PADDD across southern Africa

Protected Areas (PA) are likely the best option we have to maintain biological diversity in southern Africa, given the capacity of PAs to mitigate habitat loss and exploitation [1]. All the more relevant given projections on human population growth – especially across sub-Saharan Africa [2]. If however – like me – you thought that once a PA had been set aside, then the possibility of legal degazettement would be unthinkable; you’d be wrong. Actually, a lot of formerly protected areas no longer have any legal protection across Africa.
Fig 1. Total Protected Areas DDD’d across southern African countries, in km2. Data on y-axis sqrt transformed.

In response to this, the World Wildlife Fund run a site named PADDDtracker [3] that documents PA Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement. I’m interested to know what proportion of PAs have lost some legal protection across southern Africa (I exclude the DRC and Tanzania here). First, definitions. PADDDtracker [3] defines Downgrading as ‘a decrease in legal restrictions on the number, magnitude, or extant of human activity within a PA’, Downsizing as a ‘decrease in size of a PA as a result of an excision of land, … through a legal boundary challenge’ and Degazettement as ‘the functional loss of legal protection for an entire protected area.’

Now, let’s have a look at the data. Figure 1 shows the total amount of land (in km2) that have been Downgraded, Degazetted or Downsized, across countries [all data from 3]. The y axis data are square root transformed, so 250 km2 back transformed = 62 500 km2.  It seems that Zambia has lost a lot of PA, in terms of area (63 585 km2). The data are not what they appear though, and I will discuss this below. Figure 2 shows the extent of land (as km2) across countries that has been Downsized only. Again the data are square root transformed. Namibia it seems it has lost more PA land than other southern African countries.
Fig 2. Total Protected Areas Downsized across southern African countries, in km2. Data on y-axis sqrt transformed.

When we look more closely at all land DDD’d (as in Figure 1), we see that in Zambia most of these pertain to legal restrictions on mining. I’m not actually sure how much land has been lost to mining, but I’d imagine most of this is for prospecting. The area of land in Namibia Downsized (3 500 km2) was legislated in 1947. The pattern is similar across much of southern Africa. Most DDD events happened many years ago. Zimbabwe is an anomaly because no PAs have officially been DDD’d – but in reality most of the private land given to conservation has been lost under the chaotic land reform programme [see 4, 5]. This has not been reported, presumably because private conservation land did not enjoy PA legal status.

So a fair amount of Protected Area has been lost in southern Africa, but much of it long ago, and it seems, much of it downgraded to allow mining activity, or most likely prospecting. PADDDtracker does a very good job of documenting change. On a positive note, there has been a movement toward transfrontier conservation across southern Africa, incorporating community based natural resource management areas into PAs, and so one could argue that PAs are expanding. Have a look at the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (, it is really encouraging.


References cited: [1] Bruner, A.G., Gullison, R.E., Rice, R.E. & da Fonseca, G.A.B. 2001 Effectiveness of parks in protecting tropical biodiversity. Science 291, 125-128. [2] Bradshaw, C.J.A. & Brook, B.W. 2014 Human population reduction is not a quick fix for environmental problems. PNAS Online Early. [3] WWF. 2014 PADDDtracker: Tracking Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement [Beta version]. [4] Degeorges, A. & Reilly, B. 2007 Politicization of land reform in Zimbabwe: impacts on wildlife, food production and the economy. International Journal of Environmental Studies 64, 571-586. [5] Lindsey, P.A., Romanach, S.S., Matema, S., Matema, C., Mupamhadzi, I. & Muvengwi, J. 2011 Dynamics and underlying causes of illegal bushmeat trade in Zimbabwe. Oryx 45, 84-95.