Juba, South Sudan — In an important milestone for South Sudan's conservation effort, hundreds of rangers are now patrolling the country's largest national park.
Less than two years after the beginning of a pioneering programme funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), park authorities have begun to enforce anti-poaching measures across the Southern National Park, a two million hectare expanse of savannah and rivers spanning four States of South Sudan.
The 70-year-old park was little more than a name until the future government of South Sudan took interest shortly before independence, mobilizing funds from organizations like the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society.
The park is teaming with wildlife such as giant elands, antelopes and small numbers of elephants, in spite of the devastation wrought by poachers, who hunt for bush meat and trade ivory for small arms.
With no infrastructure other than dirt roads, managing and developing the park is expected to revive animal populations and boost the local economy.
"With a 15,000-strong wildlife service to manage, training will help professionalize our performance and ensure South Sudan's parks are managed as world class areas," said Gabriel Changson Chang, the South Sudanese Minister of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism.
Managed by UNDP and executed by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the US$8.2 million programme aims to introduce every aspect of professional park management to the wildlife authorities. In the Southern National Park, 46 rangers - including six women - are learning to locate wildlife populations, map human activity and manage a network of stations and rotating patrols. They are also being trained to enforce anti-poaching measures.
The rangers have been equipped with essential equipment, including solar-powered radios, land cruisers, GPS and camping tools.
"The project has already trained a core team of park staff and, along with the provision of equipment, we have started coordinated patrols for the first time since the war," said Lt. Colonel John Maper, the Southern National Park Warden.
In addition to directly supporting the park, the programme is helping South Sudan's Wildlife ministry to plan nation-wide conservation efforts. A complete aerial survey of South Sudan's ecosystems and species is being planned, together with collaring and satellite tracking of elephants, eland and other large mammals.
In addition, a Protected Areas Network involving changes in park boundaries has been tabled for discussion at the ministerial level.
"Our objective is for large numbers of South Sudanese to help conserve these natural wonders. By doing so, women and men will be able to make extra money, build new skills, send their children to school and get proper health care," said Balázs Horváth, UNDP Country Director in South Sudan.
Ultimately, the proceeds from conservation activities are expected to benefit communities. To that end, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the ministry recently led a series of gatherings and consultations with local groups, raising awareness of the implications of conservation for livelihoods and engaging with eco-tourism businesses.
"This project's three components - building the capacity of the Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism, improving the conservation of important national parks, and sustainable financing of conservation efforts - will preserve the country's exceptional wildlife and secure rural livelihoods," said Paul Elkan, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society in South Sudan.