Biodiversity Conservation

The Atlantic coastal desert’s unique ecosystem has created a zone of high endemism with many species of reptiles, plants, and birds occurring only in this ecoregion. Reptiles are particularly well-adapted to this environment with at least eight species being strictly endemic to the area in and around the park. Iona brings two more biomes under African Parks’ management – the Namib Desert and the Kalahari Highveld.

Terrestrial mammal species present in Iona include the South African oryx (gemsbok), springbok, and Hartmann’s mountain zebra, a threatened subspecies. Large carnivores include cheetah, leopard, and brown hyaena, all present in low numbers. Around 250 species of bird have been recorded, with the coastal lagoons providing an important area for migratory seabirds and shorebirds.

The Welwitschia mirabilis plant is of particular interest. This ‘living fossil’ is the only surviving genus of its family and is only found in the Namib Desert. The oldest recorded living specimen of this species is over 1,000 years old with some estimations nearer to 2,000.

A group of Angolan giraffes after being released into Iona National Park in 2023. © Casey Crafford

Species Restorations

The translocation of an initial group of Angolan giraffe was successfully completed in July 2023, in collaboration with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. This group is now being monitored, and future reinforcement of the population is likely.

The Iona team is also investigating the feasibility of black rhino and lion reintroductions, as well as analysing the need for reinforcing herbivore populations, such as oryx, kudu, and springbok.

Monitoring and Surveys

Based on results of the Skeleton Coast-Iona (SCIONA) project 2021 survey, the amphibian and reptile species inventory was updated, with 75 species recorded, 40 for the first time.

An aerial survey was recently completed, which provide the first formal population estimates for wildlife in Iona since it came under African Parks’ management. A long-term camera trapping programme is currently being implemented, to provide valuable information about the occupancy, abundance and trends of some of the most elusive and inconspicuous wildlife species.

The six-year drought impacted wildlife populations, forcing animals such as oryx, springbok and zebra to congregate around the scarce pasture and water sources in the park or disperse outside. A SCIONA study showed that human activities, such as livestock herding, force wildlife into suboptimal habitats and increases competition for resources. The results highlight the need to secure space for wildlife while promoting human-wildlife coexistence.

Ranger hopefuls go through rigorous selection process to be part of the Iona ranger team. ©Priya Tekriwal

Conservation Law Enforcement

Over the years, illegal hunting caused a decline in all large mammal species in Iona. Initial protection measures, in conjunction with integrating community involvement, consist of ensuring the integrity of the park perimeter and compliance with national wildlife laws within the park. Patrols along the park perimeter focus on stopping illegal entry of livestock and potential poachers into Iona.

The Community Observer Programme, with over 200 participants, continues to provide valuable information to mitigate the impact of unregulated human activity in and around Iona. Community Observers who completed the Basic Field Ranger course in 2022 joined the Iona team as Wildlife Monitors. The Wildlife Monitor Team, a first for Iona and the communities, make use of their profound local knowledge, drawing on customs and traditions that have been practiced for decades, to collaborate with the ranger team for the conservation of the park, its wildlife, and its people. Recruiting members of the local communities goes beyond simply providing employment and a source of income – Iona’s conservation strategies and framework can only benefit from the deep, intrinsic knowledge the local communities have of the landscape.