While 1,200 officially designated Protected Areas exist in Africa, no more than 60 parks larger than 100,000 hectares will be around in the next 20 years. This is why African Parks is working to increase our portfolio and bring on more parks under management as soon as possible.
Park development involves the process of assessing a particular landscape to decide whether it is appropriate for the African Parks model. A great deal of research goes into investigating the importance of the area, studying the complexities or threats that exist, and assessing our ability to overcome those threats. The next stage involves determining our ability to finance the necessary interventions to make the park a success. Finally, we need to negotiate with governments or communities for the long-term mandate needed to manage the park effectively.
A tremendous amount of infrastructure is required in order to manage a park properly. Many parks have very limited, if any infrastructure at all, so roads, bridges, telecommunications, workshops, headquarters and staff housing often need to be built from scratch. Fencing is also an important part of infrastructural development, particularly when there is a hard boundary between the park and the community, and the park is home to animals which could have a negative impact on the lives of local people – such as predators who feed off livestock and elephants who raid crops. In these circumstances, fences are critically important – not to keep communities out, but to keep animals in.
Developing Future Leaders
In many parts of Africa, conservation has predominantly been a state function, but widespread public-sector failure has resulted in few opportunities for skills development or leadership growth in these fields. As one of the leading players in protected area management, and with very few institutions involved in the field, it is incumbent upon African Parks to develop the skills that are needed in order to sustain and expand our portfolio over time. This means investing in people at a local level and helping them acquire the experience and knowledge they need in order to become the next generation of conservation leaders.
We are pragmatic in that, for the most part, we focus on large parks that tend to be the most resilient in the face of growing pressures. All prospective parks are subject to a proper due diligence process to ensure that we are jointly capable of achieving positive outcomes, and three key considerations are taken into account.
While these three aspects are important to us – the most vital aspect is whether government will provide to us the long-term mandate, ideally 20 years, that we need in order to successfully manage the park. Typically for every three parks considered, we are able to commit to one.