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SOS Rhino : In the News : Over 11,000 Species of Animals, Plants Risk Extinction: Experts

Over 11,000 Species of Animals, Plants Risk Extinction: Experts

  October 7, 2003

Wisdom Mdzungairi

THE curtain on the global meeting to discuss how to preserve the planet's natural heritage ended recently with experts warning that more than 11 000 species of animals and plants risk extinction.

The conference, focused on the world's protected nature areas and how poor countries could make conservation pay for itself.

One of the major outputs of the 10-day congress was the Durban Accord and Action Plan representing cumulative wisdom and sentiment of the delegates from 170 countries.

Former South African president Nelson Mandela and Jordan's Queen Noor opened the fifth World Parks Congress, organised by the IUCN (World Conservation Union) at the Durban International Conference Centre at the South African coastal city.

IUCN president Ms Yolanda Kakabadse Navarro said that despite the many challenges, much progress had been made since the last congress in Venezuela in 1992, with about 12 percent of the planet's surface now classified as "protected" - double the area a decade ago.

"Turning 'paper parks' into real parks is one of the big challenges facing the conservation community," she said adding that "Paper Parks" refer to those that are protected on paper but offer little security to their flora and fauna.

Some 13,1 percent are national parks land or wildlife sanctuaries while 3 percent is private land for game farming namely conservancies totalling 16,1 percent under game in Zimbabwe.

However, environmentalists' say the burgeoning elephant population doubling the country's carrying capacity was a looming ecological disaster for Zimbabwe and other small game are now facing extinction as they cannot compete for food and water with the jumbos.

In Hwange - Zimbabwe's key game sanctuary, species such as roan antelope, bushbuck and even the black rhino populations were threatened with extinction due to shortage of food.

An elephant feeds on an average of 200 kg of vegetation and drinks about 200 litres of water a day. In addition to that problem animal-human conflict was on the increase.

The overabundance of elephants in Zimbabwe and Botswana with populations of over 200 000 animals topped the list of important issues as they are double the holding capacity of the two respective countries.

As a result, the elephant population is facing an ecological disaster if their numbers are not reduced to manageable figures.

Africa's largest land mammal is also threatening its own survival while other animal species were facing extinction, as they cannot compete for food with the jumbos.

Parks and Wildlife Management director general Dr Morris Mtsambiwa said the elephant population of 89 000 animals posed the greatest risk to biodiversity loss and ecosystem integrity.

He added the need to reduce the population to manageable levels is of utmost urgency.

"Globally culling as a management tool is not acceptable and yet it is absolutely necessary to reduce populations. Other methods to reduce this population would involve the sale of elephants to neighbouring countries but with the exception of Mozambique, Zambia and Angola the problem of excess of elephants is common.

"Zimbabwe has a Cites hunting quota of 400 animals which is insignificant. This means that Zimbabwe like other countries in the region has to bring the debate to re-introduce culling as a management measure to the fore," he said, adding that other risks involved the banning of European and American citizens to hunt in Zimbabwe.

He warned that any attempt to ban hunting would impact negatively on Zimbabwe's efforts to self-financing its conservation programmes.

A fifth of Indonesia's Papua province is nature reserve but environmentalists said the smuggling of rare and endangered birds was rife.

In war-battered countries such as the vast DRC, where the state has no writ beyond the capital, parks are parks in name only.

According to the IUCN's 2002 Red List of Endangered Species, there are 11,167 species of animals and plants that were threatened with extinction.

Its 2000 Red List estimated that almost one in four mammal species and one in eight bird species were at some risk.

The 10-day conference drew up a global conservation plan that looked at ways to make conservation self-financing, for example through eco-tourism.

"The economics of conservation and national parks is something that will have to be addressed.

"Who pays for conservation?

"If national parks have to, on a level playing field, compete for taxpayers' money with things like urgent healthcare needs, primary education, and those sorts of things, then (they) really don't have much of a future, particularly in the developing world," South Africa's Minister of Tourism and Environment Affairs Mr Mohammed Valli Moosa said at the opening of the WPC.

The conference whose theme was "Benefits Beyond Boundaries" broadly referred to extending the gains of conservation outside park borders, for example by providing ecotourism jobs for nearby rural communities.

The congress, which was held in Africa for the first time in 40 years, has taken place once a decade since 1962.

The next meeting will be held in Mexico.

At the end of the 10-day WPC deliberations delegates from over 170 countries were generally satisfied with the progress made on how financing, protection of natural resources, effective management of national parks and the need for communities to be empowered through the utilisation of natural resources.

Of importance was the approval by the 4 000-strong delegates of the need to empower communities living adjacent to national parks by ensuring they also benefited from tourism activities as well as access to their cultural sites and medicinal herbs that have the potential to cure many ailments.

The congress sought to ensure a more sustainable utilisation of natural resources, effective management of national parks and wildlife, provision of essential financial support and empowering communities, which were forcibly removed from their lands to pave way for the creation of natural parks.

The Minister of Environment and Tourism, Mr Francis Nhema, Dr Mtsambiwa, Mr George Pangeti parks deputy chairman and the sole indigenous businessman Mr Ed Kadzombe represented Zimbabwe.

Most Zimbabwean safari operators were conspicuous by their absence.

The high profile meeting was to discuss the fate of safari business and the need to empower local communities living alongside the game areas and yet non-except one operator was in attendance.

Mr Kadzombe, chairman of the Zimbabwe Wildlife and Tourism Advisory Council has become a permanent feature at most world meetings that deal with the wildlife issues.

Mr Nhema, who briefly stayed at the congress before he proceeded to an aggressive regional tourism marketing initiative in Johannesburg and Cape Town, said he was happy that most of the concerns raised by Zimbabwe were dealt with at the sessions.

"The issue of empowering communities within boundaries of national parks has been one of our major concerns. We share the view that there should be co-existence between proprietors of national parks and communities that were forcibly removed from their areas.

"It was also encouraging to note that one of the resolutions that was passed was to find a way of financing sustainable management of national parks in partnership with the respective communities," Mr Nhema said.

Dr Mtsambiwa, who presented a paper on "Transforming protected area systems management during turbulent times - the Zimbabwean experience in Sadc said the Sadc position wildlife conservation followed the realisation that the increasing jumbo populations in Zimbabwe and Botswana was presenting major management problems for Government.

He said conservation problems posed by excess jumbos are "inextricably linked to other main issues such as the constraints imposed by international conservation community on realising elephants full financial benefit, and are of such magnitude that they could preclude the realisation of many of the expected targets and outputs of WPC Action Plan".

Dr Mtsambiwa said elephant populations in the region are increasing at a rate of 5 percent per year.

His presentation after Sadc countries presented a declaration on their position on game management.

According to the Sadc declaration, the countries primarily affected by increasing elephant populations are Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The Sadc draft declaration raised key issues affecting management of protected areas in the region, which was incorporated into the Durban Plan of Action and Durban Accord.

Others, whose elephant populations are also growing, are Malawi and Mozambique.

However, the remaining Sadc countries have endorsed the principles of sustainable use of wildlife and have indicated that they will give support on the issue.

IUCN director-general Mr Achim Steiner applauded Zimbabwe's conservation principles and sustainable use of the wildlife, which he said benefited the local community living alongside the elephant resource under Campfire.

Mr Steiner also commended Zimbabwe for taking the lead in the establishment, development and management of transfrontier conservation areas (TFCA), which is one of the boldest and most exciting cross-border initiatives currently unfolding in the region.

Zimbabwe played a leading role in the creation of the 35 000 square km Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Park in Gonarezhou straddling South Africa's Kruger National Park and Mozambique's Coutada 16 (Gaza).

Mr Steiner described the TFCA as one of the world's largest animal kingdoms and the first of its kind globally. He added that community- based natural resources management is a vital adjunct to protected areas management conservation.

"Concerns are expressed that the spotlight of donor funding appears to have shifted from community based natural resources management to transfrontier conservation areas without appreciation that a sound foundation of successful community conserved areas is the cornerstone of transboundary conservation.

"At national level it is also vital that State protected areas are surrounded by areas of successful natural resource management by local communities," he said.

Mr Kule Chitepo, a senior official of Resource Africa, said the potential of TFCAs to add multiplier effects to existing tourism markets and to elevate land use values was fully appreciated.

Mr Chitepo said TFCAs could provide a short term "safety valve" for the burgeoning elephant populations in some areas by the expansion of the presently available range for them and also give opportunities to translocate surplus elephants to new destinations.

Mr Kadzombe said the commitment to create this mega conservation area should ensure that the Government is involved from a high level in order to secure a political commitment.

He said community involvement was the key to success of TFCA programmes.

"Community involvement in the TFCA process has given the communities who originally own land recognition they deserve. From a tourist point of view it is envisaged that TFCAs will enable tourists to drive across international boundaries into adjoining conservation areas of participating countries with minimal hurdles," Mr Kadzombe said.

Campfire director Mr Charles Jonga said the outcome of the WPC was a major boost to Zimbabwe's community conservation initiatives.

Under the Durban Consensus on African Protected Areas for the new millennium's 10-point agenda for action delegates recognised that the contribution of indigenous peoples to biodiversity conservation was substantial.

"Local communities in Eastern and Southern Africa were hailed for their successful efforts in establishing enterprise-based economies that thrive on biodiversity and wildlife," he said.

Mr Jonga added that the 10-point agenda for action also called for the building of public and political support for national parks, use of protected areas as a central part of poverty reduction strategies, and the strengthening of technical capacity and financial support for management of protected areas.

Campfire attending for the first time participated in several workshops and raised questions on why community conservation initiatives had largely been neglected in formal conservation circles.

Mr Jonga said there has been a lot of local donor and international criticism that the programme does not provide sufficient provision for the predominant or exclusive control and management by communities.

However, Campfire has been able to demonstrate that it is a legitimate form of biodiversity conservation outside national parks estates.

He added that the unparalleled success of Campfire has often led to claims of association to the programme by individuals and organisations whose interests and motives have nothing to do with community-based natural resources management.

During the week, the World Bank announced that it had increased its loan budget for environmental-related programmes from US$1,1 billion in 2003 to US$2,1 billion for the fiscal year 2004.

Of the US$1,1 billion available this year, Africa is set to get between US$20 million to US$27 million to safeguard natural heritage and biodiversity, effectively doubling the previous allocation.

The institution made the announcement at the launch of its flagship publication for 2003 titled "Environmental Matters" which details how the bank, through its implementing agency, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), is financing environmental projects.

Mr Valli Moosa hailed the move, as evidence of the bank's mission to translate sustainable development issues into a language understood by finance ministers.

"From the point of view of the Johannesburg Programme of Implementation and the World Summit on Sustainable Development, I am delighted that the World Bank is doing more to translate sustainable development objectives into a language understood by finance ministers," he said.

Currently, active projects with natural resources management and content amount to US$13 billion, representing about 13 percent of the total active portfolio of the WB.

Ms Kristalina Georgieva, director of WB's environmental department said of the US$13 billion, Africa would get 10 percent amounting to US$1,3 billion.

Zimbabwe is likely to benefit from the World Bank loan as some of the funds will be directly channelled towards the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. Some of the funds will be used for capacity building to empower local communities, which will now be allowed to reap benefits from tourism activities within national parks.

The Sadc declaration to the WPC was overwhelmingly approved and incorporated into the final draft of the Durban Accord on a special WPC Africa Day.

The draft Durban Accord acknowledged, "we have the knowledge both traditional and modern to help us better manage protected areas but many challenges linked to the establishment and management of these areas confront us.

"Damage and loss to species, habitats and landscapes and ecological processes is accelerating. The extinction crisis for plants and animals continues unabated.

Climate change is already having an impact on the distribution of species and habitats. Misplaced financial subsidies are already accelerating the pace of environmental degradation," said the draft Durban Accord.

Delegates who attended the plenary session on the Durban Accord agreed that a comprehensive and effectively managed protected area system was crucial to the achievement of the 2010 target.

A representative of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said it was imperative for new and additional financial resources to be transferred between the industrialised world and the South as necessary to achieve set targets. He also hoped that the Congress' call "will talk strongly about the need to operationalise that and transfer such resources".

Mr Ken Bradford of Wildlife Conservation Society said, "Under the sterling leadership of Dr Kenton Miller, a number of years ago, the world was challenged to find 10 per cent of its area that it wants reserved for protected area and we appear to have done so.

"Unfortunately, my understanding as Dr Miller told us in the introductory session is that the 10 percent was really in response to the 3,8 percent that was currently there, leaving one to be a little concerned about appearing to claim victory at the 12 percent, without a clear understanding of whether or not that 12 percent is enough for what we want and leaving us in a very dangerous position with the rest of the world thinking that we have over-achieved and that all we want is 12 percent for protected areas and that they can have the rest of the world for other purposes."

Mr Bradford said he was worried that IUCN "has not taken a leadership position, this time based on some of the better science that's available to actually talk to the rest of the society and explain to them based on the best available science how much we think we really want." Bradford thinks that 12 per cent "is well less than what we need."

"This is a very good test for IUCN to convene the best science to try to determine what we really want, before society takes everything else that's available. And that examination should include even a broader set of protected areas than is currently included within the classification system that we are using, " he said.

The IUCN WPC secretary general Mr David Sheppard said both the Durban Accord and the message to the CBD included language that regards global change, which not only included climate change, invasive species, government policies, decentralisation. All these issues were discussed in workshop streams.

Issues of trust and consensus in drafting the Durban Accord were highlighted. Another principle that was considered "is that of the ethic of humility".

A South Africa delegate said many people "are making judgments on the capacity of people to correctly relate to the environment when those seeking to influence others, themselves come from localities where there has been excessive depletion and degradation of the environment that continues to benefit their own life-styles."

Although the debate on protected areas hinged on community living alongside national parks areas, Zimbabwe was a leader in running programmes that benefited such communities and has received thunderous applause and commendations.

The Durban Accord will guide the management of protected areas for the next decade.