Potential New African Natural World Heritage Sites
The World Heritage List grows each year as new sites are recognised and inscribed. The process of inscription begins with the preparation of a ‘tentative list’ of prospective sites – places which are thought (by the ‘State Party’ concerned) to demonstrate the qualities required for World Heritage Listing. By early 2014 African countries had included 133 places on their tentative lists under ‘natural’ and ‘mixed’ criteria – three times the number of natural sites currently inscribed.
On this page we provide some insights into these ‘tentative lists’, describing the places that have been proposed as possible additions to the World Heritage List in Africa. We highlight a small selection of places (the ‘Editor’s Pick’) that we believe offer greatest value as additions to the list of natural world heritage sites in Africa, and suggest a number of other places which may offer potential for inscription, but are too poorly known to evaluate properly at this stage. We also feature a range of existing world heritage sites which could be extended to cover a wider area, helping them become more ecologically viable, resilient to external factors (such as climate change) and more fully representative of the range of species and natural processes they encompass.
Tentative Lists. Take a look at the places that the national authorities in each African country have identified as potentially suitable for world heritage listing - and see if you agree with their judgement! Click here to download the official lists of places included on the tentative lists of different African countries. Further details of each place can be found on the UNESCO World Heritage Centre website.
Editor's Pick. Our short-list of potential sites is based on three primary sources. First, it draws on the outcomes of an ‘international expert consultative process’ carried out in 2010/11 by the world heritage committee’s technical advisory body (IUCN – the International Union for Conservation of Nature). This process resulted in a priority list of 16 sites across sub-Saharan Africa, identified on the basis of their biodiversity values (world heritage criteria (ix) and (x)). Secondly, it considers the attributes of the 133 natural places that have been identified by the African State Parties for possible future consideration as natural world heritage sites and included on their official ‘Tentative Lists’ (see above). And finally, it draws on the editor’s 35 years of professional experience, travel and exploration across the continent, and the reflections of many friends and colleagues who have helped along the way.
So, although the list often reflects a broad consensus it is neither definitive nor exhaustive. Rather, it draws attention to a small selection of outstanding places where Africa’s diverse natural heritage is at its best – places that deserve greater recognition and must be protected for the benefit of future generations. If world heritage status can play a part in that, their inscription on the World Heritage List would be a worthwhile goal. The pages on each place provide a visual snapshot and further information, so follow the links below:
Dry Forests of the Andrefana (Madagascar). The dry forests of western Madagascar are among the world’s most exceptional forests and support hundreds of threatened plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world. Several of Madagascar’s characteristic lemur species occur in these forests, together with seven unique species of baobab trees. A serial site comprising 7 widely separated reserves has been identified by the Madagascar authorities, which is likely to capture the full range of values of the dry forests. To view a slideshow of the area and learn more, click here.
The Red Sea (Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen). The Red Sea is home to a massive concentration of threatened and exceptional coral reef biodiversity. A wide range of marine habitats supports hard and soft coral, fish, turtles and marine mammals. The Regional Organisation for the Conservation of the Environment of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden (PERGSA) has identified 12 proposed or declared marine protected areas that are of regional and/or global significance and this would provide a strong basis for further study to select areas for a trans-frontier serial site reflecting the range of unique values of the Red Sea. To view a slideshow of the area and learn more, click here.
Eastern Arc Mountains (Tanzania and Kenya). The so-called ‘Eastern Arc’ is a chain of isolated mountains that lies in the savanna lowlands of tropical East Africa. The long-standing ecological isolation of forests on each block of mountains - from one another, and from other tropical moist forests in central and west Africa – has resulted in very high levels of endemism, with many species of plants and animals restricted to single mountains along the ‘Arc’. Amongst these unique species are 3 recently-discovered monkeys, one belonging to entirely new genus. A serial site would be necessary to capture the full range of values of these mountain forests and their massive concentrations of unique and highly threatened species. To view a slideshow of the area and learn more, click here.
Bale Mountains National Park (Ethiopia). The Bale Mountains National Park protects Ethiopia’s second highest peak and the largest expanse of Afroalpine vegetation in Africa. It covers an exceptional range of altitude, supporting a wide range of habitats and many rare and threatened species found only in the isolated highlands of Ethiopia. These include iconic large mammals such as the mountain nyala, and the world’s rarest member of the dog family, the Ethiopian wolf. To view a slideshow of the area and learn more, click here.
Atlas Mountains (Morocco and Algeria). The Atlas Mountains form a contorted range along Africa’s north-western flank, where continental drift has pushed the African continent against the land mass of Europe. Its fauna and flora have evolved in unique ways, reflecting the areas Mediterranean climate and proximity to Europe as well as its African heritage. The last lion may have been exterminated more than 100 years ago, but it still retains key elements of its unique ecology, including iconic species such as the barbary macaque. There is today a growing interest in ecological restoration and new National Parks are being established to protect surviving remnants of natural habitats throughout the region. The scope for a serial site, modelled on the Cape Floral Region Protected Areas world heritage site deserves further study: the initial aim of which would be to identify the (existing or potential) protected areas that could provide for the long-term conservation of a fully representative sample of the habitats and species found in the Atlas range. To view a slideshow of the area and learn more, click here.
Upper Nile Floodplains (South Sudan). The ecological importance of the Upper Nile floodplains and swamps has long been recognised, but formal conservation programmes have been impossible during the many years of internal conflict that has plagued this region of Africa. Recently, the restoration of peace and birth of the new nation of South Sudan, has allowed confirmation of the continued existence of large mammal migrations rivalling those of Serengeti and sparked renewed interest in ensuring conservation of these outstanding natural phenomena and the attributes of the Upper Nile on which they depend. Boma National Park (which is nearly twice the size of Serengeti NP) protects much of the area involved in the mass migration of white-eared kob, while Bandingilo National Park serves as a seasonal sanctuary for vaste herds of Tiang that move to its north. Meanwhile the Sudd swamps (much of which are protected within the Zeraf Game Reserve) cover an area twice the size of the Okavango Delta, supporting (amongst other iconic species) most of the world’s shoebill storks. World heritage status could help support conservation efforts in these globally important areas but the economic development challenges facing this new nation are immense and the prospects of oil and re-instatement of the Jonglei Canal project to drain the swamps are very real threats. To view a slideshow of the area and learn more, click here.
Lake Tanganyika (Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Zambia). Lake Tanganyika is the world’s second largest body of fresh water (after Lake Baikal). It is an ancient, deep Rift Valley lake in which evolutionary processes over 12 million years have resulted in an extraordinary diversity of species found nowhere else in the world. As with Lake Malawi, there have been extraordinary levels of speciation amongst the cichlid fishes (an estimated 250 species), but here evolutionary processes have operated over longer periods and had a broader impact across diverse taxa. So there are, for example, 145 species of non-cichlid fishes as well as huge diversity in invertebrate fauna. In view of the nature of the evolutionary pressures and very localised distributions of taxa along the shoreline of the lake a serial site would provide the best option for a world heritage site, perhaps building on the existing national parks in Tanzania (Gombe Stream and Mahale Mountains) and Zambia (Sumbu). To view a slideshow of the area and learn more, click here.
Kasanka National Park (Zambia). As the park’s T-shirt says ‘its all about the bats’! Ten million straw-coloured fruit bats congregate in a few hectares of gallery forest in Kasanka National Park for 6 weeks each year to harvest a seasonal bonanza of wild fruit. It is a natural phenomenon of unparalleled proportions, the largest known mammal congregation in Africa, with ecological consequences permeating the woodlands and forests over vast swathes of central southern Africa. To view a slideshow of the area and learn more, click here.
Danakil Depression (Ethiopia and Djibouti). The Danakil Depression marks the northern end of the Great Rift Valley on the African mainland, the point where Earth’s forces are most actively tearing the continent apart. It is an area of outstanding geological interest, providing a unique window on the underlying processes which have created the continents and land masses of the present day. Here, in relatively close proximity, geological features associated with the splitting of continental land masses are clearly seen, including many associated with volcanic activity with one of the few permanent lava lakes on the planet (Mount Irtale), hot sulphur springs elaborately decorated with extraordinary coral-like formations, salt-encrusted lake beds, and vast limestone chimneys (Lake Abbe). To view a slideshow of the area and learn more, click here.
Succulent Karoo (Namibia and South Africa). The Succulent Karoo, which consists primarily of winter rainfall desert, is one of only two desert biodiversity hotspots. For an arid region, it has extraordinarily high plant diversity and endemism, including the richest succulent flora in the world. Some 40 percent of the 6,356 plant species occur nowhere else on the planet. The biome extends across a wide swathe of South Africa and Namibia, covering some 116,000km2, so a suitable representative network of priority areas needs to be identified for a world heritage listing. Work on this is already underway and the South African authorities are actively creating suitable new reserves through land acquisition. To view a slideshow of the area and learn more, click here.
Gulf of Guinea Forests (Cameroon and Nigeria). The Gulf of Guinea forests, straddling the border between Cameroon and Nigeria, include species-rich lowland and montane forests. Amongst the most important reserves, the Korup and Cross River National Parks are especially important for rare and endangered species, including the critically endangered Cross River gorilla. The Okwangwo part of Cross River National Park has the highest diversity of primates recorded at a single site in Africa, with 18 recorded species.
Ennedi Massif (Chad). The Ennedi is a vast sandstone massif, covering some 30,000 km2 on the southern fringes of the Sahara Desert in eastern Chad. It is one of six major mountain blocks in the Sahara, all of which have been subject to major fluctuations in climate over millennia. The story of these changes is recorded in the area’s rich rock art, and evidenced by relict populations of plants and animals that survive in sheltered pockets in an otherwise desiccated environment. The scenery is spectacular, with desert landscapes punctuated by extraordinary eroded sandstone sculptures, natural arches, deep canyons and vibrant green hidden oases. To view a slideshow of the area and learn more, click here.