What are the biggest challenges faced by African Parks Network and how do you overcome them?
Due to the increasing threats on many protected areas, particularly those in central Africa, managing and conserving many of these areas is becoming increasingly costly, if one is to ensure a long lasting effect. African Parks Network is a conservation NGO that survives off of the donations from individuals, foundations, governments, institutions and the overall general public. So funding is one our greatest challenges year after year, to help manage current parks and to grow our portfolio. There are 1,200 national parks and protected areas across Africa, African Parks is managing 11 of them, with the aim of managing 20 by 2020. An increase in financial resources would enable us to increase our network of protected areas under management and protect more wild places, countless wildlife, and improve the lives of tens of thousands of people living in and around the parks.
How can we change local attitudes towards nature?
Education and alternative livelihood opportunities. Many communities living beside national parks and protected areas have never spent time around wildlife or even seen certain iconic species, and as a result they don’t have a connection to them or fully understand the need to protect them and their environment. Exposing these communities to these areas builds a constituency for conservation, which, in regions with high poverty and reliance on natural resources, is crucial to the long-term success of projects.
In Zakouma, the Elephant Schools were developed in the elephant corridors, which educate herders on the importance of the corridors and best practice on how to avoid human wildlife conflict.
However it is also vital that communities see a tangible benefit from conserving the natural environment and working with protected areas. Regulation of natural resource use or providing alternative income generating opportunities are crucial aspects to building this constituency - especially in areas where the local population relies heavily on the natural resources for their survival.
Can we as members of the public do anything that genuinely helps preserve the natural world?
Yes – every environmentally conscious decision helps. No matter how big or small. Even if one does not have the means to contribute financially to a conservation organisation, or pursue a career in conservation - there are so many small changes that one can make in their lives that collectively have an enormous impact. Choose environmentally responsible products, buy less, don’t eat fresh produce that is out of season in your region, leave the straws behind, recycle wherever possible, use public transport more, educate your children about the conservation issues facing the world, make your next holiday to a conservation project or national park where you can learn about the work that goes in to protecting these areas...
each and every action helps, and it’s in our hands to ensure that those actions happen.
What has been your best, most moving natural world experience to date?
Exploring the eastern foothills of the Tibesti Mountains in northern Chad. It was an otherworldly lunar landscape where time had seemingly stood still and one could travel for miles without seeing another person.
Who is your own personal Natural World Hero and why?
First and foremost my parents – they have given their life to conservation and protecting the Natural World and are two of the hardest working and dedicated people I know. They brought us up with plains and rocky outcrops as our playground and instilled in both my sister and I a deep passion for our planets wild spaces.
Rangers patrolling throughout protected areas across the world – these women and men are on the front line of conservation and work through incredibly difficult conditions to protect the environment. I truly take my hat off to each and every one of them.
What is your dream natural world destination that you haven’t visited yet but would like to?
Patagonia. It’s so different from any wilderness I know and for as long as I can remember the name alone has hooked me.
What natural world insight would you like to leave us with?
Protecting our Natural World is no longer something reserved only for scientists or conservationists. Each and every person MUST do their bit; it is not only vital for the preservation of the planet's extraordinary biodiversity and wild places, but for our very own survival. Re-connect with nature, and make a change in your life to be more conscious of our planet and what we can do to protect it.
After all, several billion environmentally conscious actions, no matter how small they are, do make a difference.