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….


 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  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!

  • Comments Off

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


  • Comments Off

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


  • Comments Off

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.

  • Comments Off

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.


  • Comments Off

Photo Sphere Story: Simson-Simons Contract Nature Reserve

Posted on August 15th, 2014 in 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.

In January 2014, the Western Cape’s official government gazette noted, almost incidentally (as gazettes do), that Mr. A. Bredall, minister of local government, environmental affairs and development planning, had declared 270 hectares of privately-owned farmland in the Paardeberg as a contract nature reserve, the legal equivalent of a state-owned nature reserve.

Although one might not, upon reading such a notice, immediately appreciate its significance, achieving contract reserve status nonetheless represent a mean feat. As the stewardship process requires significant investment from both the provincial authority, Cape Nature, and a willing private land-owner, only a few of the many special areas critical to achieving South Africa’s overall conservation targets can ever be negotiated to full reserve status through this programme. Since entering into it more than seven years ago, land-owners Johan and Diana Simons have worked with Cape Nature and other partners to demarcate and chart their property, assess it for aliens and erosion, and draw up a carefully drafted management and monitoring plan. After endless legalities, they finally saw that unassuming notice in the gazette, declaring a portion of their farm the SIMSON-SIMONS nature reserve.

So on this warm late-summer evening, as the sun was setting over koppies where quaggas once trotted and zebra may yet gallop again, Johan and Diana could finally raise their glasses of Dragonridge wine (their own label) with family and friends – a group that had grown to include Cape Nature’s unwavering Arnelle van Nooi.

  • Comments Off

Spotlight on Virunga

Posted on August 13th, 2014 in General,Spotlight on Parks by March Turnbull

Virunga National Park is one of the iconic reserves in Africa.   It’s famous as a beleaguered refuge for mountain gorillas and infamous for almost all of the challenges facing African wildlife conservation today.

Believed to be Africa’s oldest and most bio-diverse National Park, Virunga is located in the Eastern DRC, the very heart of the continent, straddling the great lakes region where central and East Africa meet.

Virunga faces too many of Africa’s most intractable problems.  Some are rooted in the Rwandan genocide, some in the promise of vast mineral resources.  What is absolutely certain is that if the the region was at peace with itself, this is a park that every single wildlife traveller would want to visit.

In May, Fred Pearce wrote about Virunga for Yale environment 360, probing the highly controversial decision to allow oil prospectors access to over 80% of the park.

Read the full original story , here


 Virunga on film. 

The story of Virunga has recently been captured in a hard-hitting documentary that reminds us that the park is defended by extraordinary people, sometimes under the most dangerous and difficult circumstance imaginable.  Read more stories from Virunga by visiting


 Virunga on MAPA’s Interactive Layer. 

Follow us on Twitter @maparpoject and contribute to our story campaign on using the hashtags #StoryOfAfricanParks and #WorldParksCongress.

  • Comments Off

“Spotlight on Parks” series – can you help Africa at the World Parks Congress?

Posted on August 12th, 2014 in General,Spotlight on Parks by March Turnbull


IMG_0718 IMG_2136 serengeti north gate

The MAPA Project is dedicated to putting African wildlife conservation on the map – literally – and we are running a special campaign for the next few months. In November, Sydney will host the IUCN World Parks Congress. This meeting only happens once every 10 years and we want to make sure that Africa’s parks  get seen at a time when parks can no longer be seen as ecological islands to be isolated from humans.  We will be going to the Congress and will be doing everything we can to make sure that Africa’s parks get the attention they deserve.  The MAPA Project map is one tool we can use to do that.

 wp 513 DSC02067

We are going to blog about as many parks as possible, between now and November. There is a huge diversity of conservation experience found in Africa’s parks – hopeful, worrisome, wondrous, social, ecological, economic.  And more questions than answers….. which ones are resilient, which ones are facing collapse, why? With over 500 African national parks on the MAPA interactive map, we want to tell as many of their stories as possible before the Congress starts.

  • The MAPA team will generate regular park stories until November.
  • We will repost from other organisations’ blogs wherever we can – tweet or email us to let us know what park blogs are out there!
  • We’re also hoping that some of you will tell us about your favourite parks so that they get a mention.   Can you submit a few words about the parks you have visited or worked in?  Description is good but a little background about its particular circumstances is even better.   What are its special challenges, does it protect very rare species, what does the future look like?     A couple of pictures and a few hundred words is all it needs – though more is more!

Either submit your story using this form or just send us an email with your words and pictures to march[at] If you can repost this on your own blog, or retweet the notification around the conservation & travel community that would be fantastic.

popenguine DSC02212 imorocco and webster easter 059

Follow us on Twitter @mapaproject and contribute to our story campaign using the hashtags   #StoryOfAfricanParks and #WorldParksCongress.  We will also be posting to our Google+ and Facebook pages.

You can also follow the stories geographically (we do, after all, map Africa’s protected areas).  We’ve created an interactive map where you will be able to navigate to all the stories we blog in the coming weeks, see the stories that users submit, and, for the interactive experience, view photo spheres taken in parks.   


  • Comments Off
« Previous Page