By Kathleen H. Fitzgerald

Africa has an impressive network of protected areas that supports critical ecosystem services and globally significant wildlife and wild lands. The continent’s protected areas support some of the world’s most exceptional and unparalleled wildlife and wild lands and serve as the core of biodiversity conservation.

Viable and well-functioning protected areas remain Africa’s best bet for nature conservation; however, these areas are at risk from a suite of escalating threats including habitat conversion, resource extraction and poaching. One of the key underlying drivers of these threats is the lack of capacity of protected area authorities to manage these threats due to a dearth of financial resources. For Africa to maintain its protected areas reliable and adequate financing is required.

There are various assessments on how much it costs to manage protected areas. The cost varies depending on: protected area size and shape; threats; vegetation type; type and density of wildlife; management requirements; and adjacent land use. Studies indicate for example that $365–930 per square-kilometre a year is required for effective elephant conservation -- this cost increasing with human population growth and corruption (Packer, et al., 2013). Packer et al. suggest that the cost of managing protected areas that support lions is approximately $2,000 per km2 in unfenced areas and $500/ km2 in fenced areas.

On average, a majority of protected areas in Africa are managed with less than $50/km2 -- simply not enough.

At a macro level there are a number of studies on the financial gap for global protected area management. According to the Convention on Biological Diversity the funding shortfall for protected areas in developing countries is between $1 billion and $1.7 billion a year. An IUCN study suggests that up to $45 billion per year over 30 years is required to secure an expanded protected area network.

While the exact financial gap might be debated, it is widely accepted that protected areas need a reliable source of funding for effective management, conservation and quality visitor experiences where appropriate, and that the current funding available is wholly inadequate. This gap is not one that the donor community will fill. Consider as well that compounding this financial gap is an escalation in poaching, accelerated encroachment and pressure from infrastructure and resource extraction, which require more resources from the protected area authorities.

In general a majority of Africa’s protected areas are reliant on donor funding. While donor funding is critical, it is sometimes unpredictable and changing. In the Democratic Republic of Congo the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) estimates they need $30 million a year to manage their protected areas, covering 11 per cent of the country. In 2015, the government allocated $1 million and they generated approximately $1 million, meaning they relied on donor funding to protect some of the world’s most important tropical forests and endangered wildlife.

Uganda, for example, is one of the top ten most biodiverse countries in the world, hosting more than 50 per cent of the world’s mountain gorilla populations, and key populations of elephant, chimpanzee and lion. Approximately 16 per cent of Uganda is protected, yet there is a $15 million gap each year in the management budget for parks and reserves.

In addition to reliance on donor funding, many protected area authorities are dependent upon flagship parks and species, making the financial support for the system tenuous. For example, in Tanzania, in 2013-2014, approximately 74 per cent of the Tanzania National Park Authority budget came from two parks -- Serengeti and Kilimanjaro. While benefit sharing between parks means that income from these flagship parks support less productive, but ecologically significant parks, it puts financial pressure on flagship parks. The same holds true for flagship species. For example, in Rwanda, a majority of revenue for the country’s protected areas comes from mountain gorilla permits and in Uganda over 50 per cent of the parks’ revenue comes from gorilla and chimpanzee permits. This revenue is shared with other parks, making the park system reliant on the viability of these flagship species.

Protected areas generate revenue from two primary sources: self-generated and market driven revenue from users, such as entry and user fees; and external financing such as government support and donations. Historically, emphasis for additional financing has focused on the latter. The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) through its Protected Area Finance Program, and its partner Conservation Capital (CC) are focusing on the former. Africa’s protected areas are not reaching their economic potential. The key to the survival of Africa’s protected areas is for them to achieve their self-generating revenue potential to the extent possible. This will create funds to support conservation and management, create and sustain employment, generate income and taxes for local and national governments, contribute to the development of national brands and promote the value of natural capital.

AWF and CC are helping governments maximize revenue from protected areas while simultaneously ensuring their protection. Increasing revenue is vital to ensuring the viability of parks, but perhaps even more important, it makes them politically relevant. If a park is viewed as a drain on the government, it is more likely to be degazetted, downsized or degraded. By helping protected areas become economic engines, we are also ensuring they will stand the test of time politically.


There are significant revenue-earning differentials between protected areas and countries. The national park system in Ethiopia for example produced $19,000 in official revenue in 2009, while South Africa’s PA network generates 80 per cent of its costs internally.


Not all protected areas are blessed with the economic drivers of some of the more iconic eastern and southern African parks. In some areas, such as South Sudan, it will be very difficult to increase market-based revenue, however, in the vast majority of cases, it is evident that significantly more can and should be done. We can decrease the financial gap making protected areas less reliant on donor funding, help protected area authorities target external funding strategically and help Africa’s protected areas optimize their economic potential.


Kathleen H. Fitzgerald is the Vice President, Land Conservation, African Wildlife Foundation, Nairobi, Kenya.

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