The Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) in southern central Africa covers approximately 520,000 km2. Of its five participating countries; Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, four meet at the iconic Victoria Falls. The KAZA Zambezi and the Okavango river basins provide rich riverine corridors and wetland expanses that when combined with the 52,800 km2 Central Kalahari Game Reserve form an ecological treasure of the rarest form for which conservation and sustainable management is a global imperative. (See KAZA & CKGR Map) As this region’s climate produces harsher conditions and its human populations increases, an element well recognized, to achieve success, in the 2016 Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks Wildlife Conservation Research Strategic Plan is the critical need for transboundary climate informed and compatible adaptive strategies.
The Ecological Assessment and Corridor Implementation Decision Support Tool will assist decision-makers in sustaining this remarkable interplay of wild rivers, landscapes, flourishing biodiversity and human communities by providing a systematic assessment and identification of core conservation areas critical for wildlife sustainability across the region in a spatially-explicit and temporally dynamic decision support platform.
Several types of conservation areas exist within this region including national parks, game reserves, game management areas, wildlife management areas, forest reserves and others that form impressive conservation complexes under multiple jurisdictions. To our knowledge, there has not been a rigorous and systematic assessment and identification of core conservation areas or key biodiversity areas which provide the foundation for ecological robustness within these complexes and across the region. In addition, there is a pressing need to advance our knowledge of the habitat requirements and adaptability of key wildlife species; historically, little research and analyses have invested in understanding, modeling or mapping habitat requirements. We now need to understand the habitat requirements of key wildlife species in greater detail, particularly to understand how changing habitat distributions due to shifting climate conditions may affect the productivity, persistence, distribution and movement of wildlife across the region. Changing conditions will certainly challenge some species and require greater landscape connectivity as well as an understanding of existing core and potential future additional core habitats across the region. Understanding potential habitat changes within the existing conservation complexes are essential to identify which species may require habitats in alternative areas, and associated connectivity requirements including for those species who may experience increasing numbers.
It is within the framework of the KAZA transboundary conservation to link protected areas while also promoting sustainable natural resource management of surrounding communal landscapes. Better connected conservation areas provides for long-term genetic flow, shifts in wildlife distribution, and seasonal wildlife movements that adapt to changing habitat conditions. Within KAZA potential wildlife corridor areas have been identified in the Kwando River, Zambezi-Chobe floodplain, Zambezi-Mosi Oa Tunya, Hwange-Kazuma-Chobe, Hwange-Makgadikgadi-Nxai, Khaudum-Ngamiland regions. Each of these linkage areas may serve multiple changing functions over time; as migration corridors maintaining regular wildlife movements between seasonal habitats, as dispersal corridors allowing particular wildlife species to expand or shift to other areas, and as adaptive response corridors that provide for changes in habitat conditions in response to changing climatic conditions.
Settlements and cultivation are common throughout the matrix of the region, resulting in challenging conditions at the interface of human and wild communities which will continue to persist and expand. Disease control and predator fences in Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe greatly inhibit wildlife movement and it can be expected that new barriers to both conservation cores and corridors will occur from autogenetic changes in vegetation types and habitat structures.
A well recognized challenge is the development of rural community incentives to conserve biological diversity and and allow wildlife movement between protected areas. Similarly, until solutions are implemented, fencing will continue to have implications for corridors, climate change adaptive strategies and in establishing linkages between central and outlying regions. To date no comprehensive climate informed systematic ecological assessment has occurred for the KAZA TFCA or the CKGR.
KAZA TFCA CKGR Ecological Assessment and Corridor Implementation Decision Support Tool
The proposed ecological assessment focuses primarily on key wildlife species that may serve as umbrella indicators of ecological health within the region. The assessment will map the distribution and status of important wildlife habitats; how these habitats may change under different future scenarios including human use patterns and climate-induced changes; and how these changes may alter population distribution and relative abundance, as well as local and regional movement requirements of key wildlife species. To best provide for management decisions and implementation activities the assessment will be conducted at multiple spatial and temporal scales, allowing focused evaluations within specific conservation areas expanding to regional assessments of broad-scale patterns. The data, analyses and maps will be housed within a spatial-explicit platform providing a convenient and powerful tool focused on the current and potential future conditions of important wildlife habitats across the region. This tool will support informed decision-making for habitat and wildlife management by providing a dynamic, spatially-explicit platform for determining possible wildlife management regimes to compensate for future changes due to human uses and climate change.
A plethora of crucial decisions and actions are impending that will affect the long term conservation of local and regional wildlife populations and would benefit from the proposed assessment and tool, including: when and where hunting may occur; placement of new and/or expansion of tourism infrastructure; identification of critical movement areas or shifting corridors due to climate induced habitat altercations; seasonal or permanent fencing location changes, removals or expansions; and identification of additional agriculture, livestock free or livestock production and settlement areas.
Completing such an ecological assessment requires the gathering and evaluation of existing spatial and non-spatial environmental and social information across the region which will be compiled into a regional data library and form a valuable component to the decision support tool. Thus, the regional data library and the ecological assessment will form the basis of a spatially-explicit and dynamic Decision-Support Tool (DST) for managers and decision-makers. The effort will also result in the identification of critical information gaps that can guide additional conservation and research investments that maximize the commitment to conservation in the region.
Phase 1. Project Design & Information Gathering: Phase 1 Objectives are: secure project endorsement and funding; develop stakeholder engagement strategy, develop the study design and implementation strategy; compile existing ecological, cultural, land use and occupancy data sets; create data library; identify key information gaps and seek to fill them. Key Phase 1 activities and deliverables include:
- Identify and collaborate with decision-makers and decision-influencers and develop an Engagement Strategy for government, communities and key stakeholders across multiple sectors;
- Identify or confirm decision-support needs from government, community and economic sector perspectives and refine Assessment and DST goals, objectives, deliverables and outcomes as needed.
- Identify and develop necessary project partnerships, secure the involvement and cooperative agreements with identified international initiatives, government, communities, business and other key stakeholders;
- Work with database experts, decision-makers, managers and other implementing organizations to develop the framework and technical parameters of a secure data library to maintain and consolidate environmental spatial and non-spatial data. Identify multiple sites to house the data library for access by both government and NGO.
- Compile best available spatial and non-spatial data and information on ecological and social values identified for the Assessment and DST;
- Identify key information gaps and develop strategy to address gaps;
- Develop a study design to address the technical aspects required to advance the assessment and decision support tool. This will include the identification of focal ecosystems, ecosystem processes and species to best characterize the ecological conditions of the region now and into the future with a particular focus on characterizing the conditions for ecologically and socially important wildlife species;
- Develop a detailed work plan for completing Phase 2.
Phase 2. Baseline Assessment and Decision-Support Tool Development: The objective of Phase 2 is to complete the analyses of current conditions to provide the basis for assessing potential changes into the future due to changes in climate or human use patterns. Within this context, careful attention to meaningfully aligning the scale of ecological analysis with management planning and implementation will be made. Phase 2 deliverables will use the best available existing information on current ecological and social values (e.g., current vegetation/ecosystem classification, ecological processes, human use and infrastructure and seasonal habitat requirements of selected wildlife species). The regional assessment will provide a current assessment of conditions for selected wildlife species including the distribution, quality, amount, juxtaposition and fragmentation of habitats and ecosystems. Key deliverables from Phase 2 are include:
- Develop seasonal habitat models (e.g., wet season, dry season models) for selected species with modeling approach and resolution based on available information and resources;
- Predict current relative amount and distribution of seasonal habitats for selected species based on best available vegetation models and generalized or specific assumptions regarding key environmental and social drivers (e.g., flooding levels, rainfall conditions, human use patterns and infrastructure);
- Assess species-specific wildlife seasonal movement requirements through movement models that incorporate the best available information on historic and current movements, seasonal habitat distributions and potential barriers to movement;
- Assemble data, models and supporting spatial layers into a GIS-based toolkit that allows easy viewing, manipulation and updating of the information;
- Document assumptions, methods, results and limitations of the effort, as well as stakeholder recommendations for next steps and management applications.
- Develop a detailed work plan to complete Phase 3.
Phase 3. Conservation Area Design: The species and system level data compilation, analyses and model development undertaken in Phase 2 will be synthesized in Phase 3 in a systematic assessment to identify high priority core and connectivity areas meeting the requirements of multiple species and to evaluate regional patterns in core area size, configuration and juxtaposition with corridors. Scenario mapping under potential future conditions will allow identification of resilient and vulnerable cores and connectivity with clear management implications. The effort will also identify critical information gaps limiting the ability understand current and potential future habitat distributions for key wildlife habitats in the TFCA. Key deliverables from Phase 3 are anticipated to include:
- Apply habitat models to existing predictions of vegetation conditions under climate change scenarios; this will be dependent upon availability and quality of existing data on vegetation predictions. These analyses will emphasize identifying the potential change in habitat quantity and possibly major shifts in distributions;
- Examine ability to link population relative abundance and structure data to habitat predictions, landscape conditions (e.g., habitat configuration) or regional distributions;
- Undertake a systematic assessment including spatial optimization approaches to synthesize across multiple species habitat requirements to develop a conservation area design identifying key areas for wildlife conservation;
- Undertake multiple scenarios of future conditions at various scales to assess the stability, resilience and relative vulnerability of identified core and connectivity areas to potential changes from climate and human uses to best inform necessary management decision; and
- Compile and prioritize information gaps identified through process of data collection, analyses and the systematic assessment that will be critical to advance a regional understanding of wildlife conservation priorities.
This initiative is premised on the belief that no single government department, community, or organization can effectively achieve and implement this ambitious effort. Multiple partners, collaborators and contributors from different sectors will be necessary to develop a common framework, establish needed inputs and desired outcomes, share data resources, and reach agreement on key indicators to measure success.