Dealing with fragility - semi-arid areas and man
Cape Town, South Africa - As the need to balance human needs with the protection of biodiversity increasingly becomes the pre-requisite for successful conservation programmes, a WWF-funded initiative in one park in South Africa is trying to gain insight into how practical measures can be put in place to address the problem.
Some 48 percent of the world's surface area is covered by semi-arid dryland areas, which hold enormously important, unique and threatened animal and plant life and are also home to a third of the world's human population.
The semi-arid regions are predominantly used for grazing; however, seasonal migration patterns and routes which were traditionally followed by pastoralists are often no longer possible. Fences erected across the routes to aid wildlife conservation often block access corridors to pasture areas, this in turn can then sometimes lead to a spill-over into neighbouring countries.
Workable solutions are therefore being sought to reconcile the needs of livestock keepers with the conservation of biodiversity. Already, the spot-light has been turned on these semi-arid ecoregions by the Global Environment Facility of the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme which has called for a Global Drylands Initiative, based on a partnership between donors and non-governmental organisations.
In South Africa, WWF is funding a research project in the Richtersveld National Park in the semi-arid Succulent Karoo ecoregion of South Africa. The park, which borders Namibia, is the only completely contractual national park in the country and is home to a group of communal pastoralists and their 6,000 livestock. In many areas environmentally unfriendly farming practices have done enormous damage, so the challenge is to prevent further degredation of indigenous vegetation and biodiversity in these areas, restore them, and all the while taking into account the pastoralists' needs.
But how to restore such degraded land?
A good start would be through increasing seed dispersal, but since not a lot is known about the processes of restoration and plant succession, WWF-South Africa is funding a study of these processes. And, in order to protect the biodiversity in such areas, it is also necessary to protect the areas themselves. The National Parks Trust of South Africa (NPTSA) and the Leslie Hill Succulent Karoo Trust (LHSKT), both administered by WWF-South Africa, have been pivotal in setting in motion a plan to establish a comprehensive protected-area network, and in the last five years, more than 100,000 ha of drylands have been put under protection.
However, not all species are fortunate enough to be contained within a formally protected area - the extremely rare riverine rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis) being a prime example. Consequently, there is a need to make the owners of the land in which such species are distributed aware of the need to protect them. With WWF's support, the Western Cape Nature Conservation Board and the Northern Cape Nature Conservation Service are undertaking measures to persuade landowners to establish legally-protected conservation areas, known as conservancies, on their own property.
Though the task of conserving an entire ecoregion seems quite daunting, it is vital for measures to be intiated at all levels - global institutions launching initiatives; private landowners taking responsibility; or farmers changing their methods to give biodiversity and human beings a better chance to prosper in their world.
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Land acquisitions in the last five years:
(bought mostly through funds from the National Parks Trust of South Africa and the Leslie Hill Succulent Karoo Trust)
New national parks:
Namaqua National Park: 52 000 ha
New provincial parks:
Knersvlakte: 7 400 ha
Extensions to national parks:
Karoo National Park: 17 000 ha;
Mountain Zebra National Park: 10 000 ha;
Richtersveld National Park: 19 000 ha.
Extensions to provincial parks:
Gamkaberg: 4 800 ha;
Gamkaskloof: 2 000 ha
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