The biggest challenges that park managers will face in the coming decades stem from a growing human population. When key natural resources, such as firewood and bushmeat, become harder to find, conflict is inevitable as more people look for new lands where they can fulfil their needs. As more people encroach into protected areas, so too will habitat loss, pollution, invasive species, and diseases. Despite conservationists’ best efforts to build collaborations with nearby communities, park managers need to anticipate that this ever-greater demand for space and natural resources will add additional challenges to their work plans. Below, we discuss three challenges that will likely continue to pose threats in future, and for which there are not always easy solutions.
To enable protected areas to achieve their full potential, there must be adequate funding to support a team of well equipped, properly trained, and motivated staff (James et al. 2001; Gill et al., 2017). There is also a need for buildings, vehicles, communications equipment, and other appropriate infrastructure and resources to enable the staff to fulfil their duties, and for tourists to have a memorable time. The cost of these resources can quickly add up; for example, researchers estimated that more than $1 billion is needed each year to manage Africa’s protected areas that include lion populations (Lindsey et al., 2018). Yet, Africa’s protected areas are frequently understaffed, lack basic equipment, and face funding shortages (Tranquilli et al., 2014; Watson et al., 2014). Without the means to travel, communicate, and protect themselves, even motivated staff may find themselves stuck at their duty stations, unaware of what is happening elsewhere in their park. Some of these challenges can be solved with an adequate ecotourism plan, which can be facilitated from the grassroots level up or government level down. A growing number of funding mechanisms, including private and international donors, have also started to fill funding gaps (Section 15.3) which, in turn, has allowed more NGOs to assist in conservation areas management (Tranquilli et al., 2012; Lindsey et al., 2014). Above all, a carefully assembled management and monitoring plan, which is adequately funded, is key to the success of protected areas.
Planning for climate change
Because protected areas are fixed in space and time, many species that are currently protected will adjust their ranges beyond the borders of existing protected areas due to climate change. One study from South Africa found that 62% of bird species will lose some degree of protection over the next few decades, with five species losing at least 85% of their protected ranges (Coetzee et al., 2009). Studies in West Africa yielded remarkably similar results, where 63% of amphibians, 63% of mammals, and 55% of bird species face decreased protection due to changing climate (Baker et al., 2015). The situation is even worse for taxa with too little protection as it is. For example, suitable habitat for only 5% of African bat species is currently protected; due to climate change, it will further decrease by 2050 (Smith et al., 2016).
To ensure the future protection of species vulnerable to climate change, we must incorporate species’ predicted distribution ranges into the planning of protected areas networks. For species that disperse easily, this requires protecting gaps in their current and future ranges (Hole et al., 2011), as well as protecting, maintaining, and restoring potential dispersal pathways (Section 11.3). For poor dispersers, conservationists could start experimenting with assisted colonisations, or identify and protect their climate refugia (Section 11.4). For many species, however, establishing protected areas in their future ranges will be nearly impossible simply because no land is available. These species will greatly depend on conservation efforts outside protected areas, which we will discuss in Chapter 14.
It may be reasonable to assume that protected areas (especially government protected areas, established by law) afford permanent protection to biodiversity on those lands. Unfortunately, that is not the case—between 1950 and 2017, at least 227 different protected areas in Sub-Saharan Africa lost (partially or fully) lost their legal protected status (WWF and CI, 2016), in a process formally known as protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD, http://www.padddtracker.org). There are a variety of reasons behind PADDDs. For example, some protected areas have been PADDDed because of environmental degradation caused by conflicting land uses, including illegal logging, illegal agriculture, and land invasions; in such cases governments (in consultation with conservation managers) may determine that the resources needed for land rehabilitation are better spent protecting other sites (Fuller et al., 2010). Others have been PADDDed because incorrect procedures were followed during establishment—in such cases, it might be prudent to carefully consider if a compromise could be reached that combines the goals of conservation and development (Section 14.3). However, the vast majority of African PADDDs are enacted because of more sinister motives, such as to undercut conservation restrictions (Mascia and Pailler, 2011). For example, when examining each threat individually, data from WWF and CI (2016) suggest that mining pressure was the leading cause of previous African PADDDs. Considering that nearly 30% of African protected areas are still earmarked for oil and gas exploration (Leach et al., 2016), the threat from mining will likely also continue in the foreseeable future (Durán et al., 2013; Edwards et al., 2013).
Mining pressure is currently the leading cause for downgrading and degazettement of African protected areas.
Most conservationists consider the PADDD process a bad precedent that should be avoided unless necessary. While there are legitimate reasons behind some PADDDs (Fuller et al., 2010), few are enacted with conservation goals in mind. In many cases, government officials remove the protected status of lands without even consulting conservation scientists and park managers. Such decisions are particularly frustrating when important areas that protect threatened species and ecosystems are affected. Combatting the continuing threat of PADDDs will depend on national and international conservation organizations partnering with vigilant citizens who take ownership of their natural treasures. Until citizenry can trust that government officials have the interests of their natural heritage at heart, protected areas PADDDs will remain a highly controversial topic.