Central to African Parks’ philosophy is that parks are a choice of land-use. For these parks to survive in the long-term, local people need to value them, and therefore must derive benefits from the park’s existence. At African Parks, neighbouring communities are directly involved in the management of the park. Where local people have utilisation rights, these are protected to ensure they are well managed and not plundered by others.
The parks provide local employment, and the establishment of tourist lodges and other associated private enterprises creates additional job opportunities and a demand for local products and services. Local environmental education programs are established to promote an understanding among the local population of the need to conserve natural resources and use them sustainably. Where possible, we also engage with development organizations to provide social welfare services around our parks, particularly in the fields of education and health. Our goal is to rehabilitate and ensure the safety of wildlife and their habitats, thereby creating a conservation-led economy, with the park at is core, in each region where we operate.
Building a Constituency for Conservation
A conservation solution is in fact a governance, safety and security, economic development and poverty alleviation solution. The success or failure of a park is completely dependent on whether the local people, the communities that live on the periphery or within the park, support its protection. For people to want to protect something they have to understand it, and the best way of understanding it is if they value or benefit from it. We refer to this as “building a constituency for conservation” – by engaging with communities and explaining the rationale of the park, and importantly, by involving them in the management of the park and decision-making.
A well-managed park can provide employment for anywhere between 100 to 300 people, often making it the largest form of formal employment in the region. This can benefit the region even further where the park becomes the economic heart from where people are employed who are then able to buy goods and services. This all feeds into creating an economy that is dependent on the park, thereby becoming a “conservation-led economy”. Once this initial foundation is established, tourism and other enterprises can then be developed which further grows the overall economic impact.
The benefits of good park management are not just restricted to wildlife. Communities have recognised this, and in some cases have become an essential part of the park’s law enforcement team with critical information.
Community Scouts are often the most effective eyes and ears on the ground, knowing before the rangers do as to when or where illegal activities have or will take place.
Whether communities live on the periphery of the parks or legally within park boundaries, both are likely to feel the effects of living near wildlife. As many people rely on subsistence farming to survive, their crops are often raided by elephants and other animals, while predators may prey on livestock. This results in diminished livelihoods and a reduced tolerance for living with these species, which can lead to retaliatory measures, some of which are fatal, and only escalate the problem. Our park management involves working with local communities to devise conflict mitigation schemes, such as animal-proof fencing or other techniques, to prevent and reduce levels of conflict, to ensure the safety of both people and wildlife.
Teaching children about the importance of the park and how to conserve it is an essential part of creating a culture of conservation from an early age, and an important aspect of our environmental education programme. Equally as important is giving local people the opportunity to see the park and experience their parks and their country’s wildlife for themselves first-hand. In some cases, African Parks builds schools, or restores rundown school infrastructure, when assuming management of the park. For example in Zakouma, Chad, there are now “Elephant Schools” that are built on the periphery of the park; and as part of an invasive species removal project, the school desks are made out of neem trees. The village outreach visits there also target approximately 5,000 visitors in the dry season, and are critical to long-term community engagement.