Photo Sphere story: Keeping an eye on Tarangire’s elephants

Posted on September 28th, 2014 in General,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.

There are two African icons that you will almost certainly encounter when visiting Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park: baobabs and elephants. In fact, the Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem, one of the most biodiverse grasslands in the world, by some accounts boast its highest elephant density too (although Botswana has the highest number).

Its not only the ecological landscape that is complex and diverse: the park and it surrounding areas encompasses many of the problems and opportunities so typical of protected areas in this part of east Africa: a complex history of ecotourism and community relations, community displacement on the one hand and development on the other, a high propensity for human-wildlife conflict, and herbivore populations at high risk of poaching.

In response to the current elephant poaching crisis – one that this park has not escaped – TNP management is following other parks in establishing monitoring and protection programmes that uses Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Announced in September 2014, this project will see a number of UAV camps being established from which operational units (PODS) equipped with multiple aircraft vehicles and communications equipment will be deployed to monitor, identify, follow and eventually deliver suspected poachers to wildlife authorities.

So next time you visit Tarangire, you may see more than just baobabs and elephants…

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Spotlight on Anja Community Reserve, Madagascar

Posted on September 25th, 2014 in General by March Turnbull

Continuing our series on Africa’s parks posts ahead of the World Parks Congress in Sydney, we visit Madagascar this week.  What we have been trying to show is that Africa is a big place and not all parks are the same!

I have been lucky enough to visit Madagascar and to see many of its national parks.  The thing that strikes you immediately is that there is very little natural habitat left.  Cattle ownership, as a proxy for wealth, demands huge areas of pasture, created by repeatedly clearing and burning the landscape.  The burgeoning population also has a massive dependency on rice (Madagascar is said to have the world’s highest per capita consumption of rice) which means that every watercourse and accessible hillside is cleared and terraced for agriculture.  Outside of protected areas, small remnants of forest left clings to inaccessible hilltops and steep ravines.

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The island has distinctly different vegetation zones, because of the rainfall pattern, but before man arrived 2,000 years ago almost all of it was heavily forested, and home to many more species than survive today. Credit: March Turnbull

So, this week I wanted to look at small parks.  They are all relatively small in Madagascar.  In southern Africa you would want a minimum 40,000 hectares to sustain the Big Five, the (unfair) litmus test of an iconic park.  Madagascar doesn’t have any of the big five (water buffalo don’t count..) and few parks would be big enough anyway.  But small can be beautiful, especially in a landscape of environmental chaos.

Anja

They don’t come much smaller than  the Site Ecotouristique d’Anja, Anja Community Reserve. It is just 30 hectares in size.  In the late 1990s, aware that its globally significant endemic species were under huge pressure, the Madagascan government worked hard to expand the land under formal protection.  One of the results was small community managed reserves, like Anja.

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Like all reserves in Madagascar your visit is guided, in this case by a local villager rather than a National Parks employee.    Credit: March Turnbull

Incidentally, for those from mainland Africa who are used to exploring the wilderness independently, you need to adjust your mindset in Madagascar.  Every hike or visit to a reserve requires a guide, even if it is a 30 minute signposted circuit.  There are lots of good reasons for this but don’t expect to contemplate nature in solitary splendour, or to get away with just paying the park entrance fee!

Anyway, back to Anja.  This tiny patch of forest, squeezed on all sides by cattle and rice, is magical.  You get here because you are south of the capital on the RN7 – perhaps on your way to see lemurs at Andringitra National Park.   Before you get there, pop in and see these habituated ring-tailed lemurs.  You are going to see big ones, small ones, baby ones.  Playing, fighting, eating, dozing, in the trees, on the ground – up close and personal.  It is very cool and, because the short hike offers panoramic views of the stripped hillsides, it makes you rather wistful for what must have been.

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 Ring-tailed Lemurs in Aja Community Reserve.  Credit: March Turnbull

 

Human pressure is hardly new for Madagsacar’s wildlife.  Since the arrival of people about 2,000 years ago, dozens of species have gone extinct, including at least 15 species of lemur bigger than the indri, the largest of today’s survivors.  One was as large as a gorilla.

But enough doom and gloom.   In a country infamous for its chaotic political order, there is a functioning wildlife authority, presiding over some very special national parks.   The flora and fauna is outstanding even though you have to work hard for it.

In fact, I think we must talk about another more conventional Madagascan park next week.  The best things often come in small packages.

 

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Did you know that Africa has 7 species of baobab – and 6 of them are endemic to Madagascar? Credit: March Turnbull

Click on the icons to see more detail on National Parks in Madagascar.   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 at 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: The rocks of Robberg: Ancient story-keepers.

Posted on September 18th, 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.

Since their younger days in the time of Gondwana’s break-up (some 110-130 million years ago), the rocks of Robberg have seen a thing or two. About 120,000 years ago, these cliffs and caves played host to beach-combing “Strandlopers”, subsisting in large part on the shellfish riches of the rocky inter-tidal. Later, when the seas retreated, the rocks kept watch as giant buffalo, alcelaphine antelopes, and other near-mythical herbivores roamed the grasslands of that age. When the seas returned, the rocks welcomed new cave dwellers. With time, various waves of human inhabitants found increasingly sophisticated ways to prosper on the Peninsula. And as they did, the rocks stood guard, both undertakers and scribes of their livelihoods and stories…

For more history on, and pictures from, this magnificent little protected area, read Scott Ramsay’s blog post on his Year-in-the-Wild visit to the Robberg Nature Reserve.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 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.

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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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