July 29, 2003

SADC: Namibia & South Africa launch Trans-Border Conservation Park

A treaty establishing the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Conservation Park will be signed on Friday, August 1, when South African President Thabo Mbeki visits Namibia. The partnership agreement is aimed at implementing an integrated approach to the management of shared natural resources in the area, as well as promoting cross-border tourism.

The conservation area spans 5 921 square kilometres, with the largest portion - 4 326 square kilometres - in Namibia. It includes sections of the Orange River, Fish River Canyon, Huns mountains, Ai-Ais springs and two extensive alluvia/colluvia plains, the Springbok and Koeroegab, in the Richtersveld National Park. It is hoped that the agreement will be a catalyst for further cross-sectoral development in what is an extremely arid region with few development options, and which has been geographically isolated for a long time.

The Richtersveld boasts a richness and diversity of flora and because of its variety of species is internationally recognised as a global hot spot of biodiversity. In addition to its natural attributes, the Richtersveld National Park is regarded as a role model for a new approach to conservation which includes local communities in the management of the area. The Transfrontier Conservation Park will be jointly managed as an integrated unit according to a joint management plan.

However, the respective governments and other stakeholders still have to agree on its formalisation. The management plan will allow for full participation by the local community through elected members, while each nation will retain the sovereign rights to the land included in the park. One of the main initial challenges of the new park will be the rehabilitation of the diamond mining areas on both sides of the Orange River. Until a decision is taken on a name, something which will be done through public participation, the names of the existing protected areas - the Ai-Ais Hot Springs Game Park and the Richtersveld National Park will be used.

The development of the transfrontier park began through talks between Environment Minister Philemon Malima and his South African counterpart Valli Moosa in October 2000. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the two countries in August 2001. (The Namibian, Windhoek)

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