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Protected areas

The main response to loss of natural habitat has been the establishment and extension of protected areas. Overall, approximately 7 per cent of the land area of Africa has been designated as protected. In total, Africa contains 1 254 protected areas (UNEP-WCMC 2001b), including 198 marine protected areas, 50 biosphere reserves, 80 Wetlands of International Importance and 34 World Heritage sites (UNDP, UNEP, World Bank and WRI 2000).

Protected areas: Africa

Note: number of protected areas includes those in IUCN categories I-VI

Source: compiled from UNEP-WCMC 2001b

Protected area coverage differs markedly within Africa; for example, a substantially higher proportion of the land area is designated as protected in Southern Africa than in other sub-regions (see graphic). Lack of financial support and weak law enforcement are common problems in African protected areas, resulting in encroachment by human activities and settlements. However, sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 18 per cent of the global mean investment in protected areas (James 1996). Protected areas are being increasingly managed for multiple uses, including tourism and sport hunting.

Some 52 African countries are party to the Convention on Biological Diversity, 48 countries are party to CITES, and 22 are party to CMS. This is reflected at the national level in the development of national action plans and strategies for the environment, biodiversity and conservation. Financial assistance from a range of bilateral and multilateral donors offers opportunities to address the key issues relating to biodiversity and to promote sub-regional cooperation in conservation. Several transfrontier reserves are being established in Southern and Eastern Africa.

During the colonial era, conservation policies were often based on protectionism that ignored the needs of African people, by imposing hunting restrictions and excluding people from reserves. Protected areas fell under this category and have been described as 'fortress conservation' (Adams and Hulme 2001). Policies on wildlife conservation have since changed with communities living adjacent to national parks being considered as partners; a key trend during the past three decades has been the increasing involvement of local people in conservation initiatives. Community-based conservation (CBC) programmes seek to achieve this by allowing people living near protected areas to participate in land management decisions, giving people rights to wildlife resources and ensuring that local people derive economic benefit from wildlife conservation (Hackel 1999). Some, however, argue that community conservation is no panacea (Adams and Hulme 2001). It has been argued that CBC projects are not primarily established to achieve biodiversity conservation goals but are usually based on the sustainable harvest of living organisms.