Africa Park Sets Stage for Cross-Border Collaboration

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The governments are treating the creation of the park with urgency because tourism is seen as key to the region's reconstruction now that the destructive civil conflicts which once plagued it have finally come to an end also in Angola.

When the mammoth new sanctuary comes about, tourists entering it at its southernmost point at the scenic Augrabies Falls in South Africa will be able to travel in an unbroken conservation area through Namibia and into southern Angola.

Along the way they would pass through the Richtersveld, a rugged mountain desert sitting on the South African side of the Orange River boundary with Namibia.

"Hot-Hot" in Namibia

Across the river in Namibia they would encounter the Ai-Ais (meaning hot-hot in the local Nama language) Hot Springs and the 100-mile (160-kilometer)-long Fish River Canyon that cuts up to 1,800 feet (about 550 meters) into what is known as the Nama plateau, exposing rock formations that are 2,600 million years old.

Travelers would be allowed to travel through a rehabilitated section of a long-closed mining area called the Sperrgebiet (forbidden territory), where much of southern Africa's diamond riches were found in the sands.

From here the tourist route would wind through Namibia's huge desert parks of Namib-Naukluft and Skeleton Coast, the latter named after the numerous shipwrecks that litter its desolate shore, before crossing Namibia's Kunene River frontier to enter Angola's Iona Park.

Planners hope that some day the long, skinny park can also extend eastwards into Namibia's interior to link up with the world-famous Etosha Park, which was once did extend to the Skeleton Coast.

As one of the biggest enthusiasts for piecing all the parks together, Van der Walt says such moves have already been set in motion round the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park project. "To its east, farmers and communities living between the park and Augrabies are keen to join a conservation area. It is not pie-in-the-sky to talk about attaching that entire area to the transfrontier park. Some farms have already been acquired for the purpose.

"North-west, a section of the diamond concession area, which separates the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park from Namibia's Namib-Naukluft Park, is already being turned into a conservation area in co-operation with the mines. So the link-up with Namibia's vast coastal parkland is already a practical proposition," he says.

Willem van Riet, head of the business-sponsored Peace Parks Foundation, which is a driving force behind transfrontier-park development in southern Africa, is no less enthusiastic about the bigger ideal. "You simply have to look at the map to see what good sense it makes to have a single park running from South Africa, all the way up Namibia's coast and into Angola. It will of course depend largely on Namibia whether the big ideal gets realized. But the parks are there. What a phenomenal place it would be if it could all be fitted together," he says.

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