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Sheila Jemutai Koech

Sheila Jemutai Koech

The Udzungwa Mountains National Park in Tanzania is a National protected area with breath-taking scenery, cascading waterfall, huge, towering trees and a serenity of wildflowers. The mountain peak on its own is a beauty to behold! The park, spanning 1,990 square km, is one of the largest forest complexes in Eastern Africa. This national park is home to over 2,500 superior plant species, several mammals, birds, snakes, and insect species.  The park provides an ideal success story of the immense role that National Protected areas, NPAs, play in ecosystem restoration.

The highly endangered and endemic Udzungwa red colobus, Procolobus gordonorum and Sanje mangabey, Cercocebus sanjei and and the near-endemic kipunji monkey, Rungwecebus kipunji call this park home (Rovero et.al, 2009). The park also represents real biodiversity caskets and the most intact ecosystems of the whole Eastern Arc that the park offers to this biodiversity, the Udzungwa mountains are catchment areas- water which not only benefits the wild plant and animal populations, but also the human population downstream.

The Park also presents a variety of habitats ranging from tropical rainforest, montane forests, miombo woodland, grassland and steppe. This huge diversity of ecosystems allows for the thriving of different organisms, plants and animals.

Can Protected areas enhance biodiversity? This was one of the underlying discussions during the Africa Protected Areas Congress, APAC congress in Kigali July 2022. As Africa advances its efforts on ecosystem restoration, protected areas present unique case for addressing biodiversity loss, and enhance ecosystem services. The congress, which was organized and hosted by the Government of Rwanda, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), drew more than 2400 participants from 54 African countries and 27 other countries around the world. A first of its kind in Africa, the APAC had one main intention: To discuss the role of protected areas in conserving nature, safeguarding Africa’s iconic wildlife, delivering vital life-supporting ecosystem services, and promoting sustainable development while conserving Africa’s cultural heritage and traditions. Protected areas carry a wide array of biodiversity; diversity of flora and fauna, and natural resources; some of which are endemic to given habitats. 

According to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (Protected areas and the CBD), a Protected Area is a portion of land, aquatic or sea environment which is geographically delimited, dedicated especially to the protection and the preservation of biological diversity and its natural and cultural resources. IUCN defines a protected area as a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature (Dudley, N. (2008)). Protected areas play numerous roles, and key among them is restoration.  A protected area can be a national park, nature reserve, wilderness area, habitat/species management area, protected landscape or seascape or protected areas with sustainable use of natural resources.

Some other examples of protected areas in Africa include the Prince Edward Island Marine Protected Area & Kruger National Park in South Africa, Udzungwa Mountains National Park & Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania, The Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana, the Akagera and Nyungwe National Parks in Rwanda, Simien Mountains National Park in Ethiopia, and Amboseli & Maasai Mara National Parks in Kenya and Tanzania. Protected areas play a key role in ecosystem restoration and act as anchors to all national and international conservation strategies, acting as refuges for species while maintaining ecological processes that cannot survive in most intensely managed landscapes and seascapes. They act as the only home for most threated species of plants and animals, which are at a risk of extinction. Most of these protected areas exist in natural or near-natural ecosystems.

The Prince Edward Island Marine Protected Area (MPA) in South Africa is a perfect example of an offshore conservation area. It lies near the Prince Edward Islands in the exclusive economic zone of South Africa, and spans about 2000 kilometres square. The marine biodiversity of the islands is of global importance. This area provides a habitat for seals, killer whales, and provides an ideal breeding ground for numerous seabirds and marine fish species (WWF, Edward Island Marine Protected Area). In addition to offering habitats and breeding grounds, this MPA acts as a great reservoir of biodiversity, contributing immensely to ecosystem restoration.

Fig.3: Prince Edward Island Marine Protected Area Source:https://wwfeu.awsassets.panda.org/downloads/110_saf_mpa.pdf

MPAs are mainly established to protect marine life and the variety of life that thrives there. However, over-exploitation of these areas as a result of pressure, excessive longline fishing for Patagonian toothfish and biological invasion through the introduction of alien species remain to be a challenge in this key protected area which is a jewel to the South Coast of Africa.

The Central Kalahari is the largest protected area in Africa spanning over an area of 55,000 square kilometres, literally double the size of Rwanda. This desert reserve is home to several mammal and bird species. This NPA was established and gazetted to protect natural ecosystems such as several mud pans, dry river valleys as well as diverse flora and fauna. It is home to the highly threatened Brown Hyena, and several species of raptors. This habitat is one unique habitat with humans interacting and peacefully coexisting peacefully with the harsh nature of environment there.

“The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is a superlative natural phenomenon that is of exceptional natural beauty with expanse of unaltered landscapes and vegetation communities ranging from a mosaic of large clay pans and fossil river valleys to rolling, vegetated sand dunes and woodlands”.

These few examples not only show that protected areas play a major role in ecosystem restoration, but also are main resources that benefits both nature and humans. Even though these protected areas play a major role in conservation of biodiversity and restoration of ecosystems, they still face a danger of over-exploitation, biological invasion, and destruction-posing a threat to the biodiversity found within them.

There is therefore a need for stakeholders across Africa to come together and acknowledge the benefits of protected areas, and hence champion their protection for the sake of ecosystems and enhancing biodiversity outcomes in the continent. The recently concluded Protected Areas Congress in Rwanda emphasized on the need for a more integrated approach to addressing the Climate, Biodiversity, Health and Conflict nexus of issues involving all relevant stakeholders i.e., the indigenous people, governments, organization, youth and women. This congress prompted the participants to commit to act with urgency to address the biodiversity, climate change and health crises and focused strictly on three areas: Protected Areas, People, and Biodiversity in Africa.

African countries: governments, organizations, individuals and groups should come up with wholesome strategies, including a citizen science approach towards the gazettement of protected areas in a bid to enhance biodiversity outcomes in the continent.



  1. Rovero, F. Marshall, A. Jones, T.  & Perkin, A.  (2009). The primates of the Udzungwa Mountains: Diversity, ecology and conservation. Journal of anthropological sciences = Rivista di antropologia: JASS / Istituto italiano di antropologia. 87. 93-126.
  2. WWF, n.d., Prince Edward Islands (PEI) Marine Protected Area (MPA) Viewed on 8 July 2022, https://wwfeu.awsassets.panda.org/downloads/110_saf_mpa.pdf
  3. CBD, n.d., Protected areas and the CBD Viewed on 8 August 2022, https://www.cbd.int/protected/pacbd/#:~:text=The%20Convention%20on%20Biological%20Diversity%20(CBD)%20is%20the%20most%20important,to%20achieve%20specific%20conservation%20objectives%E2%80%9D. (Accessed: August 2022)
  4. Dudley, N. (Editor) (2008). Guidelines for Applying Protected Area Management Categories. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. x + 86pp. https://portals.iucn.org/library/sites/library/files/documents/pag-021.pdf (Viewed on 15 August 2022)