Something To Be Thankful For: The Efforts of African Parks

Image: National Geographic

We asked our partner, National Geographic’s Campaign for Nature about a success from this past year for which they’re thankful. They shared with us the story of African Parks which helps to privately manage vast protected areas throughout Africa as a means to save critically endangered wildlife from poaching.

The Beginning: Established in 2000, African Parks is a non-governmental organization that seeks to protect and manage some of Africa’s most endangered species and fragile ecosystems. Founded by a small group of conservationists concerned with such hemorrhagic losses of the continent’s wildlife, the nonprofit contracts with governments to restore and run national parks—with the stipulation that it will exercise full control on the ground.

  • AP presently manages 15 parks in nine countries, bringing outside funding, efficient business practices, and rigorous law enforcement to some of Africa’s most troubled wild landscapes.

The Problem: Zakouma National Park is a 1,158-square-mile national park in southeastern Chad–a country that a mere 50 years ago used to have as many as 300,000 elephants. But from the mid-1980s that number declined catastrophically due to wholesale slaughter by well-armed poachers, until Zakouma became an uneasy refuge for the largest remnant, about 4,000 elephants.

Then, during the first decade of this century, more than 90% of Zakouma’s elephant population was butchered, mostly by Sudanese horsemen riding in from the east on paramilitary raids for ivory. These raiders are known as janjaweed, an Arabic word loosely translated as “devils on horseback,” though some ride camels.

The Solution: It’s for devastating losses of wildlife, such as what has occurred at Zakouma that African Parks was established. Though AP has suffered the loss of some of its rangers and wildlife through raids, it has stanched the flow of elephant blood.

  • Since 2010, only 24 elephants have been killed, and no ivory lost. The janjaweed have been repelled, at least temporarily, toward softer targets elsewhere.
  • The elephants of Zakouma, after decades of mayhem and terror, have resumed producing young. Their population now includes about 150 calves, a sign of health and hope.

Supporting Africa’s Parks: Game parks and wildlife refuges throughout Africa are critical for protecting the habitat and the survival of threatened species like elephants, giraffes, hartebeests, lions, hippos etc. Each park has unique challenges and requires individualized support to limit the threat of poaching. For instance in DR Congo’s Garamba National Park, National Geographic and other organizations have helped develop new surveillance tools, such as acoustic sensing that can distinguish a gunshot, deep in the park, from a breaking tree limb.

Students pause riverside during a visit to Majete, as part of an AP initiative encouraging local residents to enjoy their park. Image: National Geographic

Why This Matters: AP works to build a broad network of rangers and communities who serve as protectors of precious protected lands. More importantly, AP has a concerted effort of ensuring that its leadership positions are held by young black Africans so that the organization isn’t seen as yet another foreign conservation effort.

AP’s goal by 2020 is to manage 20 parks and protect more than 10 million hectares. The spread of these parks will be the most ecologically diverse portfolio of parks under sole management across Africa and will help reach the Campaign for Nature’s 30 by 30 goal.

To Go Even Deeper:  This story was so upsetting we could not publish the photos – but Americans are also still hunting elephants, even babies.  But needless to say, this one would be easy to stop if only the White House would re-instate the Obama ban on elephant trophy imports.

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