Eastern and southern Africa is extremely rich in biodiversity, hosting seven global biodiversity hotspots and several centres of endemic species. It has the largest remaining populations of iconic wildlife left on the continent and is home to the migrations of herbivores in the Serengeti and of White-eared Kob gazelles in South Sudan, which are two of the most impressive wildlife spectacles on Earth. The coastal mountain range in the eastern part of Madagascar is an example of one of the most important global centers of endemic species.
The region’s diverse ecosystems, ranging from arid dry lands to moist tropical forests, encompass some of the most diverse landscapes and seascapes in the world, providing a wide range of services that are of vital importance to the livelihoods and economies of the region.
Main threats and challenges
This natural wealth is under pressure from a number of threats, including habitat loss and degradation, overexploitation of natural resources, climate change and invasive alien species. These threats are driven by high levels of poverty and population growth, growing global demands for natural resources, and weak capacity for environmental management. Current biodiversity conservation efforts in the region are inadequate to meet these challenges. In particular, the effectiveness of existing protected areas in conserving biodiversity must be improved and concerted efforts are needed to safeguard vital ecosystem services and maintain ecological connectivity.
Much of the focus of the region’s governments is directed towards immediate human needs linked to poverty alleviation and development, which often comes at the expense of longer term sustainability. This is manifested in changing land use, such as the introduction of biofuels, agriculture intensification and mining.
• Protected areas (including Marine PAs) in the ESA region are directly and indirectly threatened by competing and/or conflicting land/resource use from e.g. large scale agriculture (or fisheries in the case of MPAs), infrastructure development or extractive industries.
• In some cases, practices incompatible with biodiversity, such as mineral extraction, take place inside protected areas and in some extreme cases, there are threats of degazettement.
• Large scale agriculture, irrigation schemes, fisheries operations etc. near protected area boundaries and in wildlife corridors result in human-wildlife conflicts (HWC) impacting negatively on some of the most iconic and valuable wildlife/marine species found in the protected areas of this region
• Human-Wildlife Conflict and land/resource use conflict erode local support for protected areas, become highly politicised, and call into question the long term sustainability of PAs
• Protected area managers and management authorities and environment ministries lack capacity and awareness to deal with these issues effectively; there are major needs for capacity building and awareness-raising of impacts and trade-offs of development activities and maintaining biodiversity and functional protected area networks
• Protected areas are often undervalued in decision-making about land/resource use; there is a need to raise awareness on these issues targeting decision makers at highest levels and across different ministries.
Protected areas in the Eastern and Southern African region
Coverage of protected areas varies considerably between countries in this region: While Botswana, Eritrea, Tanzania and Zambia have dedicated over 25% of their territories to protected areas, less than 1% of the land area of the Comoros and Lesotho is protected. Overall, the Eastern and Southern African region has a long established system of protected areas, which originally were intended to protect large game species, but often excluded local people. In the 1980s, approaches to establishing and managing protected areas shifted towards more community-based models and joint management structures. However, many of the region’s protected areas remain “paper parks”, lacking the capacity to be effectively managed, and suffering from chronic funding constraints.