The perilous 1,000-mile journey to save Africa’s endangered black rhinos
28 Oct 2022
This year, we saw the world steadily attempting to adapt to a new ‘normal’. The emergence of the new Omicron variant, however, discovered in southern Africa at the end of the year, was a stark reminder that COVID-19 will likely be with us for some years to come.
Working with renewed vigour, we are proud to say that Peace Parks Foundation – with the continued support of the donor community and our partners – nevertheless managed to celebrate some of our most significant milestones to date in 2021, as we substantially deepened and expanded our impact in transfrontier conservation areas across southern Africa.
We implemented new and innovative conservation financing strategies; strengthened our relationships with governments; reached tens of thousands of people through our community development programmes and witnessed astonishing first-hand evidence of our impact achieved in restoring and protecting ecosystems.
Our staff, whether they be working behind computer screens, meeting with Heads of State, engaging with communities or carrying out vital conservation activities out in the field, once again proved how completely committed they are towards fulfilling the objectives of Peace Parks. In each of their positions, every team member plays an essential role in helping the Foundation’s “ecosystem” to flourish.
Globally, there is increasing recognition that the restoration and preservation of natural ecosystems is the most effective tool we have in mitigating climate change – which is still the most existential threat posed to mankind. We are currently at the end of the second year of the United Nations Decade for Ecosystem Restoration; an urgent global rallying cry to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide. Peace Parks’ work could not be more perfectly aligned with this grand endeavour. We are also proud to be a part of the Global Rewilding Alliance, which comprises 130 members working on every continent to restore and rewild nature on more than 100 million hectares of land and sea in 70 countries. The alliance is currently leading a ground-breaking initiative that, by 2023 will demonstrate how restoring, rewilding and conserving ecosystems can increase global carbon uptake by up to 12 times through the creation of ecosystem “carbon sinks”.
Since 1997, we have successfully reintroduced more than 15 000 mammals, ranging from the diminutive oribi to the massive bulk of an elephant bull weighing over five tonnes, to areas that had previously been depleted of wildlife. This year was one of many firsts for our rewilding programme. In addition to carrying out Mozambique’s first in-country elephant translocation and introducing another 349 animals to Simalaha Community Conservancy, we also celebrated the return of apex predators to several protected areas for the first time in decades — something that can only be achieved once an ecosystem has been sufficiently restored and secured from threats.
In Zinave National Park (where a clan of hyenas was reintroduced last year and have already produced two cubs) a particular milestone was the reintroduction of a male and female leopard, which have found a bountiful home in the woodlands of the park and begun to establish new territories. Our future plans are to reintroduce lions but, to our delight, a camera trap captured a photograph of a magnificent male lion, who was drawn naturally to the restored ecosystems in Zinave’s sanctuary and has since settled in the area. Evidence of lions has also been seen in Banhine National Park. This natural return of Africa’s top predator is a superb indicator that the objectives of large landscape recovery and the establishment of ecological connectivity between parks within the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area are being achieved.
In Maputo Special Reserve, where herbivore numbers have flourished to more than 15 000, we worked with the National Administration for Conservation Areas (ANAC), Ashia Cheetah Conservation, the Endangered Widlife Trust (EWT) and the Mozambique Wildlife Alliance, with added financial support from the Ivan Carter Wildlife Conservation Alliance, to reintroduce cheetahs to the reserve, also for the first time in decades. Studies from the EWT have shown that – thanks to restoration and rewilding efforts – the reserve’s habitat is ideal for cheetahs, and has the capacity to hold between 30 and 50 of these majestic big cats.
Our rewilding programme will raise the bar even further in 2022, with some of our biggest and most exciting rewilding efforts in the pipeline. We look forward to sharing these developments with you as they unfold!
We were delighted when, on 7 December, the Mozambique Council of Ministers approved the proclamation of Maputo National Park, which formally merges Maputo Special Reserve and Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve under one management structure. Bestowing national park status will not only enhance the environmental protection of this spectacular and richly biodiverse wilderness, but also greatly boost the tourism appeal of the region and increase the attraction for investors. All focus is now being placed on developing additional tourist facilities, with three lodges and a network of exclusive camping sites set to be fully operational by the end of 2022.
In recognition of the fact that ecosystem restoration must be paired with new and innovative ways of financing conservation, we expanded our partnership with social enterprise BioCarbon Partners and forged new partnerships with Union Bankcare Priveé and EarthToday to stimulate investment and funding in biodiversity.
Community benefit-sharing, particularly in the current pandemic environment, is also crucial if we are to achieve our aims of fostering a symbiotic co-existence between humankind and nature. Through the €6 million made available by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), through the German Development Bank (KfW), and additional support from other donors, cash-for-work programmes allowed thousands of community members who were worst affected by lockdowns to continue providing for their families through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our wide-ranging community development programmes, such as Herding 4 Health and initiatives in conservation agriculture, sustainable resource use, skills development, education, and the creation of alternative livelihoods, have positively impacted tens of thousands of community members and by extension, their families. It was gratifying to see that the community development projects in the Malawi Zambia Transfrontier Conservation Area, funded by BMZ through KfW and the European Union and implemented with the support of non-profit partners Total LandCare and Community Markets for Conservation, have measurably improved the lives of least 100 000 people. We are extremely grateful to have secured funding to broaden community development activities in all of the transfrontier conservation areas in which we operate, including a significant long-term donation from the COmON Foundation to support the rehabilitation and rewilding of Banhine National Park and launch an extensive community development programme in partnership with the Southern African Wildlife College.
We continued to strengthen our relationships with governments across the Southern African Development Community, as we work hand-in-hand to accomplish our joint objectives. In November, we were honoured to welcome the President of Zambia, Hakainde Hichilema – who has voiced strong support for Peace Parks’ restoration, wildlife protection and innovative community-based conservation work in the country – as our newest patron.
Meanwhile, in Malawi, the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Wildlife, Hon Dr Michael Usi, visited Nyika National Park and Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve, expressed his appreciation for a range of crucial projects that are being implemented by Peace Parks, with support from BMZ and KfW, in water security, housing, mitigation of human-wildlife conflict and wildlife conservation.
One of our greatest challenges, particularly in light of the physical and mental divide that COVID-19 has forced between Africa and the rest of the world, is to keep audiences engaged in our conservation activities on the ground. The launch of Peace Parks TV, a unique platform which gives viewers honest, behind-the-scenes footage captured by our hard-working teams in the field, was therefore a major stride forward in our communications strategy. Since its launch, some 200 days ago, the channel has accumulated more than 3 million views, immersing audiences in the challenges, adventures and highlights of the conservation work executed by Peace Parks and its partners.
We must also pay tribute to the dedicated wildlife conservation staff and park rangers, who, supported by increasing investment in resources such as vehicles and K9 units, continue to bravely protect precious fauna and flora across vast landscapes, often under very difficult conditions. Their work is linked closely to that of our Combatting Wildlife Crime unit, which is supporting ground-breaking technology innovations such as the Postcode Meerkat surveillance system in Kruger National Park; reducing demand for illicit wildlife products and implementing programmes to train and capacitate customs officials at border posts.
We are also very proud about our continued close association and co-operation with the SA College for Tourism (which celebrated its 20 year anniversary in December) and the Southern African Wildlife College. Despite all the challenges that COVID-19 has brought about, such as restrictions for in-person training and the associated travel bans, 93 and 2 124 full-time and short course students respectively received training at these two institutions.
These are just a handful of highlights from the year that has passed. We learnt many lessons, celebrated many achievements, and continued to grow, adapt and develop in line with a fast-paced world. Amongst all the clamour around COVID-19, what stands out to us is the indisputable fact that nature-based solutions are critical to secure a future for humankind. Peace Parks Foundation’s work in restoring terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems is therefore more essential than ever before, and we take on this responsibility with wholehearted dedication. With donors and partners alongside us, we can reach even greater heights in 2022.
Until then, we wish you all a joyful and prosperous festive season.
Chief Executive Officer