It’s the size of a European country. The inhabitants include 2.5 million people, a quarter of a million elephants, 3,000 species and some of the last hopes that Africa’s wildlife will endure the 21st century in substantial numbers.
The 170,000 square mile Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, or KAZA, is more than a park, it’s the world’s largest natural conservation area attempting to create a future where wildlife coexists with humans, even benefits them, reports Yale’s Environment360. Although unprecedented in size and scope, KAZA is less a pristine wilderness than a patchwork of forests, plains, wetlands, and rural farming communities where millions of people and animals share the land. It’s home to endangered wildlife such as rhinos, elephants, cheetahs and other species that are under threat from habitat loss, as well as human encroachment and poachers.
Carved from parts of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and centered around sights such as Victoria Falls, the park is called a “transfrontier conservation area.” KAZA protects one of the continent’s last functional large-scale ecosystems, the Okavango Delta wetland. Yet the effort is also designed to be a human development project tied to the welfare of the wildlife it protects. Seeded with $26 million in German funding, the project is anchored by community conservancies where local residents protect, manage, and even profit from the wildlife through tourism and regulated hunts. This is starting to replace attempts to wall off the parks with guards which, in many African countries, is failing as outside pressures grow to large to contain.
At the moment, the project faces serious funding and habitat problems, as well as growing conflicts between people and wildlife. But these may yet be worked out. The program predicts the conservation area will eventually cover 110,000 square miles, almost the size of Italy, and encompass at least 36 formally proclaimed national parks, game reserves, forest reserves, game/wildlife management areas.
A lot is riding on that success.