Home » African Parks’ “161 Strategy”: Safeguarding the Bedrock of Africa’s Protected Area System

African Parks’ “161 Strategy”: Safeguarding the Bedrock of Africa’s Protected Area System

by In-house Editor

To safeguard Earth’s natural systems and preserve biodiversity, a comprehensive strategy is imperative. In 2019, the Global Deal for Nature set a remarkable goal: conserving at least 30% of terrestrial and marine areas to secure essential ecosystem services and combat climate change. Achieving this vision requires tailored approaches worldwide, and Africa, in particular, needs a pragmatic roadmap.

The World Database of Protected Areas (WDPA) identifies over 8,000 formally registered protected areas in Africa. However, the majority of these areas are too small to offer ecosystem services at scale over the long term. Only 1,050 of them exceed 50,000 hectares. Furthermore, due to decades of poor management and insufficient resources, many of these protected areas are in a sorry state, often reduced to mere “paper parks.” The loss of habitat and biodiversity in these areas is so extensive that their restoration seems nearly impossible without exceptional political support and financial resources.

In 2020, African Parks conducted an internal analysis of Africa’s protected area network. Utilizing data layers and regional expertise, they identified 161 “anchor areas.” These are the regions with the highest potential to become large, functional landscapes that can harbor globally significant biodiversity. These areas offer invaluable ecosystem services like carbon sequestration, clean air, fresh water, and contribute to stability, food security, and socio-economic benefits for millions.

The analysis focused on large, relatively ecologically intact areas. This doesn’t undermine the importance of smaller areas for species conservation, cultural significance, and tourism. However, for long-term biodiversity conservation and unlocking the full potential of ecosystem services like carbon sequestration and resource harvesting, a certain scale is essential. Larger areas provide space for all species to coexist, allowing ecological and evolutionary processes to unfold naturally, with minimal human intervention. They are also more resilient to threats like climate change and possess greater genetic diversity.

The 161 “anchor areas” identified cover a total of 130 million hectares. If managed effectively, they can form the backbone of Africa’s conservation strategy. They can also serve as a basis for expansion into adjacent legislated areas and landscapes.

Out of these 161 areas, only 69 currently have management solutions in place that, if maintained, would ensure their survival. The remaining 92 face significant threats such as uncontrolled poaching, habitat encroachment, and degradation. Without adequate resources for protection and management, these areas are at risk and unlikely to survive without intervention.

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