Origins of Peace Parks Foundation
© 2009 Erhardt Thiel
© 2009 Erhardt Thiel
On 27 May 1990, Anton Rupert, President of WWF South Africa (then called the Southern African Nature Foundation) had a meeting in Maputo with Mozambique's President Joaquim Chissano, to discuss the possibility of establishing a permanent link between some of the protected areas in southern Mozambique and their adjacent counterparts in South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

The concept of trans-border protected area cooperation through the establishment of peace parks had already been accepted internationally. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) had long been promoting their establishment because of the many associated benefits (Hamilton et al, 1996; Westing, 1993). In 1988, the IUCN's Commission on National Parks and Protected Areas had identified at least 70 protected areas in 65 countries which straddle national frontiers (Thorsell, 1990).

As a result of Rupert's meeting, WWF South Africa was requested to carry out a feasibility study, which was completed and submitted to the Government of Mozambique in September 1991 (Tinley & van Riet, 1991). The report was discussed by the Mozambican Council of Ministers, who recommended further studies to assess fully the political, socio-economic and ecological aspects of the feasibility study.

The Government of Mozambique then requested the Global Environment Facility (GEF) of The World Bank to provide assistance for the project, which was granted. The first mission was fielded in 1991, and in June 1996 The World Bank released its recommendation in a report entitled Mozambique: Transfrontier Conservation Areas Pilot and Institutional Strengthening Project (World Bank, 1996).
The report suggested an important conceptual shift away from the idea of strictly protected national parks towards greater emphasis on multiple resource use by local communities by introducing the transfrontier conservation area (TFCA) concept. In short, TFCAs (or peace parks), were defined as relatively large areas that straddle frontiers between two or more countries and cover large-scale natural systems encompassing one or more protected areas. Very often both human and animal populations traditionally migrated across or straddled the political boundaries concerned. In essence, TFCAs therefore extend far beyond designated protected areas, and can incorporate such innovative approaches as biosphere reserves and a wide range of community-based natural resource management programmes (World Bank, 1996). (Peace Parks Foundation subsequently adopted this new paradigm.)

As a result of the political constraints prevalent in southern Africa at the time of the initiation of the GEF-funded programme in Mozambique, only limited attention could be given to the development of formal links between the three main participating countries, i.e. Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and unfortunately this persisted throughout the duration of the study. Two years after the election of Nelson Mandela, South Africa was experiencing a rapid and significant growth in its nature-based tourism industry, but very few of the benefits associated with this growth were being made available to Mozambique.

© Michael Viljoen
© Michael Viljoen
These concerns prompted Dr Anton Rupert to request another meeting with President Chissano, which was held on 27 May 1996. At this meeting, Rupert emphasised the significant economic benefits that could accrue to Mozambique if the proposed TFCAs involving Mozambique were implemented. The Maputo discussions were followed by a Transfrontier Park Initiative meeting in the Kruger National Park on 8 August 1996 under the joint Chairmanship of Mozambique's Minister of Transport and Communications, Paulo Muxanga, and South Africa's Minister of Transport, Mac Maharaj, where it was agreed that the two countries, together with Zimbabwe and Swaziland, should cooperate to realise the economic benefits of the proposed TFCAs.

Towards the end of 1996, it became clear that interest in the peace park concept was not only growing within the countries mentioned, but also in other neighbouring states. For the first time, southern Africa as a whole was being seen as a tourist destination, and an integral part of this vision was the development of TFCAs or peace parks (De Villiers, 1994; Pinnock, 1996). There was a growing recognition that tourism could be the one industry with the potential to become the economic engine that would create the jobs that were so urgently needed on the subcontinent.

The Executive Committee of WWF South Africa came to the conclusion that, unless a separate body was set up to co-ordinate, facilitate and drive the process of TFCA establishment and funding, these peace parks would not receive the attention that was required to make them a reality. Accordingly, Peace Parks Foundation was established on 1 February 1997 with an initial grant of R1,2 million (US$ 260,000) from the Rupert Nature Foundation to facilitate the establishment of TFCAs in southern Africa as a first area of focus.

Founding patrons Nelson Mandela, HRH Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands and Dr Anton Rupert  ©Roy Beusker/NPL
Founding patrons Nelson Mandela, HRH Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands and Dr Anton Rupert ©Roy Beusker/NPL
It is important to note that internationally, the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) drew up an inventory in 2007, based on reviewing the digital maps of the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) and identified 227 transboundary protected area (TBPA) complexes incorporating 3 043 individual protected areas or internationally designated sites. For more information on the IUCN's work in this regard, kindly visit their website.