mangochi Forest Reserve and Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. In April, we welcomed our first rhino calves from the 30 White Rhino that had been moved from South Africa to Akagera National Park in Rwanda in 2021.
COMMUNITY – The African Parks team now consists of 4,273 full-time employees, 97% of whom are nationals. In addition, we continue to support thousands of local, part-time workers. Our ranger team grew to over 1,430 individuals and in September, teams from across the parks – from the desert of Iona in Angola to the flooded plains of Zakouma in Chad – participated in the 21km Wildlife Ranger Challenge. This annual event raises awareness for the role that rangers play in conservation, not just on the frontline in protecting biodiversity, but also as conservation ambassadors, teachers and community support workers.
Our community work across the parks continued to impact the lives of thousands of people. Today, over 27,500 people are benefitting from sustainable livelihood initiatives supported by the parks including beekeeping, fisheries, agroforestry, guiding cooperatives, and training in livestock husbandry, veterinary assistance, and sustainable farming practices. This year, 53,000 people were treated by African Parks-supported hospitals and clinics; over 9,600 adults and children received environmental education and more than 2,400 scholarships were provided. More than 5,000 community meetings were held to keep stakeholder communication channels open and engage on socio-economic initiatives, education and human wildlife conflict challenges.
One particular highlight for 2022 was the official opening of the Gishanda Fish Farm outside Akagera National Park in Rwanda, in collaboration with FoodTechAfrica. Supported by the Rwandan and Dutch governments, Gishanda uses sustainable methods of farming Tilapia to provide a much-needed protein source for communities. Through the construction of the fish farm 111,000 fingerlings were released to restock Lake Gishanda; two villages were electrified; a primary school built for 370 students; eight permanent jobs and regular casual jobs created; and a community-run organic vegetable farm established using the grey water from the fish farm. In addition to being a first for us at African Parks, it has been a great learning opportunity and is an excellent example and a sound benchmark for a sustainable circular economy that benefits communities and biodiversity.
TOURISM – We experienced impressive growth in visitor numbers across most parks, with a 30% increase in revenue compared to pre-Covid-19 levels. Some parks noted their best performances to date, and we are encouraged by the continued support from local tourist markets. Akagera National Park achieved record earnings of US$3,7 million, Nyungwe National Park US$780,000 and Majete Wildlife Reserve US$650,000.
Every dollar earned by a park remains in the park, and goes towards the management of conservation and community initiatives associated with protected area management.
There is no doubt that African Parks is an outstanding organisation, and I would encourage readers to access the 2022 Annual Report, read more details than you will find in this article, and see whether you or any associates would like to explore a closer relationship with this ground-breaking African initiative.
The AP goal is to manage 30 parks by 2030, with the wide geographic spread of protected areas and representation of different ecoregions making this the largest and most ecologically diverse portfolio of parks under management by any one NGO on the continent.
While hunting is not carried out in any of the areas under management by African Parks, the successful examples of demonstrating the value of wildlife-based economies provide inspiration to local communities of land-use alternatives to agriculture. Additionally, well-managed protected areas usually produce a surplus of animals that are then available to re-stock surrounding land where hunting can provide valuable income streams for the local communities.
Dr John Ledger is a past Director of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, now a consultant, writer and teacher on the environment, energy and wildlife; he is a columnist for the African Hunting Gazette. He lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. John.Ledger@wol.co.za