Iona National Park

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. Iona was proclaimed as a reserve in 1937 and upgraded to a national park in 1964. However the Angolan Civil War greatly disrupted the area, with poaching and the destruction of infrastructure having caused considerable damage to the once rich park. Historically, the park was inhabited by rhino and elephant, but both of these species have become locally extinct and other wildlife have been depleted. Unregulated human activities from settlements on the periphery and within the park, including the grazing of livestock, are placing pressure on its ecosystems.

Iona encompasses a variety of distinct landscapes, ranging from the sand dunes along 160km of the Atlantic Ocean coastline, to mountainous peaks reaching as high as 1,500 metres in the east, and expansive sandy plains in the centre. Numerous springs in the mountains provide water throughout the year to the many denizens of the park.The average rainfall in the park ranges from just 20 to 100 mm per year, mostly falling between February and April. Despite this extreme aridity, this place still holds a wealth of biodiversity. Many of the plant species found on the dunes near the coast rely on dense fogs to bring them moisture. This 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. Mammal species present in the park include healthy populations of zebra, oryx, and springbok. Cheetahs, leopards, and brown hyaenas have also been sighted in 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. There is high potential to expand this park to protect this unique marine ecosystem.

African Parks and the Government of Angola will work closely with the local communities, implement good law enforcement, and restore wildlife to ensure the long-term ecological, social and economic sustainability of Iona. Its spectacular mountainous, desert and coastal topography make this trans-frontier area globally unique, giving the park enormous potential with sufficient investment to emerge as one of the continent’s most extraordinary landscape experiences. With adequate conservation and the optimisation of tourism and other sustainable revenue-generating activities, Iona will continue to support healthy terrestrial and marine ecosystems to benefit people long into the future. 

Iona Highlights

  • Iona National Park is one of the largest parks in Angola, and the 17th park to fall under the management of African Parks
  • The Atlantic desert coast offers a unique product, providing high potential to develop the park for tourism and reintroduction of key species, both of which could hugely benefit the local economy and people.
  • This special ecosystem has created a zone of high endemism with many species of reptiles, plants, and birds occurring only in this ecoregion.
  • The introduction of this park brings two new biomes to African Parks’ portfolio – the Namib Desert and the Kalahari Highveld – and the possible expansion into the marine reserve could also provide another marine environment for African Parks to manage - one that is vastly different from Bazaruto.
  • The relatively low numbers of people and livestock, in addition to local institutional support, gives us confidence that we can obtain local buy-in for sustainable management practices to ensure the survival of this fragile landscape.

Partners

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.