Southern Africa is a globally recognized centre of biodiversity richness and endemism, as shown in Table 4. The Western Cape, the Karoo and the Miombo woodlands are of particular significance (Burgess and others 2004).

Biodiversity underpins the economy, including tourism. (Krug and others 2002). Southern Africa has placed increasing importance on conservation and sustainable use and has invested in several initiatives in support of those objectives, notably the transfer of ownership of biodiversity from the state to the private and community sectors, and the development of transboundary parks.

The current condition and trend of biodiversity has recently been assessed as part of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA): averaged across all terrestrial species of plants and vertebrates, it is estimated that about 84 per cent of the pre-colonial populations of wild organisms persisted in the year 2000 (Biggs and others 2004, Scholes and Biggs 2004, Scholes and Biggs 2005). The rate of decline in “biodiversity intactness” is about 0.8 per cent per year for the 1990s (Scholes and Biggs 2005). Most of the organisms that persist occur outside the comprehensive and generally well-run system of protected areas.

Table 4: Biodiversity richness and endemism in Southern Africa
  Biodiversity opportunity Threat Response
  Area Mammals Birds Plants % of land % of land
Country km² Endemic Total Endemic Total Endemic Total transformed protected

Angola 1 246 700 7 276 12 765 1 260 5 185 4 4

Botswana 581 730 0 164 1 386 17 2 151 9 18

Lesotho 30 350 0 33 0 58 2 1 591 16 0

Malawi 118 480 0 195 0 521 49 3 765 29 9

Mozambique 801 590 2 179 0 498 219 5 692 11 4

Namibia 824 290 3 250 3 469 687 3 174 2 4

South Africa 1 221 040 35 247 8 596   23 420 22 5

Swaziland 17 360 0 47 0 364 4 2 715 0 2

Tanzania 945 090 15 316 24 822 1 122 10 008 25 15

Zambia 752 610 3 233 2 605 211 4 747 9 8

Zimbabwe 390 760 0 270 0 532 95 4 440 32 8

All countries 6 930 000 65   50   3 666   13 7

Source: Methodology and sources as for Table 1

The various species of fauna and flora found in the vast range of terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems are also an important source of food, medicines, research and regional integration through transboundary conservation. They are also an important source of income for communities through CBNRM programmes.

Table 5: Average prices of live game (2000)
Species Price (US$)

Grey duiker 75
Impala 150
Kudu 370
Blue wildebeest 450
Zebra 580
Springbok 670
Red hartebeest 700
Waterbuck 1 000
Bushbuck 1 000
Giraffe 2 700
Hippo 4 000
Sable antelope 10 300
Roan antelope 14 200
Buffalo 16 700
White rhino 25 000

Source: SADC and others 2005

Land-use systems that are based on wildlife utilization are more ecologically sustainable than other uses. For example, wildlife makes better use of vegetation compared to livestock, and has many marketable uses in addition to meat production. Income from wildlife is significant. One of Southern Africa’s most prestigious and largest wildlife auctions for live game is organized by the KwaZulu Natal Conservation Service in South Africa. Excess animals from public parks are sold to private wildlife areas predominantly in Southern Africa. Table 5 provides average auction prices for live game in 2000, during which the prices ranged from US$75 for a grey duiker to US$25 000 for a white rhino (SADC and others 2005).

Safari hunting is the main income generating form of consumptive wildlife utilization. However, the most common and widespread use of wildlife is non-consumptive tourism, which takes place in areas where densities of wildlife are high.

Since the 1970s, several initiatives in Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe began to transfer use rights and responsibilities to the landholders. In most Southern African countries, wildlife historically belonged to the government, and not to the people who owned or lived on the land. Thus there was little incentive for landholders to conserve or enhance wildlife stocks. In Zimbabwe, the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) programme targeted sparsely populated communal land adjacent to national parks or hunting areas. It demonstrated that economic returns from sustainable use of wildlife (largely through trophy hunting) exceeded the returns from marginal cultivation or cattle ranching, and schemes were devised to return the proceeds of wildlife utilization to the local communities. In South Africa, a simple change in the provincial wildlife protection legislation lifted many of the restrictions relating to the use of wildlife for those landholders who erected a game-proof fence around their land. Large parts of the country that had been used unprofitably for livestock ranching rapidly began to farm wildlife, initially for the trophy hunting market, and later for the wildlife tourism market (Scholes and Biggs 2004). In Namibia, many experiments in CBNRM have been launched, and several have proven sustainable for long periods.

Transboundary parks have been a “peace dividend” following the achievement of political stability in Southern Africa. Established examples include the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park initiative between Mozambique and South Africa, the Kgalagadi Agreement establishing a park between South Africa and Botswana, and the Tuli Park between South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe (Mohamed-Katerere 2001). Several more are in advanced stages of implementation. While many of the drivers and benefits of transboundary protected areas are political and economic, there are also significant biodiversity advantages: large parks have lower operational costs; bigger wildlife populations are less prone to loss when conditions fluctuate; and ecosystems seldom follow national jurisdictions.

Given that the biodiversity of Southern Africa is remarkably intact, the most immediate challenge is to avoid degradation of habitat in the extensive areas which are used for activities such as livestock ranching, while simultaneously maintaining viable livelihoods for the people who live in these areas.


The invasion of ecosystems by alien species has caused significant economic losses. Such species have been deliberately or accidentally introduced by humans. Only a fraction of such introductions become problem species, but when they do the consequences can be severe for local biodiversity, ecosystem services and human well-being. For instance, it has been calculated that the additional water use by alien trees in South Africa (excluding those in plantations and orchards) is between 1 400 and 3 300 million m³/year (Görgens and van Wilgen 2004). Chapter 10: Invasive Alien Species looks at these issues more closely.

Climate change is also emerging as a major threat to biodiversity in Southern Africa, with some symptoms already manifest (Rutherford and others 1999). While extreme climate variation is not new, the magnitude and rapidity of climate change likely to occur in the 21st century is greater than the capacity of many organisms to respond by adaptation or migration. Migration to areas with a suitable climate is severely hampered by barriers such as roads, fences, urban areas and cultivated fields. The highly diverse and unique succulent flora of the winter-rainfall regions in the southwest of Africa is projected to be particularly threatened (Rutherford and others 1999). There is emerging evidence that the effects of climate change are already apparent there (Foden and others 2003). Chapter 3: Land examines some of the challenges associated with climate change.