World's Largest Wildlife Conservation Area Established in Africa

An elephant in the Botswana bush.

PhotoStock-Israel / Getty Images

For decades, zones designated for wildlife conservation in Southern Africa have played a crucial role in shielding vulnerable species from the threats of poaching and encroaching development, but such areas have largely been scattered islands of protection through animals' otherwise perilous migration routes. But now, thanks to an unprecedented alliance between five key nations to create the world's largest conservation area, wildlife in Africa will be able to get around much more freely -- and safely.

In a ceremony this week, leaders from Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe have agreed to establish a sprawling 170,000 square mile preserve to span respective borders for the sake of wildlife. Up until now, the five nations had each independently maintained a total of 36 unconnected conservation zones, but that model proved insufficient from protecting migrating animals along their cross-border migrations.

With the formation of the vast new reserve, dubbed the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, or KAZA, animals with historically broad stomping grounds, like elephants and rhinos, will enjoy unfettered access to an area roughly the size of Sweden.

This isn't the first time conservationists sought such international cooperation to establish a large wildlife conservation area, reports the Washington Post, but this latest effort has focused on involving people living in the region who might actually serve to benefit from KAZA as much as wildlife:

Previous attempts to set up massive cross-border conservancies in Africa have failed largely because impoverished local communities weren’t engaged to help before governments signed up, said Chris Weaver, the World Wildlife Fund’s regional director in Namibia.
“This is very different. It has a very strong community focus,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
He said local communities are getting jobs and revenue from tourism in return for their role in protecting the environment.

With the formation of KAZA, the world's largest wildlife reserve, conservationists are hopeful that some sense of normalcy will have the chance to return for a host of animals which have too long been impacted by our arbitrary borders.