2019 Year in Review
2019 has been another whirlwind of a year struggling to protect what remains of Africa’s wild landscapes. We are closing out 2019 having officially added, on November 1st, one new park to our portfolio, Matusadona National Park in Zimbabwe. This takes our footprint to managing 16 parks in 10 countries with more than 12 million hectares under management. I am also pleased to share that we received official notification from the Rwandan Development Board in November that our proposal for Nyungwe National Park was approved and we have entered into contract negotiations. We are also very close to signing up Iona National Park in Angola, and work on the Priority Intervention Plan for W National Park in Benin is underway which we anticipate evolving into a full management mandate. We expect that these parks will fall under our official management in early 2020, getting us close to our goal of 20 parks by 2020.
This was a good year for species restoration. In June five Eastern black rhinos safely arrived in Akagera National Park in Rwanda. In this historic move, the largest ever from a zoo back to the wild, the rhinos came from Safari Park Dvůr Králové in the Czech Republic. The translocation was a joint undertaking with the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and African Parks to increase the size and genetic diversity of Akagera’s existing rhino population. In November, the rhinos were released into a wider fenced area within the park, where they continue to do very well, and a dedicated team of trackers monitors them daily.
In July, cheetahs made a historic return to Majete Wildlife Reserve in Malawi. Donated by Welgevonden, Samara, Dinokeng, and Madikwe Game Reserves in South Africa, this founder population, together with the Liwonde population reintroduced in 2017, form part of the larger cheetah metapopulation restoration plan for southern Africa – a project spearheaded by the Endangered Wildlife Trust. The five cheetahs are doing well and have been a delight for tourists visiting the reserve. In July, 199 buffalo were translocated from North Luangwa National Park to Bangweulu Wetlands in Zambia, and six new calves have already been spotted.
Together with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, WWF South Africa, and Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) we successfully moved 17 black rhinos from South Africa to Liwonde National Park in Malawi in November. This was the largest ever airlift of black rhinos requiring the charter of a Boeing 747. Based on a custodianship agreement between the Governments of Malawi and South Africa, we aim to boost Malawi’s black rhino populations and aid regional efforts to conserve this critically endangered species. While the translocation was a huge success, we were sad to report that two rhinos were lost a week after their release due to incidents with an elephant and possibly another rhino. The remainder have settled in their new home well.
Planning has been undertaken to reintroduce leopards to Liwonde but due to some permitting delays within Zimbabwe, the translocation has been postponed to 2020. The two rhinos in Zakouma National Park in Chad continue to do well, and we look forward to completing the rest of that translocation in late 2020. These species translocations and reintroductions are important restoration projects, that are seeing species once extirpated, whether ten years ago or 100 years ago, make their way back thanks to collaborative efforts among our Government and NGO partners, and funders who make this possible. Their return means the parks have become safe and conditions are met in order for these animals to thrive. Their presence is helping these landscapes ecologically but also for the communities who live there, who benefit from the increase in tourism and other revenue generating schemes that are linked to healthy wildlife populations.
In other highlights for wildlife, the Kordofan giraffe population in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has increased to 58 individuals, up from 22 in 2012. A bird survey in Zakouma National Park in Chad, conducted by the International Crane Foundation, counted 14,000 Northern black crowned cranes in the park - the highest number of cranes ever recorded. The team also documented 175 bird species and 35 mammal species within just one week of being there – solidifying the abundance and species richness Zakouma now contains. Wildlife surveys in Ennedi Natural and Cultural Reserve in Chad are showing more animals than previously thought, with a minimum of 185 bird species and 18 mammal species counted. Akagera’s wildlife populations increased from 12,000 animals in 2017 to 13,500 in 2019. A roan antelope was captured via camera trap in Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve in Malawi for the first time. Another five elephants and eight Kordofan giraffe were collared in Zakouma; 25 elephants and 11 lions were collared in Pendjari; 11 elephants were collared in Odzala and another 14 will be collared by the end of January in 2020. And lastly, initial camera trapping data are showing that wildlife are on the rise in a very surprising way in Chinko in the Central African Republic, which we look forward to reporting on next year.
We have been making the case for years that effectively run protected areas deliver benefits, including life-saving ones, for countless people living in and around these parks. This was very much the case in March when Cyclone Idai came hurtling through Mozambique and Malawi, wreaking havoc, causing devastating impacts for hundreds of thousands of people. Many along the Buzi river lost their homes and their livelihoods, and had no access to drinking water, food or healthcare. In response, African Parks launched an emergency operation from Bazaruto Archipelago National Park to provide critical aid to communities on the ground. We put out an emergency appeal, which many of you responded to, helping to raise $200,000 for these relief efforts. We were immediately able to deploy a helicopter, two boats and thirteen rangers, five of whom had advanced medical training, to bring aid and assistance to isolated settlements.
At the guidance of Mozambique’s National Institute of Disaster Management, our teams worked closely with Aeroclub Mozambique, Gift of the Givers, Mercy Air, International Red Cross and the World Food Programme to centralize operations from a temporary camp. We also assisted with the transport of veterinarians, doctors and equipment in collaboration with the Ministers of Agriculture and Health and Humane Society International. In 34 days spent on the ground, our collective efforts delivered over 60 tonnes of food by boat, almost 80 tonnes of food by helicopter, transported 37 doctors and over 1,500 kilograms of medical supplies along with 2,200 kilograms of other essential items to more than 2,900 families who needed our help the most.
This was not the only natural disaster we responded to this year. Liuwa Plain National Park in Zambia has experienced the worst drought on record (as is large parts of southern Africa) leaving much of the local community in a dire situation. Exceptionally low rainfall has resulted in ruinously low crop yields and a deficit in ground water that is impacting food security at every level. For the last six months we have been providing maize meal to 600 of the most vulnerable families, including more than 3,600 people, to prevent starvation and reduce possible poaching pressure off the park. Besides providing food relief, we are also working with communities to phase out non-climate resilient crops and move towards more reliable food sources that will fare better in times of drought.
Despite these challenging times in Liuwa, we did celebrate the official opening of King Lewanika Lodge in June. This was a celebratory event, presided over by His Majesty the Litunga Lubosi Imwiko II, commemorating over a century of conservation where traditional custodianship under the Barotse Royal Establishment (BRE) has maintained a remarkable coexistence between people and wildlife. The lodge, which is managed by Time+Tide, is a significant step in the economic revival of the park, providing jobs and needed revenue for the park, even during difficult times.
Akagera’s fishing cooperative (COPABARWI) using sustainable fishing practices on Lake Ihema surpassed expectation by generating nearly US$45,000 from over 53,000 kg of fish in 2019, most of which was sold to local communities. We also saw the official opening of Magashi in May by Wilderness Safaris, the first luxury camp for Akagera. The park has surpassed being 80% self-financing due to tourism, with 50% of its visitors being Rwandan nationals.
We announced a new partnership with Americares in May, to improve access to healthcare centres serving nearly 100,000 people living around Liwonde and Majete, both in Malawi. Americares is the world’s leading non-profit provider of donated medicine and medical supplies and has been deploying its tools and resources to these areas in Malawi in phase one of our partnership, with plans to expand to other countries and parks under our management.
Our Ranger force continues to be the largest on the continent for any one NGO. These men and women are the foundation for providing security and creating safe spaces for everything else to follow. To celebrate their and the ICCN rangers’ achievements, Garamba hosted their annual Ranger Day in April. The Deputy Governor of the Haut-Uele Province, Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) representatives, three local Chiefs, two Territorial Administrators and other local authorities, along with hundreds of local community members were in attendance. Odzala-Kokoua National Park celebrated its very first Ranger Day with 100 of our eco-guards there. It was attended by numerous officials and community representatives including the Director of Agence Congolaise de la Faune et des Aires Protégées (ACFAP), the Préfet of Cuvette Ouest, and Sous-Préfet. A parade was held along with a ceremony presenting each eco-guard with a certificate acknowledging the intense training they undergo in preparation for the challenges they meet in the field.
In September, we were pleased to host our President, HRH The Duke of Sussex, in Liwonde in Malawi along with senior representatives from our key partners, including Malawi’s Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining Bintony Kutsaila, the Director of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) Brighton Kumchedwa, and British High Commissioner Holly Tett. The Duke’s visit cast a spotlight on Malawi emerging as a conservation leader on the continent, the progress achieved through our partnership with the DNPW, and more recently our joint anti-poaching collaboration with the British Military.
Sadly, we experienced a significant security challenge in Pendjari National Park in Benin in May, with the kidnapping of two French national tourists, and the murder of their Beninese guide Fiacre Bedi. The tourists were rescued in an operation carried out by French forces in Burkina Faso on May 9th, along with two other civilians. While we closed the area within the park that was part of the crime-scene investigation, the park remained open until the onset of the wet season in July. Pendjari reopened to tourism in October, amid an enhanced security plan for the park, and occupancy rates are as high as they were in 2018 with the holiday season completely booked out, generating almost $100,000 this year. Our park team has engaged much more strongly and effectively with the communities and national law enforcement bodies in order to coordinate a strong front and protect Pendjari and its human and animal inhabitants.
2019 saw the development of our Executive Team in Head Office, with the addition of Kenneth Wanyoto as the Director of Human Resources, Charles Wells as our Chief Operating Officer, and Jean Labuschagne as our Director of Conservation Development and Assurance. We had two staff graduate from the South African Wildlife College (SAWC) this year: Armstrong Chinga who is our Senior Wildlife Police Officer in Liuwa Plain, and Kambani Masamba, a Ranger Medic in Nkhotakota. Both received an Advanced Certificate in Nature Conservation in Transfrontier Conservation Management.
For the second year in a row, we had seven African Parks Rangers recognised at the second Annual African Ranger Awards ceremony in Ghana hosted by the Paradise Foundation and the Alibaba Foundation. The Rangers included Daoba Dieudonne Komerewa from Garamba; Benito Willie from Majete; Forment Kalaba Chisala from Bangweulu; Dari Narakoua and Juste Sokoutinde from Pendjari; and Leonidas Mpumje and Anthony Nzuki from Akagera. We are very proud of both the SAWC graduates and these Rangers for their commitment and dedication to protecting wild places in Africa.
I am extremely pleased to share a few additions to our Boards which are so critical to the overall governance of the organisation. Melani Walton, a significant philanthropist who has served on many boards and committees joined our US Board in October. Penni Ludwig, a long-standing supporter for conservation also joined the US Board earlier this year. Dieter Zetsche, former CEO of Daimler, recently took on the role as Chairman of our new African Parks Germany Board; and Jürgen Steinemann who is the Chairman of Metro AG was the second Board member to join. Vasant Narasimhan who is the CEO of Novartis and a champion for global health priorities, especially in Africa, has just joined the Board of African Parks Network.
Neil Harvey, who was the CEO of Credit Suisse, Hong Kong and CEO of Credit Suisse, Greater China, assumed the role of Chairman of the Asia Pacific Advisory Group. He is joined by Leo Evers, Markus Jebsen, Nancy Lee and Rajiv Louis. We have had three additions to our Dutch Board: Pieter van Doorne, a successful entrepreneur and co-founder of Green Safaris; Frederik Lotz who is the former CFO of Action; and Mirjam de Blécourt, a leading employment lawyer and member of the Senate in Holland. We are honoured to have these new members helping to steer our growth and advancement across the continent.
So much has been accomplished this year, even through natural disasters, regional insecurity, and other setbacks. But when I look back at 2019, I do so with a sense of pride and gratitude to the more than 5,000 people who make up our full and part-time staff, for our Government partners who trust in us to manage their parks, and to our supporters who unwaveringly share in our vision. Together, we are realizing hope – for both people and wildlife across Africa. Our achievements are your achievements: it is so strikingly clear that none of this would be possible without your ongoing support. On behalf of everyone at African Parks, thank you for standing with us in 2019, and for joining us in 2020 where we will be celebrating our 20-year anniversary, and doing all we can to secure the last remaining natural ecosystems on which the people and wildlife of Africa depend for their future.