World's Largest Preserve Forming in Africa

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Elephants have no respect for lines on a map, especially the artificial national boundaries established by Europeans after carving up Africa into colonial empires. But national boundaries have kept elephants and many other animals cooped up in southern Africa.

The nations of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe agreed to ease some of their own border controls in order to create what will be the world's largest conservation area, reported PRI's "Living on Earth." A chunk of land the size of California will include a variety of habitats and allow wildlife to migrate to greener pastures in the dry season and keep their feet dry during the wet season.

Africa's iconic wildlife, elephants, lions, crocodiles, leopards, rhinos, hippos and buffalo, are expected to bring in tourist dollars. Without the incentive of tourist revenues encouraging conservation, the animals were just a danger and a pest to locals, who had to fear elephants raiding their crops and lions stalking them at night, without the legal right to hunt problem animals.

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But legality was rarely a barrier to poachers, who decimated herds for meat and luxury items like ivory and rhino horns.

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If the animals could escape the poachers' bullets, there was still the threat of being blown up by one of the 2 million landmines peppering Angola after nearly 30 years of civil war. Efforts are under way to remove the deadly devices.

The park may bring both peace and prosperity to the region. As the five nations cooperate with each other and maintain peace internally, the area, which is already a major tourist destination, will likely become even more of a draw. With the people of the region benefiting from the living animals, there will be less reason to hunt the beasts.

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“And that’s exactly what has happened in Namibia and Botswana,” Chris Weaver, Namibia director of the World Wildlife Fund, told PRI's "Living on Earth." “Namibia, for example — in 2010, the communities gained $6 million in benefits from wildlife; there are about 1,700 full-time jobs and about 8,000 seasonal jobs that have been created through the conservancy movement, which created a lot of incentive for people to live with wildlife now.”

Photo: African elephant (Loxodonta africana) in Tanzania. Credit: Gary M. Stolz/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wikimedia Commons.