Namibia celebrated the International Biological Diversity Day with a two-page full-colour feature in the "YouthPaper" supplement of The Namibian newspaper (the most popular daily paper) on biodiversity (www.namibian.com.na), and with a the attached press statement on the Sperrgebiet (Namibia's portion of the Succulent Karoo global biodiversity hotspot, which will shortly be proclaimed a national park). Further to this, on World Environment Day the Ministry of Environment and Tourism held public speeches and displays in several centres of the country featuring our biodiversity country study book, our parliamentarians' brochure on the NBSAP, and our large colour poster, "What is this thing called Biodiversity?" which is sent along with an information sheet to all schools, government, tourism offices, embassies and communal conservancies in the country
The Sperrgebiet - Namibia's gem
by Antje Burke and Phoebe Barnard
The Namibian National Biodiversity Programme celebrates International Day for Biodiversity by launching a conservation planning exercise for one of Namibia's most precious biodiversity assets.
Locked up for nearly a century, with tightly restricted access to this area, established as a security zone for the diamond industry, the Sperrgebiet (Diamond Area 1) can boast biodiversity riches unrivalled elsewhere in the country. Partly due to varied topography and the overarching influence of two contrasting rainfall regimes – summer and winter rainfall – the Sperrgebiet's Biodiversity (plant and animal life and their supporting habitats) is extremely high for an arid area. With rainfall ranging from 0-50 mm per annum, desert regions elsewhere in the world only support few hardy species that have developed means to cope with this extreme aridity. Not so in this desert area. The biodiversity statistics are impressive. Well over 600 plant species have been recorded so far, over 300 species of mammals, birds and reptiles and an as-yet-unknown number of insects and the like.
Apart from the natural setting supporting such high diversity, the protection of the area due to restricted access has helped to maintain thriving populations of wildlife and healthy vegetation, largely left unhampered by humans and their livestock. However, although large tracts of unspoiled landscapes provide textbook examples of wilderness areas, some areas have been scarred by mining, prospecting and also livestock due to periodic use of the eastern grasslands of the Sperrgebiet as "emergency grazing". Arid areas are fragile, may require many decades to recover from damage, if they recover at all. Thus careful planning is critical allowing only land uses compatible with sustainable development in this area. There are vast natural resources in this area, some non-renewable and finite (minerals), and some renewable, such as plant and animal life. And there is the tremendous, but hard to measure, ecological value. This, in economic terms, is directly reflected in tourism potential, intact and replenishing water resources, genetic potential for crop, horticulture and animal breeding, and medicinal and potential other uses of plants. The use of both, finite and renewable resources needs to be carefully balanced to ensure that the land can support activities related to their use in the long-term.
State land for all this time, but strictly controlled by the diamond industry, only recently has a major portion of this area been returned to the day-to-day management of the Namibian government. A consultative land use plan was completed in 2001, which proposes the proclamation of the area as a National Park, with zones in which stringently controlled mining is allowed. Once endorsed by Cabinet, this conservation area would form one of the largest parks in Africa, potentially linking three countries in a massive trans-frontier conservation corridor encompassing, from south to north, the Richtersveld National Park in South Africa, Ais-Ais-Huns, Namib-Naukluft and Skeleton Coast Parks in Namibia, and Iona National Park in Angola. With political stability gradually returning to Angola, joint technical discussions on Angolan-Namibian conservation and on joint management of the Ais-Ais and Richtersveld Parks underway, the timing may just be right.
While these initiatives are pursued at the government level, conservation scientists and officials are engaged in a more detailed conservation planning exercise for the Sperrgebiet. A study funded by the Global Conservation Fund and facilitated by Conservation International, a US-based non-governmental organisation, is currently underway. Building onto the recommendations of the draft land use plan, the current process aims to (1) update environmental information where necessary and available, (2) critically review the proposed management zoning of the land use plan in the light of new information, and (3) develop a work plan for implementation of sustainable land use in this area. This exercise is facilitated by EnviroScience, a Namibian environmental consultancy, and supported by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, in particular the National Biodiversity Programme and the Directorate of Parks and Wildlife Management.
And if this is not enough, further international focus on the Sperrgebiet is guaranteed through a regional conservation planning exercise of the entire Succulent Karoo Biome. This is an area that stretches from the Great Karoo in South Africa and northern Cape right into Namibia, with the Sperrgebiet forming its northern tip. This regional conservation planning exercise, termed SKEP (Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Plan), is the result of a global biodiversity study, which identified the Succulent Karoo Biome as one of 25 biodiversity "hotspots" worldwide, and the only hotspot in an arid region. This regional level planning, coordinated from Cape Town by Conservation International and the South African Botanical Society, liases closely with the more detailed Sperrgebiet Conservation Planning process as well as the Ais-Ais-Richterveld Trans-Frontier Park initiative to ensure streamlined outcomes.
With so much international attention, given that an environmentally sound and well endorsed land use plan for the Sperrgebiet will eventually be in place, the chances are good that further funding for individual activities can be secured.
For more information, please contact Dr Antje Burke (Tel: 061-223739, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org