West African National Park Development – taking a cue from East Africa

Nigeria earned $1.09 billion from international tourism in 2016 according to statistics from the World Bank. Kenya received $1.62 billion in the same period, Tanzania $ 2.16 billion and South Africa $8.81 billion. Most of the visitors to South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya visit the National Parks and Game Reserves. Tourism is a low-hanging fruit in achieving economic empowerment, and west African National Parks should take a cue from their counterparts in eastern Africa to reap benefits from wildlife.

US First Lady on a safari


Low barrier to investment in wildlife-based tourism

Wildlife is a major earner for the tourism industry in many African countries. Tourism provides jobs and income. Investments in this sector are not substantial, since it is a service industry. There are also low barriers to entry for the typical local investor.

A national park is generally owned and managed by the government. Private game reserves on the other hand are managed by private entities. They are both governed by the same principles of conservation and protection of wildlife.

Southern and eastern African countries have allocated large portions of land for wildlife conservation. In addition, the size of protected areas in these regions is generally higher than in other parts of the world. The reason for this is partly historical, and can be traced to the colonial history of these regions. In addition, many of these countries also have significant wildlife populations on unprotected land.

See: Bushmeat, Wildlife-Based Economies, Food Security and Conservation

Managing protected areas can be challenging. This is especially true when there is a large population that is economically marginalised and landless. African countries are mostly non-industrialised. There are insignificant economic opportunities apart from the land. The conflict over land use therefore becomes a significant challenge to the management of protected areas.

Some of the problems are similar. Cases of human-wildlife conflict appear in both regions. Lions in western Africa live in more heavily forested areas. Hunting for bush meat by locals has decimated their usual prey leading to the animals attacking livestock. The local community has killed the lions in retaliation for the lost livestock. A similar scenario plays out frequently in human-wildlife conflict in eastern Africa, also pitting lions against the cattle-rearing Maasai community.

A Maasai herdsman with his livestock. Human-wildlife conflict has pitted the Maasai against the lions

Area covered by national parks and reserves

National parks and reserves cover 20,156 square kilometres in Nigeria, representing 3 percent of the total land area. In contrast parks, reserves and conservation areas cover 14 percent of the land in Tanzania. Its 16 national parks along cover an area of more than 42,000 square kilometres. The figure for Kenya is 44,359 square kilometres, representing 8 percent. Zambia has a high 28 percent of the country set aside for national parks, conservation areas, game reserves and controlled and protection areas.

Nigeria will benefit in setting aside a higher area of land under wildlife. Wildlife conservation is more effective in contiguous parcels, and not fragmented pieces of land.

Funding streams for conservation

Funding of conservation is challenging to many developing countries. Most of the funding is provided by governments and conservation-based non-governmental organisations. Some countries have tried to supplement government funds by use of other models. Countries in eastern and southern Africa have focused on ecotourism and trophy hunting. Some of the models involve payments to communities and landowners for the provision of environmental services. Many of these measures are however donor-dependent and therefore not sustainable.

Any country with conservation ambitions will have to increase the funds allocated for this purpose.

Private partnership

Sixty five percent of Kenya’s wildlife lives in community and private lands. The three types of conservancies used are community conservancy, group conservancy and private conservancy. Placing communities at the centre of wildlife conservation has secured livelihoods and reversed the decline of wildlife numbers.

Game ranching

Introduction and promotion of game ranching should be seriously considered. Game ranching allows for the rearing of wild animals in their natural environment. Game ranching has succeeded in conserving wildlife in several countries. Private sector has several advantages over government management in many areas. The advantages of private self-interested management will overcome most of the problems of public management. They encourage environmental conservation, help protect endangered animals from hunters and predators. Kenyan game ranches have been wildly successful. Some of the challenges that ranch owners sporadically face is conflict with livestock owners. This can however be attributed more to the ownership structures of the largest ranches, which are predominantly owned non-indigenous.

See: Top five biggest ranches cum wildlife sanctuaries

See: Making Wildlife “Pay” in Laikipia, Kenya

Game ranches attract tourists. They also satisfies the needs of sports hunters. Local communities can be involved as guides for the sports hunters. They can also assist in culling the animals while providing for their protein needs. Wildlife utilises marginal land better than livestock. They are more efficient in use of water and grazing, and are more resistant to diseases compared to domestic livestock. Wildlife generally reach an economically harvestable size earlier than domestic animals. A game ranch can keep different breeds of wildlife with complementary feeding habits so as to better utilise the vegetation.

See: Wildlife ranching

It will also provide for the appetite for bush meat. The law should place wildlife conservation on equal footing with other land use types. It should provide for both consumptive and non-consumptive user rights. Consumptive uses allows wildlife to be killed for commercial use and sale as food. Non-consumptive use only allows for wildlife to be watched, studied or recorded.

See: Why Kenya’s new wildlife task force is a step in the right direction

Private ranches will release pressure from the government in its conservation effort.