Protecting South Africa’s reserves: Is it too late?
Did you know that South Africa is the third most biodiverse country in the world? Its diverse range of biomes - from forests to deserts, estuaries and marine systems, is home to over 95,000 known species. Many of these plants and animals are classified as “endemic”, meaning that they only occur in one specific geographic are. This so-called “endemism”, combined with species richness, is one of the key factors in the global prioritisation of conservation measures. South Africa’s extraordinary biodiversity means that its protection is not just a local concern, but a global one.
In stark contrast to these facts, South Africa has the lowest percentage of protected areas compared to elsewhere else on the continent. A recent report published by Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) looking into the state of Provincial Reserves found that of those protected areas, only 9% of them are under effective management, adding to the growing concern that South Africa is not fulfilling their conservation objectives.
In numbers: what is the current state of South Africa’s Protected Areas?
Protected land in South Africa covers 112,807km2, of which Provincial Reserves account for 44.5%. When assessing effectivity of wild area management using the method practiced by WWF, the EWT report found that many of these provincial reserves are in a shocking state, particularly those managed by provincial and municipal authorities.
Some of their key findings highlight that:
- Some parts of the Provincial Reserves have been abandoned all together, with wildlife populations being poached, vehicles no longer operational and cattle invading the land because fences have not been maintained.
- Rhino, hippo and crocodile populations are declining in many reserves due to poaching.
- Human-wildlife conflict cases are on the rise (often due to fencing neglect), where predators such as lion and hyena interact with local communities and are often killed by angry residents before reserve management can intervene.
There are 400 provincial parks and reserves in South Africa and whilst these may not be as big or as well-known as the Kruger National Park, these reserves nevertheless play a vital role in protecting South Africa’s biodiversity. The EWT report identified KwaZulu-Natal as the province of most concern. In Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park alone, 275 rhinos were poached in the first half of 2022. Hluhluwe-iMfolozi, proclaimed in 1875 just three years after Yellowstone National Park in the US, is famed for re-populating the entire population of white rhino in South Africa from a seed population of just 100 animals. The fact that this park has seen such steady decline since then is devastating, with collapsing fences and lack of maintenance resulting in an explosion in human-wildlife conflict and poaching.
The reasons: why are South Africa’s provisional parks in such a state of disrepair?
Protected areas in South Africa face three significant challenges which ultimately affect their efforts to conserve biodiversity in these areas; inadequate budgets, poor management implementation and a lack of critical skills and capacity.
- Inadequate Budgets
The most common problem reported in all provinces was the inadequate budgets for nature and wildlife conservation. One of the main problems in Africa is that conservation funding must compete against a range of pressing national priorities, including housing, healthcare, education, security, and welfare needs, and – most recently – addressing the impacts of the COVID19 pandemic. A lack of funding, compounded by budget cuts has left parks with their hands tied, unable to maintain infrastructure, provide security and left to spiral into disrepair.
- Poor Management
Apart from the lack of funding, the funds that do come in are poorly managed, and it has been reported that there are deep-seated issues related to managing finances. Park strategies are outdated and management plans incorrectly implemented. Budget allocations were noted as one of the biggest issues, with some parks reporting that 80–90% of budgets were allocated to salaries and officials, leading to a lack of funding for operational needs, security & essential maintenance.
- Loss of expertise
There is a significant loss of institutional knowledge across the board, where experienced staff have left only to be replaced by less capable appointees, inappropriate political appointees or not replaced at all. This lack of capacity and skilled staff is thus one of the most significant challenges facing South Africa’s protected areas.
Looking ahead: How can we save South Africa’s protected areas?
Although it presents a disturbing picture, the EWT report does make recommendations that offer an opportunity to South Africa’s parks to turn disaster into success and make a concerted effort to protect biodiversity. If biodiversity is to be conserved, it will require urgent interventions. One of the most effective ways of doing that is to enter partnerships and strategic collaborations with like-minded parties and experts in the field.
Effective partnerships and collaborations will not only introduce cross-pollination of knowledge & best practice principles, but it will assist with recruiting qualified and skilled staff and open the door to new funding opportunities. Of these funding opportunities, finding a way to raise sustainable funding is critical to cover the long-term costs associated with protecting South African reserves and biodiversity.
How does Wild Wonderful World sustainably raise funding for conservation?
We live in a world that faces many challenges and needs, and whilst there are amazing organisations doing important work to meet those challenges, donor fatigue is massive. It is important to us to find a way to fund our charitable work sustainably.
Wild Wonderful World Conservation raises sustainable funding through tourism and safari travel. We operate a dual-organisation model – the first being our non-profit conservation charity and the second our for-profit safari travel agency. Wild Wonderful World Safaris donates 2% of the total price for every safari booked to the Wild Wonderful World Non-Profit Company (NPC). On average this equates to around 20% of profits. The Safari company also pays all overheads incurred by the conservation charity. This means that by travelling with Wild Wonderful World Safaris, you directly support conservation in Africa, without having to do or pay anything extra at all!
How do we select projects/ reserves to support?
Funding and finding support for exciting projects that involve all the gadgets including helicopters, drones and high-profile animals like lion or rhino is relatively simple. But as the report from EWT highlighted, there is huge value in partnering with reserves that protect vital biodiversity, and it is these projects that often get overlooked. Day-to-day funding of salaries, operational costs or even classified anti-poaching operations are much harder to fundraise for, as they offer little-to-no opportunities for donors to participate in the activities happening on the ground.
As a team, we have travelled, worked, and volunteered extensively for NGOs across Africa for the past 15+ years. This experience has given us a comprehensive understanding of the intricate details that are required for successful conservation projects to come to fruition. We use this expertise when identifying and costing projects that we fund. Our three-tier model of Rapid Response Funding, Frontier Projects and Flying For Conservation ensures not just the “sexy” projects are supported but equally the ones that promise long-term impact and conservation success into the future.
Have a look here, to see some of our recent emergency interventions and here, for our latest Frontier Projects we have supported.
How can you help?
We often get asked how can I help or what can we do from so far away to help?
- Make a donation to our charity fund. We are able to supply tax-deductible certificates for donations within South Africa, and soon for USA-based donations as well!
- Travel with us on safari: Wild Wonderful World Safaris donates 2% of the total price for every safari booked to the Wild Wonderful World Non-Profit Company (NPC).
- Spread the word of conservation far and wide, follow our newsletter updates and share our work with friends and family. You never know who it may reach & how they will be able to increase their impact on conserving biodiversity!
Protected Areas are considered the most fundamental tool for conserving biological diversity and will undoubtedly play an essential role in stemming the current and alarming decline in species and the ongoing degradation of natural habitats. If we can find a way to work together and sustainably raise funding to protect them, then together we stand a chance to save them!
Written by Michelle Pengilly, Founder & Private Guide at Wild Wonderful World