Beyond Fences: Policy Options for Biodiversity, Livelihoods and Transboundary Disease Management in Southern Africa
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2010

Mark W. Atkinson1, BVSc, MRCVS; David H.M. Cumming2,3, PhD; Michael D. Kock1, BVetMed, MRCVS, MPVM; Steven A. Osofsky1, DVM

1Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx, NY, USA; 2Percy Fitz Patrick Institute, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa; 3Tropical Resource Ecology Programme, University of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe

Read the Spanish translation: Más Allá de las Cercas: Opciones Politicas Para la Biodiversidad, Sustentos y Manejo de Enfermedades Traslindes en Áfricadel Sur


Southern Africa has a disproportionately high fraction of global biodiversity, found across a range of arid and semi-arid ecosystems. Thirteen potential and existing terrestrial transfrontier conservation areas (TFCAs) have been identified in this region, many encompassing national parks, game reserves, hunting areas, and conservancies embedded within a matrix of land under traditional communal tenure.4 The existing and proposed TFCAs cover more than 1,200,000 km2 and include within their borders many of sub-Saharan Africa’s highest priority biodiversity conservation areas.4

AHEAD (Animal & Human Health for the Environment And Development) is a program of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and partners focused on problems facing biodiversity conservation and development in such large, transboundary landscapes from the critically important perspective of the linkages among wildlife health, domestic animal health, and human health and livelihoods.3 One current area of focus is the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Area (KAZA TFCA), on the verge of becoming perhaps the world’s largest conservation-oriented landscape. The development of TFCAs to further the conservation of biodiversity and sustainable development through the harmonization of transboundary natural resource management is a priority for SADC (the Southern African Development Community) and the five countries that encompass KAZA: Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Agreement has been reached on creating a transfrontier area spanning approximately 400,000 km2 and encompassing more than 70 national parks, game reserves, community conservancies, and game management areas. The area contains the largest contiguous population of elephants (approximately 250,000) on the continent and will include, for example, the Caprivi Strip, Chobe National Park, the Okavango Delta (the largest Ramsar site in the world), and the Victoria Falls (World Heritage Site).

The primary economic driver behind the creation of TFCAs like KAZA is nature-based tourism that seeks to maximize returns from marginal lands in a sector where southern Africa enjoys a global comparative advantage.1,2 In fact, nature-based tourism now contributes approximately as much to the gross domestic product in SADC countries as agriculture, forestry, and fisheries combined—a remarkable and relatively recent development highlighted by the 2004 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.4 Consequently, a key strategy for biodiversity conservation in southern African TFCAs is securing biological connectivity across larger landscapes in which the region’s core protected areas increasingly are facing the threat of becoming isolated ecological islands in agricultural landscapes, with the loss of connectivity so important to maintaining genetic diversity and the viability of globally endangered wildlife populations. Enhanced connectivity across large landscapes such as the KAZA TFCA is also considered to be a crucial factor in biological adaptation to climate change in the region.

Unfortunately, loss of important habitat corridors through land-use restrictions, driven by disease control requirements, contributes to ongoing habitat fragmentation and the loss of traditional migratory and dispersal routes in the region.4 Present animal disease controls depend in large part on hundreds of kilometers of game-proof fences and strict regulation of local and export markets for animal products. These disease control fences and the physical and land-use barriers they create pose one of the greatest threats to transboundary connectivity and the vision of vast conservation landscapes that seeks to foster both conservation and livelihood benefits in largely semi-arid lands that may be considered marginal for agriculture.4

The management of wildlife and livestock diseases (including zoonoses) within KAZA remains unresolved and an emerging policy issue of major concern to livestock production, associated access to export markets, and other sectors, including public health. The TFCA concept promotes free movement of wildlife over large geographic areas, whereas the present approach to the control of transboundary animal diseases (TADs) is to prevent movement of susceptible animals between areas where TADs occur and areas where they do not, and to similarly restrict trade in commodities derived from animals on the same basis. The TFCA concept and current internationally accepted approaches to the management of TADs are therefore largely incompatible—a key threat to transboundary conservation success and risk-diversification of land-use options and livelihood opportunities in the region.4

The AHEAD program, launched in 2003, aims to help resolve these issues and contribute to the conservation of biodiversity and the enhancement of livelihoods of the rural poor in KAZA. This can be accomplished by helping to create an enabling environment for enhanced cooperation among conservation, agriculture, and human health experts and authorities within and between member countries, by identifying mechanisms for controlling TADs without complete reliance on current fencing approaches, and by informing and influencing cross-sectoral and transboundary policy responses that support both TFCAs and control of TADs.3


The authors would like to specifically thank both the MacArthur and Rockefeller Foundations for their support of the AHEAD initiative. Support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has also been critical at various stages of the AHEAD program’s development, including in the recent launch of a KAZA-specific initiative. This abstract was made possible in part through support provided to WCS by the USAID/EGAT SCAPES program, under the terms of Leader with Associates Cooperative Agreement No. EEM-A-00-09-0007-00. The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or other donor organizations.

Literature Cited

1.  Cumming, D.H.M. and AHEAD-GLTFCA Working Group. 2004. Sustaining Animal Health and Ecosystem Services in Large Landscapes, 2nd Draft, Concept for a Programme to Address Wildlife, Livestock and Related Human and Ecosystem Health Issues in the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area. 24.

2.  Cumming, D., Biggs, H., Kock, M., Shongwe, N., Osofsky, S. and Members of the AHEAD-Great Limpopo TFCA Working Group. 2007. The AHEAD (Animal Health for Environment and Development)-Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (GLTFCA) Programme: Key Questions and Conceptual Framework Revisited. 14.

3.  Osofsky, S.A., Cleaveland, S., Karesh, W.B., Kock, M.D., Nyhus, P.J., Starr, L., and A. Yang, (eds.). 2005. Conservation and Development Interventions at the Wildlife/Livestock Interface: Implications for Wildlife, Livestock and Human Health. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, United Kingdom. xxxiii, 220.

4.  Osofsky, S.A., Cumming, D.H.M., and M.D. Kock. 2008. Transboundary Management of Natural Resources and the Importance of a ‘One Health’ Approach: Perspectives on Southern Africa. In: Fearn, E. and K. H. Redford (eds.) State of the Wild 2008–2009: A Global Portrait of Wildlife, Wildlands, and Oceans. Island Press, Washington, DC. 89–98.


Speaker Information
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Mark W. Atkinson, BVSc, MRCVS
Wildlife Conservation Society
Bronx, NY, USA

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