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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