Wildlife Key to South Sudan's Future as New Nation

giraffe badingilo national park south sudan photo

Group of giraffes in Badingilo National Park, South Sudan. Photo credit: © Paul Elkan/Wildlife Conservation Society.

Ravaged by two civil wars over five decades, the world's newest nation has still managed to retain rich wildlands and massive populations of wildlife -- resources that conservationists say must become as important as oil for the new country to succeed in developing into a stable, economically viable state.South Sudan officially became independent from Sudan at 12:01 a.m. local time Saturday, the result of a long political process that started with a 2005 peace deal and culminated in an overwhelmingly pro-independence vote in January. The new government in Juba has its work cut out for it.

Over-Dependent On Oil Exploration
Among other challenges, the economy is dangerously over-dependent on oil exploration, which accounts for some 98 percent of the region's revenues. Nearby countries such as Kenya and Tanzania reap some $1.2 billion in annual revenue from tourism, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, which believes South Sudan's natural resources, if well-managed, could be a similar draw:

[M]ammal migrations rivaling those of the Serengeti survived decades of war, and vast tracts of savannas and wetlands remain largely intact. South Sudan boasts some of the most spectacular and important wildlife populations in Africa and supports the world's second-largest terrestrial wildlife migration of some 1.3 million white-eared kob, tiang antelope, Mongalla gazelle, and reedbuck.

Wildlife Conservation Crucial
The organization, which has been working in Southern Sudan on and off as conditions allowed since the 1960s, is now collaborating with the new government and USAID to "establish a foundation for natural-resource management, land-use planning, and conservation to reduce conflict and catalyze economic development."

It won't be an easy task, of course: The oil interests that dominate the economy are pushing to drill in new areas and local residents who rely on hunting must be given incentives to protect wildlife instead. But the potential is great, and must be tapped. "South Sudan's wildlife treasures provide an opportunity for a diverse economy based on eco-friendly tourism in the world's newest nation," said WCS President Steve Sanderson. "Wildlife conservation must play a vital role in the economic future of South Sudan."

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