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SOS Rhino : In the News : African wildlife set for cross-border tourist boost
 

African wildlife set for cross-border tourist boost

  27 Aug 2003 01:04:16 GMT
By Toby Reynolds

LUSAKA, Aug 27 (Reuters) - Africa's wild animals have never paid much attention to the continent's often arbitrary borders.

Soon the tourists who watch them won't have to either.

Trans-national conservation areas with relaxed or no borders are a blossoming project for conservation in southern Africa, where neighbour states have formally agreed to set up seven cross-border wildlife sites, and have 15 more in the works.

Those pressing for their creation say they will allow animals freer movement and encourage tourism, and that the parks are also valuable exercises in regional cooperation.

"African borders were all determined arbitrarily by European colonial powers, irrespective of existing ethnic groups," said Willem van Riet, head of South Africa's Peace Parks Foundation.

"Those boundaries have nothing to do with ecology."

Van Riet's group facilitates the development of cross-border conservation, and has the backing of peacemaker and former South African president Nelson Mandela.

The issue will be big on the agenda at next month's World Parks Congress in Durban, South Africa -- where the future of the world's parks, nature reserves and other protected areas will be under the spotlight from September 8-17.

Three days will be devoted to trans-frontier conservation areas at the meeting, Van Riet said.

ENLARGING ANIMAL, TOURIST RANGES

Aside from the issue of the borders themselves, expanding the size of the individual parks by running them into one another increases the foraging and migration ranges of the animals and the attraction to tourists.

"From a conservation point of view you can manage populations much better because the habitat is much larger and the animals can migrate," Van Riet said.

"The second thing is that you can do much better tourism development because there are more places for the tourists to go...From a pure rural development option tourism is often a better, more feasible option than agriculture."

Breaking down the park boundaries also fits in with regional integration efforts under the auspices of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a bloc that groups 14 member states with the aim of boosting trade and co-operation.

That spirit has already set South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique well on the way to creating a giant super-park which will include the renowned Kruger National Park.

"In the SADC protocol on wildlife and conservation management there is a provision for the establishment of these trans-frontier conservation areas," said Hapenga Kabeta, director general of the Zambian Wildife Authority.

He hopes his country will benefit from running its border conservation areas into those of its neighbours.

Zambia's vast plains and rich forests once housed huge populations of game animals, elephant, rhino and big cats.

But poaching devastated many of them during the 1970s, and while they are beginning to recover, they need all the help they can get.

Opening up the country's borders to amalgamate its parks with those of its neighbours will help attract tourists, Kabeta said.

ZAMBIA PLANS SIX SUCH PARKS

Zambia, a poor country which has nonetheless protected about a third of its land for wildlife, has six cross-border conservation areas on the drawing board.

One -- encompassing Malawian and Zambian parks on the Nyika plateau on the northern edge of the shared border -- is on track for official approval this year, Kabeta said.

"Basically, Zambia and Malawi have agreed...Our target is that by December this year the two countries must sign a memorandum establishing this," he said.

The envisaged Nyika trans-frontier park would cover some 3,200 square kilometres (1,236 square miles), and would house leopard, elephant, buffalo and lion -- four of the hunter's famous "big five", as well as more than 400 species of birds.

Just south of the Nyika plateau Zambia's Lundazi Forest Reserve is set to merge with Malawi's Vwaza Marsh reserve, and further south again there are plans to link Zambia's Lukusuzi park and the Kasungu park in Malawi to make a combined park that would cover nearly 6,000 square kilometres (2,317 square miles) of ground.

Another project would join protected areas in Zambia, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and possibly Angola, around the northern Okavango delta, while a fifth would cross Zambia's borders with Zimbabwe along the banks of the Zambezi river.

Tens of thousands of wildebeest could find their annual migrations between Zambia and Angola made easier by the establishment of a sixth cross-border area on the Liuwa plains between the two countries, Kabeta added.

These projects will be expensive -- a Peace Parks Foundation report pegs costs at more than $70 million -- but will encourage visitors, and will help shore up regional alliances.

"Apart from the conservation and tourism...these are little experiments in co-operation between countries," Van Riet said.