The perilous 1,000-mile journey to save Africa’s endangered black rhinos
28 Oct 2022
On no given day should the brilliance of biodiversity go unrecognised, but International Day of Biological Diversity 2023 is cause both for celebration and a new determination, on a mighty scale. As a global community, this year we are all called to take a leap “From Agreement to Action”, and “Build back Biodiversity”.
A bold theme – but what does this mean? Watch, read and learn
Biodiversity describes the astonishing sum of species and ecosystems on Earth – the richness of existence into which we fit. It’s like a colourful tapestry that weaves together the web of life.
It’s key to not just a healthy planet but human well-being itself; we rely on biodiversity to keep us balanced – through ecology and climate – and as a source of vital resources, from food and water to medicine and clean air. But biodiversity is under threat as the planet faces urgent and deeply interconnected challenges.
Since 1970, global wildlife populations have declined by 69%, and weather-related natural disasters are now frequent occurrences. Degradation of terrestrial and marine ecosystems is raising the threat of runaway species loss: 1 million of the 8 million species we have on Earth are at risk. Africa has a key role to play in countering these global risks as it holds some of the world’s largest, most unique, and valuable ecosystems and is home to around a quarter of the planet’s biodiversity.
As the sun set on 2022, there came global hope in response. A crucial consensus burst on to the scene as countries negotiated fresh time-bound targets at the Convention on Biological Diversity’s COP15. Countries took their vital places in a new Global Biodiversity Framework: a master plan created by the United Nations to halt biodiversity loss, restore ecosystems, and safeguard our natural heritage. The 30×30 targets are part of this strategy, aiming to be game-changing within the decade. We need to protect at least 30% of our land and sea areas by the year 2030, creating vast havens where nature can flourish and thrive. These protected areas act as a shield, keeping habitats intact, and both safeguarding and boosting the diverse species that call them home.
The world currently protects 15% of land and 7% of the oceans, but some argue that half the land surface must be set aside for nature; for now, 30% must suffice. These urgent agreements are incredibly important, but they are redundant unless translated into real-world action. It’s a time to recognise a mighty opportunity to go big on impact: to bring about an instrumental shift in the relationship between people and nature.
Nature is very forgiving. If we give it half a chance, it will bounce back. Let us not pause for a second … embrace the history we have made and let’s get down to the business of delivering the framework.Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme
Peace Parks’ vital place in the plan
The health and wealth of biodiversity is a cornerstone of nature conservation. How do we make sure that it’s unshakeable? At Peace Parks we act on the understanding that giving nature the space and protection it needs is the only answer, and ‘anchor’ areas at sweeping scales are a crucial solution. Under the umbrella of the global targets and timeline, the organisation has its own roadmap to ensure the resilience and well-being of both biodiversity and humanity.
Vision 2050 is a transformative plan of action: to conserve 1 000 000 km2 of African landscapes by the middle of the century. It’s an exciting time, and not a case of what’s to lose in the face of these global challenges, but everything we have learnt we can gain. Peace Parks has a 25-year heritage rich with investments in nature, and remarkable returns across transboundary landscapes of many kinds, from wondrous wetlands and misty plateaus to unique coastal habitats, baobab forests and savannah.
We are pressed for time considering the global climate and population challenges we face. That is why our Vision 2050 proposes bold action at a vast scale. It is the only way to absorb the climate and social shocks we are anticipating in our region.Dr Bartholomeu Soto, Regional Manager: South, Peace Parks Foundation
A walk on the rewilding side
Rewilding itself is a crucial ecological link now proven by robust science: it connects biodiversity and climate change by harnessing the power of wildlife as a way to anchor nature, stabilise the climate and #BuildBackBiodiversity.
Peace Parks’ rewilding work is relocating and sustaining species feared ill-fated and diminishing, both in established areas and historical ranges. In doing so, entire landscapes and communities are benefiting, too. In 2001 began one of our most ambitious projects: Rewilding Africa. This has seen us relocate a veritable ark of animals in overpopulated wildlife areas to degraded landscapes, lacking in life, to restore their roles in the ecosystems to which they belong. To date, through the support of the donor community and dedicated partnerships, more than 17 000 animals of 27 distinct species have been translocated to 11 parks – an astonishing vision-turned-strategy to conserve nature at scale.
Countries now officially recognise the strong ecological link between expanding protected areas and the benefits that result from restoring the landscape. We are creating these vital benefits, and they extend to local people and wildlife; to biodiversity and to the climate. They are all deeply interlinked.Werner Myburgh, CEO, Peace Parks Foundation
Animals are carbon superchargers, playing a significant role in how much carbon plants and soil can capture; they are the living, breathing, fertilising and feeding masterminds behind the process now known as ‘animating the carbon cycle’. As they go, species play suites of unique roles in a vital balancing act for habitats and climate.
A freshly published report reveals that reintroducing certain species can contribute significantly to limiting global warming to less than the 1.5°C threshold set by climate targets. From the iconic keystone species, like the rampant rhino, to herds of game such as wildebeest, roaming the plains and working their wonders in numbers.
All aboard the ark: health and safety in numbers
By 2022, the extensive rewilding efforts of Mozambique’s National Administration for Conservation Areas (ANAC) and Peace Parks Foundation in Zinave National Park in Mozambique had seen more than 2 300 mammals from 16 species introduced. Last year brought remarkable rewilding successes with both iconic and humble herbivores alike. In a landmark operation, to be followed by another later this year, we together reintroduced both black and white rhino to Zinave, species now able to re-establish healthy populations in their historic homeland. Rhino take the Big 4 count to 5 – the only national park in Mozambique which can now boast this internationally stellar status.
The ultimate cause for rewilding pride was the birth of a perfect little calf within two weeks of their landing on new home turf. ‘Princesa’ and the latest baby addition born during Tropical Storm Freddie are beacons of hope for future boosts to biodiversity in a park transforming from silent to vibrant!
Hot on the heels of these Big 5 beauties came a mega-herd of 69 eland to Zinave last year, in tandem with eland landing in Maputo National Park, too. This stunning species holds a significant role in the predator-prey-plant web of life, as well as grazing and browsing carbon into check. Beyond borders further north, in the space of just three months 400 animals were added to Simalaha Community Conservancy’s booming wildlife populations in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area in Zambia.
With Peace Parks and partners, these and other species are blazing their rewilding trails, whilst translocation has proven unnecessary for others. Zinave’s first lion in what’s believed to be decades, since joined by a further three, made the journey himself through carefully conserved wildlife corridors, to a new home range. This year, with the help of GPS collars, we have watched two packs of wild dogs follow their instincts across the border from Kruger National Park in South Africa into Limpopo National Park in Mozambique, a wild ride and wonderful news!
‘Unmanaged’ rewilding is hugely exciting to see. It’s on the rise thanks to the safe animal walkways and healthy habitats which are transforming protected areas into some of Africa’s most biodiverse, and celebrated, wilderness destinations. It’s also a powerful testament to empowering communities to own shares in these areas, and to enabling harmonious co-existence between people and wildlife.
Putting people in the picture
Securing space, and wildlife, for restoring and rewilding has been a monumental conservation challenge in today’s changing world—yet there is plenty of reason to be hopeful. Success in building back biodiversity rests on our ability to make conservation a valuable industry for the communities surrounding the areas which, with support, we protect, by improving livelihoods, reinvigorating landscapes, and promoting human-wildlife coexistence.Werner Myburgh
To successfully reintroduce wildlife into areas where humans live, and to enforce their safety and ensure their survival, takes a village. People are at the heart of success, and there are complex social issues that can affect conservation efforts. Peace Parks involves local communities in decision-making and governance processes, taking into account their knowledge, values and attitudes toward rewilded species, as well as their cultural heritage and access to natural resources. Biodiversity may be a natural phenomenon, but the impact to save it must be man-made – until we have restored it to the point where Earth’s health is self-sustaining. There’s not a moment to lose – but there’s a world-changing, life-saving opportunity to be gained from joining hands, not just action plans.