Sustainable management of protected areas remains a challenge

21Mar 2017
Muharram Macatta
The Guardian
Sustainable management of protected areas remains a challenge

An International Conference on Monitoring and Management of Visitors in Recreational and Protected Areas brings together researcher and practitioners working on protected areas from all over the world. It is an important platform for exchanging practices and experiences.

The importance of governance and the particularities of a particular area such as the Ruaha and Serengeti National Parks, the need for constant adaptation and innovation, and that a focus on innovation and project-based funding might distract attention and resources from important aspects of management and governance, such as maintenance, that help sustaining the area and its qualities in the long-run.

Innovation has become a key topic in the ongoing search for more effective, efficient and legitimate forms of protected area governance.

In response to changing circumstances, new management challenges, and failed policies, managers of protected areas are continuously rethinking and adapting their policies and practices and exploring new ones.

Over the years it has become clear that the sustainable management of protected areas remains a difficult challenge. The huge diversity of practices shows that protected areas can be governed in many different ways and that approaches should be dynamic.

Management practices regularly need to be revised in order to adapt to changing social and ecological circumstances. Managers for example need to deal with increasing visitor numbers, changing visitors’ demands, environmental pressures due to recreational activities, budget cuts, or changing organizational beliefs.

To some extend such changes reflect wider societal developments, such as emerging trends in outdoor activities, a changing political landscape, or economic ups and downs.

It has also become clear that in order to understand and adapt current practices that protected area management should be understood as embedded in governance, taking into account the interplay between the management of the area and dynamics in the wider social-ecological environment.

Shifting forms of governance are an important driver for innovation. Traditionally public organizations played a pivotal role, taking the lead in coordinating the different land use activities and designing and implementing a wide range of policies, laws and plans that help in protecting, managing and developing protected areas.

In the last decade the role of governmental organizations has changed and increasingly attention is given to participatory and privately initiated forms of governance that give a more important role to citizens and entrepreneurs.

These shifts in governance are reflected accordingly in the strategies and instruments that actors are using to govern protected areas and manage visitor flows.

Traditional hierarchical forms of governance, often focusing on conservation, are complemented and replaced with new forms that focus on participatory forms of planning, public-private partnerships, and place branding strategies.

In the Netherlands, for example, we can observe a diminishing political support for strict protection, a reduction of available resources, and a growing emphasis on tourism development and branding.

This urged managers of protected areas to look for new approaches, new partnerships, and new sources of income, such as recreation and tourism.

Innovation is also stimulated through the exchange of ideas, experiences and possible management models. A wide variety of models and approaches have been developed in the ongoing search for suitable forms of protected area governance.

Scientific research, professional networks, NGOs, and forum; all have contributed to a deeper insight in the various challenges of sustainable management, the possibilities and limits of particular management approaches, and they are a rich source of novel ideas and approaches.

Much effort is spent on sharing experiences and learning from each other. Within this endeavour one should however not forget that the effectiveness and legitimacy of particular models and approaches always depend on their implementation in a particular context.

Approaches that have been successful in one place do not necessarily produce the same effects elsewhere. The concept of a national park, for example, is applied in many countries, all over the world, but the ways in which national parks are institutionalized, the ways in which they are managed and protected, as well as their actual impact in various places, largely diverge.

The diffusion of particular models and approaches to new places is thus anything but simple. We have for example observed this during a research in the “Danube Delta, where several NGOs have been promoting models and approaches that were successful elsewhere, but that once introduced in the Danube Delta sorted a very different effect than expected based on experiences elsewhere, and regularly failed.

The context-dependent performance of particular models and approaches is not always fully taken into account when management models are evaluated and introduced elsewhere.
More attention should therefore be given to the difficulties that arise when certain models are promoted and implemented in a new context.

Experiences from different countries show that a strong emphasis on innovative projects tends to overlook the political, economic, and ecological complexity that characterizes protected area governance. Such an approach not only fails to contribute to sustainable management practices, but might in some cases even undermine these.

The United Republic of Tanzania is well-known for its diverse wildlife especially in the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater. But, most people have only seen them on their high-definition televisions.

With the creation of conservation tourism, people from all over are flocking to Tanzania to see the country’s most stunning wildlife in its own natural habitat.

As a result, Tanzania’s wildlife is driving business, safeguarding wildlife, and contributing to a brighter future for all in the United Republic of Tanzania. The world’s tourists can come admire Tanzania’s wildlife with their own eyes.

Wildlife is not a threat to communities, but a part of their prosperity. Many communities view wildlife as a threat to their livelihoods. Wildlife tends to wander beyond park boundaries and raid crops they would normally eat or sell.

Many will hunt wildlife to protect their land. Still, others poach and participate in wildlife trafficking to earn an income. Making communities realize the benefits of conserving wildlife is one of our biggest challenges.

Tourists pay top dollar for the privilege of tracking some specific species of wildlife. Mountain gorillas are a majestic but critically endangered species that are threatened by poaching, habitat loss, and human-wildlife conflict. When local communities benefit from this tourism, however, they have more incentive to protect them and other wildlife.

Lodges provide the setting for a unique and exciting tourism experience where visitors can experience local wildlife and see Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) conservation in action.
The lodges are based on tourism and supports conservation of the national parks by providing employment and other benefits to surrounding community members.

The lodges provide about US$400,000 to US$ 500,000 in financial benefits to the community and employ many people. Availability of exclusive accommodations attracts more guests to national parks.

They encourage longer stays, provide communities with a marketable tourism product, and contributes to management funds for protected area authorities through increased gate collections and fees from rare wildlife.

African Wildlife Foundation urges the government of “South Africa to step up its leadership in African rhino conservation by shutting down the proposed new law to allow trade and export of rhino horn for personal purposes.” International trade in rhino horn was banned in 1977 and South Africa banned domestic trade in 2009.

Amidst escalating levels of illegal rhino horn trafficking, most conservatisms’ organizations do not believe that there exist adequate mechanisms at any level—local, national, regional or international—to control the proposed legal trade.

Recent events in Arusha in Tanzania, such as the extraordinary poaching or the mysterious disappearance of the unique black rhino nicknamed “John” that was disclosed to the Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa during his official tour of those regions, give you an idea about that rhino are still under heavy threat of poaching and protection must be tightened, not relaxed—without exception.

For rhino, there currently is no realistic scope for achieving a sustainable balance between production and supply of horn. Decisions about whether sustainable trade is viable in an endangered species and its parts must be based on the species biology, trends in illegal killing and the value of the product.

Legalized ivory trade over the past 25 years has proven ineffective in stemming elephant poaching in Africa. The current illegal trade in rhino horn, similar to the illegal ivory trade, is perpetuated by illegal syndicates that would continue to poach rhinos and trade in horn on the black market in defiance of a legal system.

Meanwhile, a legal trade would serve to complicate the efforts of law enforcement officials in Africa by creating a veneer of legality behind which illegal activities would persist. It would sow confusion among the law enforcement community around what constitutes legal vs. illegal horn.

Legalizing any rhino horn trade would be sending mixed messages to the marketplace at a time when a single, unambiguous message needs to be communicated to the millions—possibly billions—of existing and potential consumers of this product.

Finally, pushing a new law to trade in rhino horn is a distraction, a waste of political capital demonstrated at the most recent CITES conferences and divisive at a time when stakeholder unity is needed to tackle the poaching crisis.