Written by: Lindsey Jones
The World Network of Biosphere Reserves currently has 669 sites, including 16 trans-boundary sites, in 120 countries all over the world. South Africa is home to eight Biosphere Reserves, with the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Region declared by UNESCO in 2001.
The Kruger to Canyon Biosphere Region, located on the western border of Kruger National Park, in the north-eastern part of South Africa, covers about 2.6 million hectares, encompassing both protected areas (conservation) and agricultural lands, as well as rural development, urban development, mining and forestry. It spreads across three major biomes; savannah woodlands, Afromontane forests and grasslands.
Although this biosphere represents only 1.4% of South Africa’s total land surface, it contains nearly 75% of all terrestrial bird species, 80% of all raptor species, 72% of all mammals, 50% of all butterflies and 50% of all frog species found in South Africa. It is also home to seven endemic frogs and two endemic reptiles found only on Mariepskop – the Mariepskop dwarf chameleon and the Mariepskop flat gecko.
Famous tourism hotspots include Kruger National Park, God’s Window, Bourke’s Luck Potholes, Pilgrim’s Rest and the Blyde River Canyon. The Blyde River Canyon is the third largest canyon, as well as the greenest canyon in the world. In addition, the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere is home to the largest privately owned conservation area in the world.
The biosphere reserve was established with the aim of bringing stakeholders in the area together for collective impact. The Kruger to Canyons landscape aims to promote and demonstrate a mutually supportive relationship between people and nature. This is done via a number of strategic objectives, including the implementation of socio-economic development initiatives to support sustainability and climate change adaptation, supporting institutions engaged in research, education and training, and partnering with government agencies to promote compliance to environmental laws and regulations.
In partnership with Wildlands, a variety of NPO’s in the area are working on a Tree-preneur and Waste-preneur programme. The Tree-preneurs care for indigenous trees that are then bartered for food parcels. The Waste-preneur programme works on various recycling projects in the communities. Through the Working for Water Programme various teams of community members are also employed to remove alien vegetation and assist with issues of erosion. The trees, received from the Tree-preneurs, are then used to replant in areas where alien vegetation has been removed.
Another notable project, managed by the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Region, implemented by the SANParks Biodiversity Social Programme, and funded by the Department of Environmental Affairs, sees over 260 environmental monitors hosted with various organisations throughout the Biosphere. One group focuses on educating communities on environmental issues, while another group focuses on security in protected areas and are divided into those that are armed and unarmed, most notably the all-women Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit in Balule Private Nature Reserve.
The project has had a significant impact not only on socio-economic status and skills development, but also on creating greater awareness of why conservation and environmental issues are so important in the rural communities adjacent to protected areas.
To learn more, watch the following video:
Read more about the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Region and its programmes and partners on their website here.