Since 2000, African Parks has taken a unique approach to conservation, viewing the challenges facing our planet through a positive lens while still acknowledging that without action, we might lose wildlife and landscapes in Africa forever. Rather than seeing conservation as merely slowing down the degradation of our natural environment, the organization believes effective park management in collaboration with local communities can restore resilience to these wild places and help threatened species thrive for the long-term benefit of millions of people across Africa.
African Parks was founded in 2000 and is the only NGO to enter into, on average, 20-year agreements to manage national parks on behalf of governments, assuming full responsibility for that landscape. The Rob and Melani Walton Foundation (RMWF) partners with African Parks to bring higher standards of excellence to the field of conservation. African Parks increases the opportunities for park protection that are vital to native species, to surrounding communities, and to educating future generations of the need for conservation efforts to sustain humanity, wildlife, and natural places. Over time, this collaboration has had tremendous impact helping to revive certain landscapes and providing for the safety, security, and anti-poaching measures that are now in place.
This partnership safeguards the long-term survival of parks and wildlife in places such as Akagera National Park in Rwanda and Chinko in Central African Republic (CAR). Not only has RMWF supported the financial and logistical capacity to reintroduce species such as lions and black rhinoceroses to Rwanda and help deliver much needed human benefits to CAR, we also enable African Parks to work closely with governments and communities to ensure sustainability at the structural and local levels. Developing an evidence base and performance metrics has been a focus of this collaboration, shedding light on successful tactics and passing best practices on to other project areas and partners.
To date, 18 Eastern black rhinos were reintroduced to Akagera in 2018 after disappearing in 2007; followed by another tranche of five rhinos in 2019 from European zoos. In 2015, seven lions were reintroduced after they had been hunted to extinction in the 1990s. The pride has since grown to almost 40 individuals. With so many local stakeholders involved in the efforts to return these animals to the region, African Parks has witnessed the sense of pride felt by Rwandans, evidenced by school children singing in the streets upon the animals’ return and the tens of thousands of annual park visitors, half of whom are from local Rwandan communities, helping to make this park 90 percent self-financing.
African Parks supports the well-being of the communities surrounding the parks as well, working with locals to support income-generating activity. This creates tangible benefits and long-term value for people in choosing to protect wild areas. From training community managers to serve as advocates and defenders of the parks and park initiatives to helping residents learn new skills such as beekeeping, African Parks hopes to inspire future generations to continue to protect and nurture the land and one another.
Rob and Melani also worked closely with African Parks to move 500 elephants from southern to northern Malawi to reduce conflict and habitat pressures in two parks while helping to repopulate a third, where the arrival of elephants will lead to tourism and support the local economy. Their passion for the future of these animals has connected African Parks to fundamental partners, such as Conservation International, local organizations, and schools in the region.
Every year, more than 2,000 school children visit Akagera and learn about the animals there. Increased tourism provides revenue to hire more staff and further invest in community development—nearly 6,000 people are currently employed (both full and part time) by African Parks across 18 parks in 11 countries. African Parks is currently aiming to manage 20 parks by 2020, and 30 parks by 2030, growth that will even further benefit the more than 2 million people living in and around the parks today. The results of our collaboration show the power of solutions that balance the needs of people and places and bring greater harmony to our planet.
We invite you to visit the inspiring work of African Parks HERE.
African Parks is a non-profit conservation organization that takes on the complete responsibility for the rehabilitation and long-term management of national parks in partnership with governments and local communities.
Photo credit: African Parks/Gael Vande weghe, Tom Parker and Vyskah Nambiar