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Giving wings to the concept of nature reserves has been difficult. The movement for nature reserves, nonetheless, has seen such success that, today, most of us have a sold grasp of what a nature reserve in Africa looks like: a vast expanse of land with big game, brilliant sunsets, and armed guards around the border.
But a new chapter in the battle for nature conservation has begun. Rather than trying to protect and isolate nature from humans, many parks are designing new ways to connect nature with humans.
Here are three parks that are at the frontier of this new ambition:
Private land owners and agriculturists are often villainized by nature conservation groups. The belief goes that landowners and agriculturists will always value profit above habitat.
Agulhas National Park is proving these claims false.
Perched at the southernmost tip of Africa, Agulhas is 51,790 acres of rugged, coastal terrain. Southern right whales, a threatened species, play in the tropically blue ocean bays, along with dolphins and fur seals. Several threatened species of ocean birds nest along the shore. Salt pans and fynbos, unique to Africa’s west coast, are scattered throughout the park.
Remarkably, 40% of the land that belongs to Agulhas is privately owned. The Agulhas Biodiversity Initiative helps educate landowners about the importance of national parks as a symbol of cultural heritage. Landowners have responded by adopting practices like using organic fertilizers, using sound guns rather than real guns to chase away pest animals, and restoring waterways to their natural course instead of irrigation rerouting.
Visiting a nature reserve is all about losing yourself in the magnificence of wildlife, right?
Kruger National Park would beg to differ.
In addition to being South Africa’s most expansive nature reserve—boasting over 1,100 different species— Kruger National park protects archaeological sites, ranging in date from the Stone Age to the 19th century.
Taking historical remnants underwing, Kruger invites visitors to rediscover part of the human identity. The archaeological sites represent a time when we were more connected with nature, and by doing so, encourage re-exploration of that connection.
When you picture visiting one of Africa’s nature reserves, you probably imagine a long, bumpy jeep ride through miles of golden grass and a night spent in a hut with a palm frond roof.
Nairobi National Park could not be farther from this vision.
A short drive out of Nairobi’s central business district is Nairobi National Park. This park is a protected corner of Africa’s savanna, home to a wide variety of wildlife, including the endangered black rhino, lions, cheetahs, hyenas, giraffes and over 400 species of diverse birdlife.
The park’s proximity to Nairobi, a bustling urban center, gives city dwellers an unusual opportunity to connect with nature. This strategy makes Nairobi National Park a gem for education and fundraising.
The shift in nature conversation represents new hope for Africa’s wildlife. After all, connection with nature is part of the human condition. Channeling the power of that connection focuses our passion and innovation on giving back to our world. When we experience passion and strive for innovation, we become forces of nature ourselves.
There is no limit to what we can do.