Spotlight on Quirimbas National Park, Mozambique

Posted on September 16th, 2014 in General by March Turnbull

I have a particular interest in the Parc Nacional das Quirimbas  - Quirimbas National Park – because I visited it courtesy of WWF just after it was opened in 2002.  And it was very different from any other park I have visited, before or since.

The park is huge; over 750,000 hectares of mountain, forest, beach, mangroves, coral reefs and ocean.  With 375 species of fish, and big game that includes wild dogs (until quite recently, at least) it is an amazing tract of Africa.

For a start, the park had 55,000 people living in it when it was formally proclaimed.  I imagine it is more now.  The border was drawn around the proposed area and incorporated everything within it.  It was the strongest possible signal that the days of moving people out, and animals in, were gone.

beach family

When the park was created, 55,000 people were already living within its borders.  

Yet the borders of this park were so close to a park ecologist’s dream it was too good an opportunity to miss.  Persuasive and persistent work by local communities and NGOs led to the promulgation of a park which stretched from the inselberg mountains of Putho in the west to the Quirimabas marine archipelago in the Indian Ocean.  The park covers almost the entire watershed of the Rio Montepuez from source to sea.  The variety of habitat and representative species is fantastic and it should be possible to manage it as a functioning system.

During the dreadful civil war that battered Mozambique between 1977 and 1994, large mammals were hunted for desperately needed food and for profit.  The remote and largely inaccessible mountains of Putho became a refuge for elephants.  It is not ideal habitat but it was largely safe.  At  the other end of the Montepuez River, whale sharks, turtles, whales, dolphins and dugongs can all be found in the warm Indian Ocean.

whale shark sml

The marine life of the Indian Ocean is prolific – this snorkeller has the amazing privilege of coming face to face with a whale shark

In between there are large predators.  Just two years before the park was formally opened, 35 people were killed by lions in the Mucojo area. A little north of the park, more than one village had to be abandoned because of hyaenas, and every year hundreds of crop fields are destroyed by elephants.  It is precarious and complicated trying to operate a park where the official plan was to preserve 40% of the land for agriculture and 60% for wildlife.

There has been good news and bad news in the years since it was opened.    in 2008 WWF reported that fishermen on Rolas, one of the marine islands in the park, were protecting nesting turtles that had returned to the island for the first time in the park’s short history.   Read that story, and the local committment to protect the animals, here.

The news that up to 900 elephants have been poached from the park in recent years is obviously less encouraging.  Undoubtedly driven by international smugglers, local poachers are decimating the herds.  It is a contentious issue that is bound to excite strong views in a park where farmers live alongside these massive creatures.

ele footprints

 Shared footprint.  This farmer has cleared a small piece of ground on the edge of his village.  His right to farm is absolute but so is the  elephant’s right to roam

 

Click on the icons to see more detail on the Quirimbas National Park.  The blue icon represents a proposed Transfrontier Conservation Area that will include Quirimbas.  Use the Read More buttons to see further detail - if you can correct or improve the data please let us know!

 

You can make your own custom map of the African conservation areas that interest you www.mapaproject.org.  Use the searchable map to narrow down your results and then click the Share button to see how you can share your map with others.  If you embed your map in a blog or website (like I’ve done here) it will be automatically updated if users add more relevant features to the database in the future.  Easy and free!

 

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Photo Sphere story: walking into the heart of an African forest

Posted on September 11th, 2014 in Spotlight on Parks by Administrator

As part of our blog series on African protected areas, we will bring you at least one new “Photo Sphere” story every week. Photo Spheres are 360º panoramic images (think Street View) that can be shared on Google Maps, or with the Views community. Through theStreet View partner programme, more and more remote places are making their way onto Google Street View. Where this is not (yet) the case, Photo Spheres allow the world an immersive view many of Africa’s protected areas.  You can see a selection of Photo Spheres taken in Africa’s protected areas on our interactive story map.

Ghana is experiencing one of the worst rates of deforestation loss in West Africa. At its current rate of forest loss, a study estimates that the country could be devoid of major forest cover in less than twenty-five years. Forest protected areas, like Kakum National Park, is thus particularly important for safeguarding species that are increasingly losing their habitat. Unlike most parks in West Africa, Kakum actually receives a lot of tourists, in large part thanks to this canopy walkway, the first of its kind in Africa. The suspension bridge (inspired by the Vancouver’s Capilano) takes visitors into the restless heart of an African forest, a refuge for seven primate species (including the endangered Diana monkey), more than 500 species of butterflies, and about 250 species of birds. The endangered Mona meerkat, Pygmy elephant, Forest buffalo and African civet also occur in the park.

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Ndoki Forest, charmed or cursed? Conservationists admit sustainable logging wilting in naïve chimp habitat

Posted on September 9th, 2014 in General,Spotlight on Parks by Administrator

This article, by Daniel Stiles, was republished from Mongabay.org, under their “ Special Reporting Initiatives (SRI) program “. You can read the original article here

The chimpanzees in Ndoki Forest are termed “naïve”, because they are unafraid of humans. Photo sourced from Wikimedia commons (USAID).

“You come across that crest, and … you’re going from forest that has already been exploited to this kind of no-man’s land… It just felt like you were going into this vast unknown wilderness” – Mike Fay from Eating Apes by Dale Peterson and Karl Ammann. 

Mike Fay, famed explorer and conservationist, said this of the Ndoki Forest in the Republic of the Congo, because up to the early 1990s it was an unknown, primeval wilderness. The map of the area was totally blank: no roads, no habitations, no nothing but giant trees and wildlife, including large numbers of chimpanzees, gorillas, and forest elephants. 

Here, Fay encountered chimpanzees that had never seen humans before, and instead of running off, as chimpanzees who have been hunted do, they examined this new human creature with curiosity. Fay called them “naïve” chimps. 

Fay, former Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) zoologist and now technical advisor to the Gabon national parks’ system, was instrumental in establishing in 1993 what is today the Nouabélé-Ndoki National Park (NNNP). WCS portrays NNNP and the surrounding logging concessions as a great conservation success story. But the story has its critics. 

Read the full story at http://news.mongabay.com/2014/0731-sri-stiles-ndoki-forest-logging-chimp-habitat.html#kA7HUjZPBp2yyhuM.99

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Photo Sphere story: The smoke that thunders

Posted on September 4th, 2014 in Spotlight on Parks by Administrator

As part of our blog series on African protected areas, we will bring you at least one new “Photo Sphere” story every week. Photo Spheres are 360º panoramic images (think Street View) that can be shared on Google Maps, or with the Views community. Through theStreet View partner programme, more and more remote places are making their way onto Google Street View. Where this is not (yet) the case, Photo Spheres allow the world an immersive view many of Africa’s protected areas.  You can see a selection of Photo Spheres taken in Africa’s protected areas on our interactive story map.

Although it is neither the highest, nor the widest, the Victoria Falls is the largest sheet of falling water in the world. Little wonder, then, that its local name, “Mosi-oa-Tunya” (also the name of the National park on the Zambian side of the border) means “the smoke that thunders”. This photo sphere was taken from one of the 16 spectacular viewpoints on the Zimbabwean side of the border, in Victoria Falls National Park. A mist of droplets from the falls creates a nearly permanent rainbow, which greets thousands of locals and international tourists every year.

Revenue from tourists (who also visit for adventure activities) provides a sustainable income for the parks and contributes substantially to the economies of the nearby towns of Victoria Falls and Livingstone, but the parks are not without threats. A few years ago, instability in Zimbabwe threatened the Falls’ tourism economy, and in the last decade or so wildlife crime has forced game reserves surrounding the parks to put up fences, which impedes the natural movement of mammals.

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Spotlight on Tassili n’Ajjer and Ahaggar National Parks, Algeria

Posted on September 2nd, 2014 in General,Spotlight on Parks by March Turnbull

I doubt that the largest park on any other continent has no entry in the English language Wikipedia.  Even the French version makes only a passing reference.  Amazingly, the second largest park is equally anonymous!  Both are in Algeria.

The best aggregated information seems to be on the MAPA Project website but, while I’m glad we have something useful, you would expect that the two largest parks in Africa would have some dedicated champions online.

Even getting accurate sizes is tricky.  Tassili n’Anjjer National Park, which is centred around the  mountain range of the same name, is somewhere between 10,000,000  and 7,000,000 hectares in extent.  You could fit the whole of the  Kruger National Park into the difference with room to spare.  The smaller Ahaggar National Park, which includes the Hoggar mountain range and the important town of Tamanrasset, is still a massive 4,500,000 hectares, over twice the size of the Wales, Swaziland, or Israel.  Seriously big spaces.

1280px-Sleeping_Antelope_Tin_Taghirt small

Sleeping gazelle engraving in Tassili nAjjer National Park   Credit: Linus Wolf

Unlike the Kruger, these parks no longer teem with large mammals. But just 4,000 years ago, when the Sahara was still green and lush, they would have.   A fabulous wealth of rock art (more than 15,000 drawings and engravings in Tassili alone) illustrates a wide range of animal and human activity.

Some of the rock art goes back 6,000 years!   The peoples who created them moved away over millennia, following the shifting monsoon rains out of central North Africa.   Climate change is not new (though we have managed to speed it up….).  Ahaggar  remains important territory for the nomadic Tuareg people, one of the very few groups who ‘stayed behind’ and learnt to live amongst the desolate mountains and sandy plains of the Sahara.

Yet animals do survive.  Cheetahs still exist in Ahaggar – the Tuareg resent them for their stock predation – albeit in small numbers. As do a number of very water-independent species of gazelle and other mammals.  In 2005, a survey was undertaken in Ahaggar which positively identified 15 species.

To give you an idea of how rare the northwest African cheetah is, the strongest population is thought to be in Ahaggar – and that is based on observations of just four individuals.    This camera trap photo, published online in an article by BBC Earth News was actually taken in neighbouring Niger but is too interesting not to use….

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 Credit: Saharan Conservation Fund

 

There is so much more to know about these parks – recognised for their cultural significance as much as their biodiversity – but it can’t all be squeezed into a blog post.  There is more info on the interactive map below

 

Click on the icons to see the two parks we are looking at.  Use the Read More buttons to see further detail - if you can correct or improve the data please let us know!

You can make your own custom map of the African conservation areas that interest you www.mapaproject.org.  Use the searchable map to narrow down your results and then click the Share button to see how you can share your map with others.  If you embed your map in a blog or website (like I’ve done here) it will be automatically updated if users add more relevant features to the database in the future.  Easy and free!

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Photo sphere story: Help to restore the Roodeberg

Posted on August 28th, 2014 in Spotlight on Parks by Administrator

As part of our blog series on African protected areas, we will bring you at least one new “Photo Sphere” story every week. Photo Spheres are 360º panoramic images (think Street View) that can be shared on Google Maps, or with the Views community. Through theStreet View partner programme, more and more remote places are making their way onto Google Street View. Where this is not (yet) the case, Photo Spheres allow the world an immersive view many of Africa’s protected areas.  You can see a selection of Photo Spheres taken in Africa’s protected areas on our interactive story map.

From WWF/TMNP’s “Restore Roodeberg” Campaign

“South of the Noordhoek wetlands rises the Roodeberg, a mountain landscape of exceptional beauty and species diversity that is of global conservation importance. The southern portion of the Roodeberg is part of the Table Mountain National Park, where hikers, runners and horse riders come to immerse themselves in some of the Cape’s most exquisite fynbos and scenery. The northern section is made up of five privately owned properties; with four previously run as the now defunct Solole Game Reserve tourism venture. Due to poor land management, parts of the land are now infested with alien vegetation and a portion is heavily overgrazed, resulting in a large barren and eroded slope that is in urgent need of restoration.

Over the past 10 years South African National Parks (SANParks) has been working hard to consolidate the five privately owned Roodeberg properties into the Table Mountain National Park. To date, SANParks together with its partners The Table Mountain Fund, WWF South Africa and the City of Cape Town, has consolidated three of the five properties, leaving two of the most vulnerable still outside of the Park’s protection.”

 Read more about this campaign, and the Roodeberg at http://www.restoretheroodeberg.co.za

 

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Same Problems, Different Solutions – Community Conservancies in Namibia

Posted on August 26th, 2014 in General,Spotlight on Parks by March Turnbull

In the run up to the World Parks Congress in Sydney, we’ve been looking for stories about African conservation areas and the different challenges they face.

Tragically – and it’s a worldwide thing – the challenges are almost always the same.  Invariably agricultural pressure and illegal hunting top the lists of threats.

So we can be encouraged by this report from Namibia, researched and written by Christopher Joyce.  To Save Wildlife, Namibia’s Farmers Take Control was published some time ago now but ‘Communal Conservancy’ programmes continue to thrive in Namibia.  Take a look at the ‘Money Flow’ chart halfway down the page. Even back in 2009, millions of dollars were being earned by communities which shouldered the responsibility for local wildlife conservation.

Credit: Udo Schmidt

Elephants at Otjiwarongo, Namibia      Credit: Udo Schmidt

Of course, there are problems and it’s usually the big game that causes them.  For example, Namibia is the last real stronghold of the cheetah and most of them are outside formal parks and reserves.  Joyce interviews a subsistence farmer who has lost goats to cheetah and explores how the local Community Conservancy tries to soften the impact.

Namibian wildlife is luckier than that in most other countries because of the huge spaces and low human population.   In that respect it lends itself to the Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) model – there should still be enough to go around.  USAID, a long time funder of CBNRM projects is involved, as is WWF and many other NGOs.    While just a handful of Namibia’s National Parks are known outside the country, Community Conservation Areas add significantly to the wildlife estate.

The National Parks of Namibia are only part of the wildlife estate.  Much wildlife is actually found outside them, often in Community Conservancies. To explore MAPA Project’s interactive map of African protected areas, click HERE.

 

Perhaps the most high profile Community Conservancy is the Torra Conservancy but while I was looking at Wilderness Safaris blog I was encouraged to see that they were reporting not on the flagship Damaraland Camp (Wilderness is a commercial partner of the community), but on community meetings in the Palmwag and Marienfluss Conservancies.  How do communities reconcile the protection of wildlife against the urgent needs of drought stricken cattle herders?   Read the 2014  minutes of the community conservators in Palmwag – it’s difficult.   The good news is that the endangered rhino clearly have local champions.

This is how Wilderness Safari’s scribe saw it:

‘A series of stakeholders’ consultation meetings took place between April and May [2014] to deal with a potentially alarming situation where cattle farmers have moved into the concession illegally for grazing because of the recent drought.

The situation was for some time handled leniently by both the Big 3 Conservancies and the Traditional Authorities in light of the pressing drought situation. This leniency however was exploited by individuals with ill intentions and the safety of wildlife including the black rhino was severely compromised to the extent that Rhino poaching incidents have escalated over a very short period. Sadly preliminary investigations discovered that the illegal cattle farmers on the concession as well as in neighbouring conservancies are in a way linked to the poaching incidents.

This concern was discussed by the stakeholders immediately and action taken to evict the illegal farmers while lawyers were tasked to use the legal route to deal with matter in a fair and un-politicised way.’

 

Community Conservation is alive and kicking in Namibia!

Credit: Wilderness Safaris

Credit: Wilderness Safaris

 

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Spotlight on Boma National Park, South Sudan

Posted on August 22nd, 2014 in General by March Turnbull

Africa’s newest country only came into existence  in 2011.  It was a turbulent and violent place before independence from the north and fighting continues today.  It’s not a healthy recipe for environmental protection.

Yet, rumours of the one of the greatest terrestrial wildlife migrations have continued to excite everyone since Mike Fay, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, wrote several years ago of seeing antelope herds hundreds of thousands strong.

The Boma National Park is in the south east of the country, close to the Ethiopia – Gambella National Park is just across the border.  

South Sudan protected areas

 

Boma is part of a massive migratory wildlife landscape which includes the Sudd, the massive swampland that absorbs so much of the energy of the White Nile. In the mid-1960s there were thought to be 80,000 elephants in the region alongside perhaps two million antelops.  Today there are almost certainly fewer than 5,000 elephants.  

Fast Facts (courtesy of the Wildlife Conservation Society):

  • The almost 200,000 km2-square-mile landscape which includes Boma National Park, is about the size of New York State.
  • Around 1.3 million antelopes migrate across the Boma-Jonglei Landscape taking advantage of seasonal changes in water and food supplies.
  • Among the world’s most important bird areas, the Sudd Swamp is a stopover site for birds migrating between Africa and Eurasia.

In May last year, the wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and South Sudan’s wildlife authorities collared elephant from across the region to understand how the remain herds travel and suffer from poaching.  WCS is a critically important supporter of the Ministry of Wildlife Conservation & Tourism.

Regrettably, they were not able to dart and collar any animals in Boma National Park because of an attack on the park by armed militia who killed the park warden, three rangers and two policeman. Much of the infrastructure was also destroyed, along with almost 100% of the tourist trade.

Elephant collaring project in South Sudan, May 2013.  Credit: Paul Elkan / WCS

Elephant collaring project in South Sudan, May 2013. Credit: Paul Elkan / WCS

 Within the park there is continuing disagreement between local farmers and park rangers about planting and grazing.  That could be said for almost every major park on the continent.

What is different here is the scale of the agriculture.  The fabulous antelope migrations that Mike Fay wrote about a decade ago continue to wash through Boma – and beyond it into Ethiopia’s Gambella National Park.  

Farming in Gambella is taking a whole new direction.  Massive farming concessions, ecncomapssing hundreds of thousands of hectares have been granted to Saudi and Indian agribusiness firms. At least part of those concessions are apparently inside the national park.  Reports indicate that Gambella’s important Duma swamp is already being drained by farming activity. That directly threatens endangered Nile lechwe and the annual kob migrations that run right through this area.  It is difficult to see how to balance the competing needs of business and wildlife.

Boma National Park is struggling to protect its treasures.   It is part of one of the most extraordinary large mammal landscapes in the world.  Hidden for decades by civil war, known to very few outside the region, there is a very real risk of it disappearing before we really know very much about it.

 

The MAPA Project maps all of Africa’s major protected areas.  Click on the placemarker below for more information about Boma National Park or visit www.mapaproject.org to see other African parks and conservation projects.

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Photo Sphere story: Awe and adventure in the Atlas

Posted on August 20th, 2014 in General,Spotlight on Parks by Alta

As part of our blog series on African protected areas, we will bring you at least one new “Photo Sphere” story every week. Photo Spheres are 360º panoramic images (think Street View) that can be shared on Google Maps, or with the Views community. Through the Street View partner programme, more and more remote places are making their way onto Google Street View. Where this is not (yet) the case, Photo Spheres allow the world an immersive view many of Africa’s protected areas.  You can see a selection of Photo Spheres taken in Africa’s protected areas on our interactive story map.


Proclaimed in 1942, Toubkal National Park is Morocco’s oldest (and highest) National park. It is not without its problems: poaching has decimated many animal populations, local livestock has overgrazed parts of the park, and erosion resulting from too many tourists hiking up the park’s multiple peaks is an ongoing concern. But it is hard to deny its splendor: not only does it provide some of the most spectacular natural scenery on earth, it is also culturally important, with many Berber communities calling the Imlil valley home.

At the foot of Jbel Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa, lies the Kasbah du Toubkal, a trekking gateway to the Atlas, and a tranquil hideaway to visitors from all over the world. Originally the home of a local chief during Morocco’s French occupation, the Kasbah was restored in the early 1990s to a “Berber hospitality centre” by two English brothers and a local mountain guide.

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Spotlight on Ruaha National Park

Posted on August 19th, 2014 in General,Spotlight on Parks by March Turnbull

ranger gate sml

Tanzania’s wildlife estate is legendary but the vast majority of tourists visit the ‘Northern Circuit’, which includes the Serengeti and Ngogongoro Crater, rather than the south of the country.

Ruaha National Park  is in the south west,  about halfway between Dar es Salaam and the Zambian border.

There is always something to see as you drive along the river that gives Ruaha National Park its name.

There is always something to see as you drive along the river that gives Ruaha National Park its name.

 

It’s billed by its champions as the largest park in Africa and at 22,000,000 hectares it is is certainly one of them.  Perhaps more important is its context:  it is surrounded by a mosaic of protected areas including Rungwa, Kizigo and Muhezi Game Reserves, and community-run Wildlife Management Areas.  At over 50,000 km2, this combined area certainly makes it one of the most remote and important reservoirs of African megafauna.

Ruaha itself is a formally controlled conservation area – a classic national park.  It was expanded between 2006 and 2008 to bring the Usangu Wildlife Management area under strict protection.  Usangu had previously been used for cattle grazing, and other activities, but over-consumption (particularly of water) persuaded the authorities to exclude all agricultural activity.  This was not without controversy – people were removed from the area – but wildlife management areasremain a very important part of the park’s context, specifically on the southern border.

In a country where over 30% of the land is part of the protected wildlife estate, Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) continue a national tradition of conservation at a local level.  Almost always adjacent to formally protected areas, where they operate as buffer zones, communities fish, keep bees and harvest thatch and other resources in WMAs. Funds generated are used for community-based initiatives such as schools.

ruaha giraffe sml

To the north and east, the state-run game reserves of Rungwa, Kizigo and Muhezi,catering largely to trophy hunters, effectively insulate Ruaha’s flora and fauna from human predation.

The tourist experience is terrific.  Cheaper to visit than the more famous northern reserves, the logisitics are also easier.  In fact, the road west from Dar es Salaam actually takes you through Mikumi National Park which could complete an awesome wildlife itinerary.

Most visitors stick to the Ruaha river itself where they will see plenty of game but there is much more to the park than that.

 

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