Iona National Park is one of the largest parks in Angola. Many species of reptiles, plants, and birds occur only in this ecoregion.
Iona National Park is situated in the southwest corner of Angola and constitutes the northern tip of the Namib in a section known as the Moçâmedes Desert, the oldest desert in the world. Iona is contiguous with Skeleton Coast National Park in Namibia, which is also contiguous with Namib-Naukluft National Park, creating one of the largest trans-frontier conservation area’s (TFCA) in the world. Combined, they cover nearly 50,000 km2, of which Iona National Park spans 15,000 km2 and is one of the largest parks in Angola.
Proclaimed a reserve in 1937 and upgraded to a national park in 1964, this region endured the nearly four-decade-long, tragic Angolan civil war. In this time, rhino and elephant populations were eradicated, infrastructure destroyed and tremendous hardship endured by local communities. But some life held on. Today, viable populations of zebra, oryx, and springbok remain, and there are remnant populations of cheetah, leopard, and brown hyaena. The park is also home to the highly distinctive Welwitschia mirabilis plant, commonly referred to as a ‘living fossil,’ which is found only in the contiguous protected area. Reptiles are particularly well-adapted to this environment with at least eight strictly endemic to the area in and around the park.
The marine biodiversity is also rich as this area is at the far northern reaches of the cold, highly productive Benguela Current as well as where this meets the warmer Angola Front. This mix of currents creates a vitally important place for recovery of fish stocks in the region.
In December 2019, the Angolan government saw the potential of this extraordinary landscape and partnered with African Parks to revive Iona, ensuring its long-term ecological, social, and economic sustainability for both wildlife and the people who live there. With adequate conservation and the optimisation of tourism and other sustainable revenue-generating activities, Iona has potential to support healthy terrestrial and marine ecosystems to benefit people long into the future.
There is massive potential to further develop this park for increased tourism to benefit the local economy and surrounding communities. The park represents a specialist destination for its unique species and landscape; however, much infrastructure is needed. Effective law enforcement and community engagement will be main priorities. In addition to increasing the numbers of current species, there are several mammal species that have been extirpated from the park, so future reintroductions of elephants, rhino, and lion are potentially on the cards as well.
In late December 2019, African Parks signed a long-term management agreement with the Angola Ministry of Environment (MINAMB) and the National Institute for Biodiversity and Protected Areas (INBAC), and the official hand-over ceremony took place on January 31st, 2020.
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