Earlier today, Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, declared the Mountain Zebra-Camdeboo Protected Environment. This is in accordance with Act No. 57 of 2003 of the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act, 2003, under section 28(1). The Wilderness Foundation, in conjunction with South African National Parks, facilitated the establishment of the Protected Environment through the Mountain Zebra Camdeboo Corridor project, and South African National Parks will be responsible for the monitoring and annual auditing thereof in future.
The Mountain Zebra-Camdeboo Protected Environment is located between Camdeboo and Mountain Zebra National Parks, a mountainous area that is dominated by the grassland biome, previously one of the three least protected biomes in South Africa. The Protected Environment covers an area of approximately 268 428 hectares and will be managed by a Landowners Association, which is a formal entity established in terms of its constitution, adopted by all members (65 landowners).
The Mountain Zebra Camdeboo Corridor project, launched in March 2012, recognized the importance of landscape connectivity for ecological processes, species migration and climate change. For this reason, the project aimed to link the existing Mountain Zebra and Camdeboo National Parks through the privately owned land located between and surrounding the two National Parks. The Protected Environment is a biodiversity stewardship option that supports the objectives of and makes a major contribution to the establishment of the corridor.
When the Corridor project was developed, an opportunity existed to consolidate and expand the protected area estate around the existing Mountain Zebra National Park and the Camdeboo National Park. Both are large, established national parks run by SANParks. The Camdeboo National Park covers 19 405 ha and surrounds the town of Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape. At a distance of 120 km to the east, lies the Mountain Zebra National Park, a 28 412 ha national park.
The broader region surrounding the parks is significant for a number of reasons. It contains the recently identified montane floral hotspot, the Sneeuberg Centre of Endemism. As such, it is not only a haven for charismatic threatened mammals, but also contains high numbers of endemic plants.
The region forms part of the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany Hotspot, and was identified as a Key Biodiversity Area because of its importance for movement of species, including the endangered Cape Mountain Zebra. The region was also identified as one of the top three priorities for formal protection of the Grasslands Biome, one of the country’s least conserved biomes. Finally, the area covers an ecotone where the biomes of Thicket, Fynbos, Succulent Karoo, Nama Karoo and Grasslands meet. For this reason, the area is important as a potential corridor for climate change adaptation, through which habitat shifts may occur under climate change.
The Mountain Zebra Camdeboo Project focused on a broad area of 530 000 ha surrounding and linking the two existing parks. The land is largely privately owned with a mix of privately run game farms and commercial agriculture. The Wilderness Foundation entered into discussion with these landowners in order to establish the Protected Environment in the region.
More broadly, the vision of the corridor project was to maintain the current landscape in terms of its scenic, biodiversity and landscape value through collective action by the private landowners and to protect the area from detrimental developments.
Protected Environments are a flexible type of biodiversity stewardship agreement that can be delcared across multiple properties. Protected Environments can allow for some forms of production on the land, as long as this is integrated into an approved management plan. Protected Enviornments have the same legal standing as state-owned and managed protected areas, and contribute to South Africa’s protected area estate. Thus, Protected Environments were the most appropriate biodiversity stewardship type to encompass the many properties within the corridor linking the two existing national parks.
A landowner management committee was set up to manage the Protected Environment with a common vision of contributing towards creating a conservation corridor. This was combined with an initiative aimed at improving the management-effectiveness within the existing national parks to create conditions conducive to developing an effective Corridor.
The formal establishment of a Protected Environment lays the basis for further land parcels to be added in the future. Through the management committee, there is improved collaboration between the two national parks and the surrounding landowners. This improves opportunities for ecotourism expansion and job creation and mitigates against inappropriate development in the Karoo.
The Wilderness Foundation woud like to thank the landowners involved, in particular, as well as SANParks and the Critical Ecosystem Parntership Fund (CEPF) for the funding that made this project possible.