Unlocking conservation support for private landowners through multiple partnerships

April 15, 2021

The Mountain Zebra Camdeboo Protected Environment (MZCPE) has found innovative ways to implement the management plan through partnerships with various organisations and projects. 


Landscape in the Mountain Zebra Camdeboo Protected Environment. (Image: Bronwyn Botha)

In 2012, the Mountain Zebra Camdeboo Corridor Project was established by South African National Parks (SANParks) in partnership with the Wilderness Foundation to investigate the opportunity to declare private land surrounding both the Camdeboo and Mountain Zebra National Parks as a protected environment. The area between the Mountain Zebra and Camdeboo National Parks in the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany biodiversity hotspot was identified as a conservation priority in the National Protected Areas Expansion Strategy. This protected environment aimed to support the consolidation of the Sneeuberg grasslands linking Mountain Zebra and Camdeboo National Parks through partnerships with private landowners.

The protected environment covers about 275 000 hectares and was declared in April 2016 by the Minister of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE). Through the process of declaration, the 65 landowners involved created the MZCPE Landowners Association as the management authority for the protected environment. The MZCPE management plan was approved in 2017. A condition of declaration under the Protected Areas Act is that each protected area must have a management plan approved by the Minister. 


Map showing the regional context of the Mountain Zebra Camdeboo Protected Environment. The MZCPE area is the protected environment highlighted in light green.

The challenge for the MZCPE was to create one single plan across multiple individual properties with different land uses such as agriculture, game and ecotourism. The GEF-5 PA Project helped to draft the original plan which had to meet the criteria as per the DEFF guideline. The GEF-5 PA Project has further assisted with the implementation of the management plan.

The management plan is an overarching high-level plan with three main focusses. The first is to understand the status quo, the second is to identify any gaps in management and the third is to implement management interventions to address those gaps.


Conserving the land uses in the area with a stronger focus on protecting the environment. (Image: Bronwyn Botha)

The MZCPE’s purpose is to conserve the land uses and not interfere with private businesses or change the land uses of the area. The management plan understands that individual property management remains the responsibility of its respective landowner. Each landowner contributes to the management plan as they focus on maintaining, and where necessary, improving their veld management and in so doing, secure their business model. Furthermore, the MZCPE recognises the conservation work already taking place in the landscape and where needed, offer assistance.

It is a well-known fact that conservation is a resource-strapped industry. Land management interventions and conservation projects often come with a high price tag. In addition, the implementation of interventions and projects requires specific expertise. South African National Parks (SANParks), as a formal partner with the MZCPE and the implementing agency for the GEF-5 PA project, realised that they alone could not provide assistance for all conservation activities on private land.  To ensure a certain level of feasibility and long term sustainability of the MZCPE management plan implementation, the ‘Conservation through Collaboration’ concept came to life. 


Private land owners promoting the ‘Conservation through Collaboration’ concept. (Image: Martin Albertus)

The concept taps into existing conservation and natural resource management projects in South Africa. The focus is on developing mutual beneficial partnerships.  

The GEF-5 PA Project has helped the MZCPE to identify possible organisations and projects and to initiate partnerships with some of these organisations. To date it has resulted in several partnerships that are helping the MZCPE to achieve some of its management plan objectives. These include partnerships with the Endangered Wildlife Trust, Rhodes University, Birdlife South Africa and the Black-Footed Cat Working Group to name a few. These partnerships are not only restricted to conservation organisations but also include the agricultural industry. 

The primary land use of the MZCPE is stock farming using natural rangeland systems. Hence conservation and agriculture are working hand in hand for land management and the sustainability of the industry. Landowners of the MZCPE are starting to unlock benefits within the agricultural industry through possible product branding opportunities. 


An MZCPE farmer on his way. (Image: Bronwyn Botha)

The hope is that all of the partnerships established will have a conservation effect on the landscape but also provide the landowners with a pathway to a product that will ultimately recognise their conservation commitment and positively impact and financially benefit their business as a whole. 


Happy goats, happy farmer and vice versa. (Image: Bronwyn Botha)