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Transborder Protected Areas, Green Infrastructure, and Local Communities:

Perspectives on the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.

An overview of the issues, opportunities constraints and problems affecting the world's largest multi-country park.


Abstract

The Transfrontier Conservation Areas, sometimes termed Peace Parks, in southern Africa, including the Kavango-Zambezi TFCA, the largest in southern Africa (519,912 km2 or 200,739 m2), are part of a broadly planned network of protected areas and connecting zones which can be characterized as Green Infrastructure. Made up of 5 countries (Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe), the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area is the largest transboundary area of its kind on the world. Key protected areas in the KAZA system include Chobe National Park, the Hwange National Park, the Okavango World Heritage Site, Khaudum National Park, Bwabwata National Park, Victoria Falls National Park, and Zambezi National Park. The transborder nature of TFCAs requires careful and forward-thinking intergovernmental planning and the involvement of non-government organizations and community-based institutions.  Particular attention is paid to those  protected areas in KAZA that allow local communities to remain inside them, notably the Okavango Delta in Botswana and the Bwabwata National Park in Namibia). In both cases, there are some restrictions on the kinds of natural resource exploitation activities that can occur inside their boundaries.  There are sizable numbers of people on the borders of these protected areas who are dealing with issues of human-wildlife conflict (HWC) and a large number of tourists and other visitors who have social, environmental, and economic impacts. This paper addresses some of the challenges facing the communities residing in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, including the variability in state policies regarding community rights.

Introduction 

Transfrontier Conservation Areas, sometimes termed Peace Parks, are important features in southern Africa (van der Linde et al 2001; Ali 2007).  This paper focuses in the issues arising in the Kavango-Zambezi TFCA (KAZA), which is the largest transboundary conservation area in southern Africa (519,912 km2 or 200,739 mi2) (Cumming 2008, 2011; Jones 2008; Ziobro 2014; Mogende 2016; Anderson et al 2017). This TFCA, which has protected areas, wildlife corridors, fences, border stations, and local communities, is the largest TFCA in the world.  It is part of a carefully planned network of protected areas and connecting zones that can be characterized as Green Infrastructure (GI). One of the goals of KAZA is to reduce the isolation of protected areas and to improve what might be termed green space (see Newmark 2008). Green Infrastructure, for our purposes here, is a planning tool aimed at providing ecological, economic and social benefits through natural solutions (European Union 2013). For purposes of this paper, I examine several of the protected areas and communal conservancies in KAZA, examining the perspectives of a selection of community members.

The Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) 

KAZA is made up of 5 southern African nation-states which have signed a binding treaty: Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and South Africa, signed in 2011 (KAZA TFCA Secretariat 2011a). The five states have produced a strategic action plan (KAZA TFCA Secretariat 2011b), and an integrated development master plan (KAZA TFCA Secretariat 2014). The KAZA TFCA comprises 20 National Parks, 85 Forest Reserves, 22 Conservancies, 11 Sanctuaries, 103 Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs), and 11 Game Management Areas (GMAs) (KAZA Master Plan 2014:x).

Within KAZA, a total of 371,394 km2 is under some type of wildlife management, and the balance of 148,520 km2 is used for agriculture, grazing, and other purposes. Annual rainfall varies from 100 mm in the southwest to 1,100 mm in the northeast. There are a wide variety of habitats and relatively high biodiversity in KAZA, which contains spectacular waterfalls, extensive floodplains, rolling savannas, and rocky outcrops. Fire is an important driving force in the KAZA region, as are both seasonal and long-term rainfall variability.

As the KAZA Master Plan (2014:6) notes. “Four main structural vegetation types are recognized in the KAZA TFCA area, namely dry forest; various types of woodland that cover by far the greatest portion of the area, grasslands; and wetlands. The Master Plan goes on to say, “The juxtaposition of these vegetation types gives rise to the area’s moderately high biodiversity, and greatly facilitates animal movement between habitats (KAZA Master Plan 2014:6). “Wetland vegetation is of major importance and creates much of the diversity as well as being the source of the uniqueness of the area” (KAZA Master Plan 2014:6). There are high-value woodland species such as Zimbabwe teak and Baikiaea plurijuga that provide important sources of income for businesses and individuals in KAZA. Local communities in KAZA, of which there are as many as several thousand, depending on how one defines a community, engage in foraging, food production, small-scale enterprises, and the exploitation of timber and non-timber forestry projects.

 The Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area aims in part at the connecting of protected areas (see Table 1 for a list of some of the protected areas in KAZA). Three World Heritage Sites are found within the KAZA TFCA: (1) Mosi-oa-Tunya / Victoria Falls, (2) the Tsodilo Hills and, (3) the Okavango Delta. Two of the protected areas in KAZA currently allow people to remain inside them and to utilize local resources, as long as they do so sustainably. These include the Okavango Delta in Botswana (Bolaane 2013; Gressier 2015; Mbaiwa 2016, 2018) and the Bwabwata National Park in Namibia which is 6,277 km2 in size and consists of a significant portion of the western part of Zambezi Region (Harring and Odendaal 2012; Taylor 2012; Paksi and Pyhälä 2018). There are discussions in Namibia and Botswana currently about placing limits on the utilization of resources inside Bwabwata and the Okavango Delta.

The Okavango Delta, which was declared as the 1000th World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2014, is considered an ‘environmental hotspot,’ a ‘biodiversity hotspot,’ and a ‘tourism hotspot’ by the tourism and conservation communities (Turpie et al 2006; Matswiri 2017; Rogan et al 2017). The Okavango Delta was designated as Ramsar’s first Wetland of International Importance.  At 68,640 km2 it is the largest Ramsar site in the world, according to the Ramsar Convention Bureau. According to the World Heritage Commission, the designated World Heritage property of the Okavango consists of a core area of some 2,023.6 km2 with a surrounding buffer zone of 202,859 km2. Today, there are as many as 120 safari tourism operations in the Okavango Delta, which has seen a 60% increase in tourism since 2014. Nearly all of these safari camps cater to high end tourists. They do, in some cases, employ Khwe, //Anikwe, Tsexa, and other San, some of whom are managers and others of whom work as staff members (Maitseo Bolaane, Joseph Mbaiwa, Linda Pfotenhauer, personal communication, 2018). There are also staff drawn from Tawana, Wayeyeei, Mbukushu, and other residents of the Okavango Delta.

There are numerous cultural heritage sites in KAZA including the Tsodilo Hills, which contains over 4,500 rock art sites and dozens of archaeological localities including ancient mines, Sone Age sites, Iron Age sites, cultural trails, a museum, a camping area, and two contemporary communities, one Ju/’hoan and one Mbukushu (Campbell Robbins, and Taylor 2010). The Tsodilo Hills have seen a substantial increase in tourist visits since it was declared a World Heritage Site (Keitumetse and Nthoi 2009). In 2017, there were over 20,000 visitors who came to Tsodilo, according to the Botswana National Museum staff (personal communication, 2017).  The local communities have had some disagreements over the benefits coming from tourists and the state as well as about who should be allowed to engage in dances and other activities for tourists in order to generate income (Giraudo 2016, 2017; Hitchcock, field data).  Tsodilo provides a useful example of some of the complexities of cultural heritage tourism in KAZA.

KAZA supports 22 conservancies. The oldest communal conservancy in Namibia is the Nyae Nyae Conservancy, established in February, 1998. The Nyae Nyae Conservancy, which is 8,992 km2 in size, is located on the Namibia-Botswana border in the north eastern part of the country in Otjozondjupa Region, which covers 105,460 km2.  Just to the west of Nyae Nyae is the N≠a Jaqna Conservancy, which was established in July, 2003.  At 9,120 km2, N≠a Jaqna is the largest communal conservancy in the country and is more diverse in its ethnic composition than Nyae Nyae (Welch 2013; van der Wulp 2016). Nyae Nyae and N≠a Jaqna are the only two communal conservancies in which San peoples are in the majority (Ju/’hoansi in the case of Nyae Nyae, and !Kung, !Xun, Khwe, Hai//om, and Ju/’hoansi in the case of N≠a Jaqna) (Hitchcock 2012, 2015; NASCO 2014).  The two conservancies are both part of KAZA (Jones 2008).

Nyae Nyae, which is directly on the Botswana-Namibia border, has had a long history of development and interactions with non-government organizations and international agencies, starting in 1981 (Biesele and Hitchcock 2013).  Nyae Nyae is one of the best-known areas in the world where local people derive a significant portion of their livelihoods from hunting and gathering. It is thus of great interest to tourists, journalists, film-makers, researchers, and development workers.  Sitting near the north-south border fence with Botswana, the Nyae Nyae Conservancy had 2,000-3,000 visitors and generated over N$5 million (US$417,600.00) through its activities in 2017. The tourism impacts on the people and habitats of Nyae Nyae have been examined by Van Der Burg (2013) and Ritterband (2016). Ritterband looked at ‘living museums’ and cultural heritage sites, notably the Little Hunters Museum at //Xao/oba in Nyae Nyae.

Some of the tourists who want to visit Khaudum National Park, the remotest Park in Namibia, drive north from Tsumkwe and pass //Xai/oba, a cultural heritage site which is part of the Living Culture Foundation of Namibia (Hitchcock 2015).  Khaudum National Park is located at the northern boundary of the Nyae Nyae Conservancy. Originally proclaimed as game reserve in 1989 (Khaudum Game Reserve), Khaudum was declared as a national park in 2007. It is 3,842 km2 in size. When Khaudum was formally established as a park, at least three Ju/’hoan San communities were resettled in Nhoma and in what is now the Nyae Nyae conservancy (Biesele and Hitchcock 2013:17, 66). Approximately 10% of the tourists who I interviewed in 2014, 2015, and 2017 say that they went to Nyae Nyae to visit Khaudum National Park, a park that generally receives fewer than 1,500 tourists a year. The number of visitors to Khaudum in 2014 was 902 (Ministry of Environment and Tourism data). Visitors to Nyae Nyae interviewed in 2017 said that they did so in order to see wild animals, birds, pans, and people.  Some of them were surprised by what they saw as a large number of livestock in the area.

Khaudum is known for its elephant populations (Loxodonta africana) , as is the Nyae Nyae Conservancy (Matson 2006). A particular problem facing elephants in this part of the Kalahari Desert region in Namibia is the lack of surface water.  The result is that elephants sometimes seek to obtain water from water points developed by the Nyae Nyae Conservancy and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.  The human-elephant conflict issue is a major point of discussion among local community members (Hitchcock 2015; Rispen and Lendovo 2016).

A sizable number of tourists who visit southern Africa say that they went there specifically to see wildlife and natural wonders such as Victoria Falls.  Wildlife tourists tend to want to see the ‘Big 5” – lion, leopard, buffalo, rhinoceros, and elephants.  A smaller percentage of tourists aim to visit cultural heritage localities such as the Tsodilo Hills.  From a community perspective, for example in the Chobe Enclave, the Okavango Delta, and the Nyae Nyae Conservancy, elephants are seen both as a blessing and a curse. The blessing side of the equation is that elephants attract tourists.  The curse side of the equation is that elephants can be destructive when it comes to community assets and they are often seen as dangerous to people, especially females with calves.

A primary purpose of TFCAs is to provide transborder migration routes for wild animals.  Two of the main animals that the TFCAs are seeking to accommodate are elephants and buffalo. Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer) move across boundaries, which can be problematic since they can serve as reservoirs for Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD). One way to handle this issue is to erect veterinary cordon fences to restrict this movement (Miescher 2012). This has been done in several areas of KAZA, notably in northern Botswana around the Okavango Delta and points to the west (the Setata Fence).

Elephants have been the subject of intense debate in southern Africa, particularly over the most appropriate policies that will lead to conservation and protection (Metcalfe and Kepe 2008; Challender and MacMillan 2014; Wittemeyer et al 2014; Chase et al 2016; Somerville 2017). The imposition of a country-wide hunting ban in Botswana in 2014 has arguably led to an increase in the number of elephants, especially in the Chobe-Zambezi region in the northern part of Botswana and Namibia. Human-wildlife conflicts have increased substantially in places where elephant densities are high or where large megafauna seek water and vegetation.

 Elephants can have significant impacts on the water points, gardens, and other assets of local communities, as seen, for example, in the Nyae Nyae region of Namibia (Matson 2006) and the Tsholotsho Region of western Zimbabwe (Hitchcock, Begbie-Clench, and Murwira 2016). From the standpoint of local community members, the expansion in the numbers of elephants in the KAZA countries, especially in parts of Namibia and Botswana, poses what some of them say are ‘real risks’ (DeMotts and Hoon 2012; Chamaille-Jammes et al 2014; Schnegg and Kiaka 2018). Operating in ‘elephant landscapes’ is a challenge for many of the people in KAZA, especially in the Chobe region of northern Botswana (Salerno et al 2018).

In recent years, Zimbabwe communities south of Hwange National Park in Tsholotsho have been faced with elephant raids on their crops, and they have also suffered livestock losses both to elephants and to large carnivores (Hitchcock, Begbie-Clench, and Murwira 2016; Clemens 2017; Lindsey et al 2016, 2017). Responses to these problem animal issues have ranged from seeking help from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management to asking safari hunters to help them get rid of the offending animals. And on occasion individuals take action against problem animals themselves. One result of the assumption of local community members’ alleged involvement in the dispatch of elephants and lions has been government-sponsored resettlement (Mushava 2015).

 KAZA community members generally appreciate the importance of the conservation efforts in the TFCA.  Interviews of people in KAZA countries revealed that local people want a greater say in decision-making about the conservation and development activities, including the provision of water points for elephants and other wild animals. They are also concerned about the expansion of ‘hard infrastructure’ such as roads, power lines, fences, and dams. Many people want some or all of these in order to expand access to the outside world (including telecommunications) and to facilitate movement of goods and people to markets. They have mixed views on dams, such as ones proposed in Angola and on the Cunene; they tend to like smaller dams which can provide water for their livestock. Local people want to see much greater efforts on the part of the collaborating countries and institutions in KAZA on poverty-alleviation and engaging in greater efforts to address problems caused by climate change. 

 Some communities and non-government organizations have expressed concern about some of the ways that tourists behave in their areas, chasing wild animals in their vehicles, exploiting firewood resources, swimming in their water tanks, and requesting that indigenous people change their clothing in order to ‘look more traditional.’ Some of these actions of tourists, from the standpoint of KAZA residents, border on criminal or at least unethical behavior. There is no mechanism, at present, to charge tourists with offenses without police being brought in to deal with the transgressors. 

In spite of these concerns, KAZA residents generally see tourism as useful, especially in terms of providing them with food, employment, and income generating opportunities.  Admittedly, there have been tensions between hosts and guests, nation-states and indigenous people, governments and non-government organizations, and local communities and conservation and development agencies over the planning and implementation of these TFCAs.  Some local community members say that they want to see less emphasis on conservation and more on development. In some cases there are border tensions, with some people crossing borders for visiting or resource collection purposes, and they fear being mistaken for poachers or smugglers and risk being shot or arrested and jailed. There is considerable concern among KAZA residents about anti-poaching policies in the 5 countries, though some people appreciate the fact that efforts are being made to reduce illegal offtake of wild animals. A major issues in the KAZA states revolves around the balance between safari hunting and ecotourism and the spread of the benefits that accrue from each set of activities (see, for example, Naidoo et al 2016; World Bank 2018). Some local community members have had difficulties getting passports or identity documents that they can use when they want to move from one country to another.         

Issues in the KAZA conceptual Framework 

From the standpoint of green infrastructure, many rural residents in KAZA understand the point of having “a strategically planned network of natural and semi-natural areas.”  Implementing agencies and research institutions such as universities understand, as do many KAZA residents, that green infrastructure is designed and managed in such a way as to deliver a wide range of ecosystem services.  Local community members are fully aware of the importance of transboundary rivers such as the Zambezi, Cunene, and Okavango in providing water used for flood-recession agriculture and in replenishing aquifers.  They also realize the significance to their livelihoods of rivers and streams for fish production (see, for example, Abbott et al 2007). Fishing makes up a significant portion of the livelihoods of many of the people in the wetland areas of KAZA, and it generates income for a sizable number of people (Scudder 1985). One of the concerns of communities in KAZA is that green infrastructure be aimed at conserving fisheries. The protection of customary land tenure rights and the right to water is crucial to ensuring the wellbeing of KAZA communities.

Green infrastructure, from the perspective of many of the agencies involved in KAZA implementation, is beneficial because it seeks to preserve, protect, and enhance the natural and social capital of the KAZA region.  KAZA’s goals also include improved sustainability for KAZA’s natural and cultural heritage and its varied resources in order to protect the life support systems. Transboundary cooperation will have useful impacts in areas such as the Okavango River Basin where the upper catchments of the Okavango in Angola have been affected by decades of conflict (Rodrigues and Russo 2017). Some of KAZA’s goals are to reduce the isolation of protected areas, improve connectivity, and provide corridors among them for wildlife (Lines, Tzanopoulos and MacMillan 2018; Naidoo et al 2018). Edge effects and the extinction or reduction of animal populations in protected areas is an important issue (Woodroffe and Ginsberg 1998). Information sharing among the five states on the status of endangered and threatened species is crucial.

Another set of goals revolves around enhancing the wellbeing of local communities, improving their incomes, employment, nutritional statuses, and sustainability of development and conservation efforts (Peace Parks Foundation 1998; KAZA TFCA 2014). The reduction of inter-group and interpersonal conflicts and competition among groups and individuals for resources is a major goal of KAZA, as can be seen, for example, in Zambezi Region in Namibia (Harring and Odendaal 2012; Lubilo 2017). Pressure from human population growth in many parts of the world is affecting the viability of protected areas and their buffer zones (Jones et al 2018). The expansion of Green infrastructure in KAZA, carefully locating protected areas (‘green space”) and other kinds of land use systems, is beneficial because it reduces habitat fragmentation and allows for diversified socioeconomic systems to operate more efficiently.

Challenges in KAZA include dealing with issues of rapid population growth, health and disease including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, encroachment of people into protected areas (Wilson et al 2015), uncontrolled expansion of tourism, human-wildlife conflict, deforestation, soil erosion, declining water quality, cross-border movements of people along with animal, plant, and other products, and the complex issue of corruption. KAZA as an institution and the states that make it up need to address human rights, climate change, and poverty alleviation much more effectively.  If these challenges are met, local communities in KAZA will be fully supportive of the efforts of the five nation-states and the various stakeholders to make the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area a success.

 

Acknowledgments:  

Support of some of the research upon which this paper is based was provided by the U.S. National Science Foundation (grant No. BCS 1122932 to M. Biesele and R. Hitchcock), Brot für die Welt (Project No. 2013 0148 G), the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) (Project No. 2650), the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) (Grant No. 2098), and the Millennium Challenge-Account-Namibia (MCA-N). Permission to conduct this research was provided by the governments of Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. Support was provided by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism in Namibia, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation, and Tourism and the Remote Area Development Program in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development in Botswana, and the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZIMPARKS) in the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate, the Zimbabwe Research Council (ZRC) and the University of Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe. I would like to express my appreciation to the people of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area for sharing their ideas, information, and experiences so freely. 

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Table 1.  Protected areas in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Area (KAZA) in southern Africa

 

 

Park or Reserve Area, Establishment Date, Size in km2

 

Country

 

Comments

Bwabwata National Park (2003) (6,772 km2), was West Caprivi Game Park

Namibia

Allows for multiple use in the park

 

Chobe National Park (1961), 9,980 km2

 

Botswana

 

hundreds of Subiya and others were resettled into the Chobe Enclave, where 5 villages are in a 3,060 km2 area

 

Hwange National Park, January 29, 1950) (14,651 km2), was Wankie Game Reserve (1927)

 

Zimbabwe

 

Tshwa San were rounded up and resettled south of Hwange Game Reserve in the late 1920s and early 1930s

Khaudum National Park (2007) (formerly Khaudum Game Reserve) (1989) 3,841 km2

Namibia

Ju/’hoansi resettled in 1989 and 2007, mostly to Nyae Nyae including //A/oba

Lower Zambezi – Mana Pools Transfrontier Conservation Area 17,145 km2 Mana Pools is a World Heritage Site (1984)

Zambia and Zimbabwe

Tonga and Goba resettled due to Kariba Dam, 1950s; Some Doma resettled in the Chewore Safari Area

 

Moremi Game Reserve (1964), 3,880 km2

 

Botswana

 

Bugakwe (//Ani-kxoe) San were relocated out of the reserve in the 1960s and 1970s

Okavango Delta World Heritage Site (2014), 204,882.6 km2

Botswana

Core area of 2,023.6 km2 with a surrounding buffer zone of 202,859 km2

Tsodilo Hills National Monument, (1992), 225 km2, declared a World Heritage Site in 2001

Botswana

Ju/’hoansi San were resettled away from the hills in 1995; Mbukushu remained where they were

Victoria Falls National Park (Mosi-oa-Tunya) (1989), 23 km2

Zimbabwe

World Heritage Site, some anti-poaching work around Victoria Falls town, area 50 km2

Zambezi National Park (1989) 570 km2

 

Zimbabwe

Some households relocated out of the park but reportedly were not provided with compensation

 

Author:  Robert K. Hitchcock, Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001, USA. rhitchcock@unm.edu

Presented at: SUSTAINING THE ECOSYSTEM SERVICE BENEFITS FROM GREEN AND ECOLOGICAL INFRASTRUCTURE 

INSAKA - an International Symposium Hosted by South African National Parks 11 – 14 June 2018, Mopani Rest Camp, Kruger National Park

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