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South Africa’s Mega Landscapes Plan: Conservation Boost or Nature Risk?

Author: Selene Brophy - 20 March 2024

Part of the Safari Holiday In South Africa & African Safari Collection

South Africa’s natural beauty, which draws more than 8.5 million international visitors annually, could be exploited if a proposed “mega landscapes” conservation plan is implemented.

The country’s Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) wants to grow what it calls “consumptive tourism” by developing the economic potential of wild animals and plants through hunting and bioprospecting for medicinal purposes. South Africa has a long history of combatting rhino poaching and the impact of trophy hunting through canned lion hunting. 

Economic Development vs Ethical Conservation

The new initiative wants to use South Africa’s wildlife, flora, and fauna as a substantial economic asset through “Mega Landscape” conservation areas for this type of consumptive tourism. Under the plan, some 20 million hectares of conservation area will be increased to 34 million by 2040, equivalent to seven Kruger National Parks, states conservation journalist Don Pinnock

The proposed five mega landscapes would include:

  • iSimangaliso/Ezemvelo/uMkhanyakude in KwaZulu/Natal
  • Waterberg/Limpopo River/Makapan Valley in Limpopo
  • Lekgalameetse/Wolkberg/Thabina in the Tzaneen area
  • Addo/Camdeboo Corridor and Grasslands National Park in the Eastern Cape
  • North West
  • Northern Cape

The plan proposes transforming these areas into “biodiversity business” zones, significantly increasing the monetisation of South Africa’s wild ecosystems. Key concerns include:

  1. Economic vs. Ethical Balance: The substantial increase in the consumptive use of wildlife has the ethical implications of negatively commodifying nature for economic gain.
  2. Biodiversity Conservation: While bigger conservation areas sound like a move in the right direction, the shift towards a “biodiversity business” model needs scrutiny to ensure it doesn’t compromise ecological integrity.
  3. Global Perception: South Africa’s reputation as a leader in wildlife conservation could be at stake, considering the plan’s emphasis on hunting. 

South Africa’s natural heritage is on a slippery conservation slope if the plan goes ahead, and careful consideration and informed debate are required, according to Pinnock. 

Public comment on the DFFE plan is open until 12 April. The plan was originally released on 8 March, and commentary has since been extended by 14 days. The initial 22 March deadline was slammed for leaving too little time for stakeholders to comment.   

At Discover Africa, we take the complexity of balancing conservation goals with financial interests seriously. We work with our preferred partners to develop positive-impact safari experiences.

All stakeholders are asked to voice their opinions on the DFFE plan, considering the right approach to safeguard South Africa’s natural heritage without resorting to exploitative practices.

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