Highway patrol: The race to create wildlife corridors before species die
out accreditation (South Africa)
Nicole McCain, News 24
March 4, 2023
There might not be a quick fix for dwindling numbers of endangered species,
but giving them space to roam could come close.
This is the belief of conservationists who are championing the concept of
These corridors function as "highways" for wild animals, helping them to
access food, rivers and land they need, while reducing their conflict with
Wildlife have been following migration paths for centuries, but human
developments have placed roadblocks along the way, in many cases creating
Dr Katharina von Dürckheim, founder of Wildlife Free to Roam and a research
fellow at Stellenbosch University’s Department of Conservation Ecology,
said that today's wildlife lives in a world where their habitats are
"Development, resource extraction, and roadbuilding have fragmented
landscapes and reduced wild spaces, making it harder for wildlife to find
food, search for mates and adapt to climate change. To help address these
problems, conservationists work on creating wildlife corridors - areas of
natural habitat that can reconnect fragmented habitats," she said.
South Africa is in partnership with two other countries to form the Great
Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP). The GLTP links the Limpopo National Park
in Mozambique; Kruger National Park in South Africa; Gonarezhou National
Park, Manjinji Pan Sanctuary and Malipati Safari Area in Zimbabwe; the
Sengwe communal land in Zimbabwe; and the Makuleke region in South Africa.
Together, the GLTP forms a wildlife corridor and conservation area of 35
Wildlife corridors go beyond merely linking national parks. They take into
account animal movement, needs and natural formations like rivers.
Very often, studying animal behaviour will identify areas Von Dürckheim
refers to as "stepping stones" – areas that fall outside of a conservancy
or national park, but which are still used by animals – and this can help
conservations identify which areas need to be protected.
The concept is heavily backed by science, but they need political
partnerships to be effective – especially when the corridors cross national
This is where global agreements like COP15 and the Convention on the
Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals come into play, said Von
Dürckheim. The agreements are increasingly recognising the importance of
the connectivity of ecosystems.
She said: Deploying scientific capacity into researching connectivity is
important – what we do here at SU, and partnering with global experts such
as the Connectivity Conservation Specialist Group for knowledge sharing and
best practice is important.
"Partnerships - the theme of World Wildlife Day 2023 - are absolutely
critical here as some corridors connect not only national parks within one
country but national parks across countries. Awareness of the importance of
connectivity, the inclusion of corridors in policy and legislation, and
creating a shared vision for corridors among implementing stakeholders like
governments, private landowners, NGOs, and communities is critical."
Dr Michelle Henley, co-founder and principal researcher at Elephants Alive,
said that wildlife corridors are especially beneficial for elephants.
"Elephants have very large spatial needs, and when bulls come into musth,
they instinctively wander far afield to avoid inbreeding. They often need
space to avoid local conflict with other musth bulls," she said.
"Isolated populations cut off through human development could become
genetically impoverished. For instance, populations that have lost
phenotypic features such as large tusks through historical persecution
would need the free flow of genes from populations that still have large
tusks to maintain large tusks as a feature."
'Eventually, you’re going to lose the species'
Henley said that more than half of all elephants live outside of protected
areas, and three-quarters are spread across more than one international
She added: If we want to keep thriving elephant populations in our world,
we need to let them connect protected areas.
"Elephants are trailblazers. Their movements and needs for wild space also
imply the protection of many other species that will share a less developed
corridor or landscape with them."
Wildlife corridors are critical for increasing biodiversity, said Henley,
especially because some natural cycles "work best at large scales and
across diverse landscapes".
"As African nations that believe in the philosophy of Ubuntu, we should
realise that we are because of the collected wisdom of many elements.
Elephants represent an important element. They have become the symbols of
freedom and cooperation across borders, which allows them their space."
While elephants, in particular, need wildlife corridors to roam, the wild
spaces have also been shown to benefit other migratory, specialist and
wide-ranging species – from jaguars to wild dogs, and from vultures to
Environmental Wildlife Trust (EWT) carnivore conservation programme manager
Derek van der Merwe said that wildlife corridors also benefit carnivores,
such as big cats and wild dogs.
Due to human population growth, wild areas are becoming more and more
fragmented, he said. This can have a significant impact on gene pools, as a
population of 1 000 individuals is the minimum needed to ensure that
"If there are no genes coming in, there's just going to be inbreeding, and
eventually, you're going to lose the species," Van der Merwe said.
Van der Merwe added: At the moment, to ensure genetic diversity, there are
programmes for key species such as wild dogs and cheetahs to move
individuals between game reserves to allow breeding. These programmes,
which are very cost-intensive, could be scaled down if there were more
wildlife corridors allowing natural dispersion.
He said that in South Africa, there were not many corridors left, which is
why conservationists were so invested in maximising the potential of game
reserves. But this did not mean that wildlife corridors couldn't be created
in future, he said.
One example is a wildlife corridor in the making in the Soutpansberg
mountains of Limpopo, thanks to a partnership between EWT and various
donors and landowners. The vision is ultimately a corridor that would
effectively link the mountain area with the Kruger National Park on the one
end, and with the Tuli Block in Botswana on the other.
This corridor could be a game changer for local leopard populations, which
at one stage had shown a 60% population decline.
To see wildlife corridors created, South Africans will have to let go of
what Van der Merwe calls their "fencing mentality".
He said: Farmers believe whatever is inside the fences belongs to them. Yet
we've seen that in areas where landowners have dropped their fences, land
value has increased tenfold.
Wildlife corridors are not simply a way for migratory species to roam, but
they are also tools to protect the vegetation and rivers within them. They
have the power to minimise flooding and its impact, capture carbon, buffer
extreme temperatures, and improve water and soil health, said Von Dürckheim.
Wildlife corridors also have the potential to protect agricultural areas
that neighbour them by providing seed dispersal and a habitat for
pollinators, as well as mitigate against pests, improve agricultural
resilience to climate change and provide eco-tourism opportunities, she
Von Dürckheim said there was still much to learn about exactly where our
wildlife corridors are and what animals use them, as well as the
implications for the surrounding communities.
She said: A shared vision is required for the stakeholders engaged in
implementing and managing a particular corridor – enduring partnerships
will go far in ensuring corridor success.
Failing to protect wildlife corridors could come with a high cost –
overpopulated national parks that lose biodiversity, animal gene pools
shrinking, and even the extinction of vulnerable species.
"We really are at risk of losing important areas and critically endangered
species," she said.