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ACT - Volume 9 Issue 2 

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The Business of Managing Protected Areas in Africa

By Cynthia Walley

African Parks is an NGO with a mission to rehabilitate and manage protected areas in Africa in partnership with governments and local communities. The organization presently manages eight parks in seven countries, including Chad, the Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR), Rwanda, Malawi and Zambia. African Parks’ business approach to conservation is one way to look at the issues at large.

Three interdependent legal entities in South Africa, the Netherlands and U.S., each with independent Boards but bound by a common, co-operation agreement, are integral to the functioning of African Parks. It has managed to register each park as a legal entity in the host country, with the exception of Garamba and Zakouma, each with its own Board, which is directly accountable to the government of the country for the professional management of the park.

All of African Parks’ overhead costs are covered by income from the African Parks Endowment Fund provided for by funding from the Fentener van Vlissingen family. This means that all other donor contributions from institutional donors, from individual donors and from family foundations can either be earmarked for unrestricted usage or for a specific park or for a specific project.

The primary conservation and habitat objective is to restore, manage and maintain the natural resources of the park, as far as possible to historical levels. This often involves species recovery, reintroduction of species that have become locally extinct, and the securement of park boundaries. With the support of funding partners and host governments, efforts are directed towards restoring disturbed parks and ecosystems as far as possible.

African Parks believes conservation is a land use choice that needs to be supported by local communities who in turn need to value and benefit from that choice and its usage, like they would if they were to farm or mine in the park area. Most often the parks offer the main form of employment in these remote locales. Each park employs between 80 and 250 local staff and many more benefit from casual job opportunities, often seasonal. It is estimated that the employment of every local staff member supports at least six dependents. In addition, every tourist’s bed in a park creates two to three direct jobs. In addition, the NGO assists community enterprise – eco-tourism, sustainable farming and fisheries, healthcare and education initiatives.

A boots-on-the-ground campaign for law enforcement has met with success in anti-poaching and at three parks - Garamba, Zakouma and Odzala, there are specialized rapid response units to stave-off severe poaching threats. The arrival of the African Parks helicopter in Garamba, funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, has further bolstered law enforcement efforts. Other important roles of the law enforcement units include the prevention of human-wildlife conflicts, the adherence to land use regulations and wildlife tracking.

A 1,000 people strong workforce operates in extremely challenging situations. Experienced, skilled park management teams with a can-do mindset are crucial to the successful implementation of this model. Park managers are responsible for every aspect of the management of the park area including conservation, tourism development, finance, community engagement, stakeholder collaborations and human resources. Ongoing training and skill development are implemented in all areas of park operations, particularly in the fields of law enforcement and tourism.


Cynthia Walley is a communications manager for African Parks.