Why is this interesting? - The Chad Edition 

On conservation models, Zakouma National Park, and the urgency sparked by COVID

Colin here. We covered Africa and COVID from a human and economic angle in a recent WITI. But it is also important to discuss one of the pressing issues on the continent: conservation. As tourism has ground to a halt, revenue from safari and nature-driven visitors is gone. This creates a dangerous situation. Even in the best of times with anti-poaching teams and smart thinking to curtail the hunting of certain species, it remains a cat and mouse game with poachers, who are increasingly sophisticated. The dollars from tourists and the regular activity in reserves serve as a double deterrent. 

The dangers are many. On one hand, there’s the big money game: poachers killing elephants to feed into the international illicit ivory trade (another WITI on that here). On the other hand, there are local and regional poachers using rudimentary snares to try and catch bush meat. Unfortunately, these snares also kill and maim lots of other animals as an unintended (or careless) consequence.  

There are important models going on for conservation. In some cases, a private wealthy donor comes in and partners with a hospitality company to protect a portion of the land. It is symbiotic. The money that comes from these partnerships helps pay for the anti-poaching and security infrastructure, and the safe haven for animals makes for delighted and engaged tourists, seeing these creatures in their natural habitat. The animals can reproduce safely and previously endangered species are allowed space to replenish. 

But there’s also another promising model, in which a country hands over management of a park to an NGO. In the case of Zakouma National Park in Chad, there has been demonstrable progress. 

Why is this interesting? 

Pre-partnership, Zakouma was in a disastrous situation. Between 2002 and 2010 some 4,000 elephants, 95% of the park’s population, were slaughtered for their ivory by poachers.

According to a recent report in the Economist, after the partnership with the NGO African Parks, there’s been considerable change:

…At that point Chad took a step that other African countries are increasingly following. It handed management of the park to an ngo. Since African Parks took over, the elephant population has begun to rise. In 2011 just one calf was born; in 2018, 127 were. The revival is emblematic of broader success that public-private partnerships (ppps) are having in conserving some of the most precious parts of the planet. In the wake of covid-19 it is a model that may become more attractive to African governments that are short of the cash needed to protect animals and also desperate for the tourists who come to see them.

It’s a model that seems to be working, and other countries are taking notice. Since its founding in 2000, African Parks has grown to manage 19 parks in 11 countries. The Economist continues

The African Parks model relies on “three ms”, explains Mr Fearnhead: a clear mandate from a government (which keeps ownership of the area but hands over the running to the ngo); sound management; and money from donors such as the eu.

Zakouma is African Parks’ flagship operation. When it took over its management the priority was security. The national park was caught up in Chad’s civil conflicts in the 2000s, when rebel groups, some backed by Sudan, took on government forces. Janjaweed militias, notorious for mass murder and rape in Darfur, took advantage of the vacuum to slaughter Zakouma’s elephants and launch attacks on nearby villages.

Part of the solution is obviously operations and technology. But there’s a lot of old fashioned soft diplomacy involved. In this case, it is winning over the villagers and residents that border the park. When they are on your side, there’s a combination of bottom-up intelligence (the stranger with a silver briefcase in the middle of the night is reported), as well as higher-tech satellite solutions to stay alert to poachers. 

And at a macro level, the interesting thing here is scale. While there is no shortage of amazing smaller-scale conservation projects throughout Africa, mostly empowered by hospitality, African Parks is able to work with much larger footprints. In doing so the organization has been able to work and drive meaningful conservation numbers in places like Akagera in Rwanda, Odzala-Kokoua in Congo, as well as projects in Malawi. A full list is here. While the world is occupied with COVID, it is comforting to know that these types of programs are still capitalized, efficient, and doing the work of conservation against very powerful forces of markets, development, crime, and otherwise. (CJN

Longread of the Day:

I was bowled over by the power of this piece from a longtime friend of WITI James Jung: Chasing My Father’s Ghost Through the Swiss Alps. It is a personal narrative that weaves loss of a parent, endurance, memory, and geography together in one of the more memorable things I’ve read this year. I am not going to summarize further, just take the time to read it. (CJN)

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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