The world’s largest cross-border nature reserve is called Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KaZa). It comprises 36 national parks and has a size of 520,000 square kilometres, stretching across Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The German development bank KfW, on behalf of the German government, is financially supporting the joint project since its inauguration in 2012.
Opening borders for elephants
Elephants are a huge pull for tourists, but nevertheless have not enjoyed a good reputation everywhere. Botswana had one of the largest elephant populations in Africa what led to environmental and farming problems.
Since KaZa opened, an increasing number of elephants and other animal species have been able to roam again. Botswana's problem simply wandered off. And the KaZa parks in Zambia and Angola are becoming more popular for tourists again thanks to the incoming herds.
50 amphibian species, 128 reptile species and almost 200 mammal species now live in this gigantic conservation area.
Economic growth through tourism
In addition to conservation and preserving wildlife, another prime objective is promoting tourism, with a view to stimulating economic development in the region.
The neighbouring countries therefore have to agree on many issues, such as border fences, conservation rules and dealing with wild animals. This should contribute to more peaceful dealings with one another.
KfW is financing the project with the sum of 35.5 million Euros. "KaZa is a very ambitious and promising programme that is developing well in all areas", said KfW Project Manager Nils Meyer.
But he estimated it could be another two decades or so until all of the set objectives are accomplished.
Now in the second phase of the project, infrastructure is to be improved for example, and more support given to projects like appropriate farming or eco-tourism.
Combined visa for KaZa tourists
Today, the KaZa Secretariat in northern Botswana coordinates the partnership with KfW. They are currently working together with the World Bank on creating a cross-border visa system for the KaZa territory, one that is valid for all five countries.
This would make it easier for tourists to travel in the KaZa region, but It is not clear whether and when a visa will become available for all of the countries.
Locals profiting from KaZa
The project’s goal also is to involve locals efficiently and to improve the working conditions - appropriate accommodation for the park staff, clean water, vehicles and track roads .
"The better transportation network in particular helps us to work much more effectively today", said Kekelwa Lubasi, who works in a Zambian national park which today is also part of KaZa.
Forging stronger links with the locals is also one of the objectives of KfW subsidiary DEG (Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft).
In the long-term, DEG wants to finance privately-run, sustainable accommodation for environmentally conscious tourists. "We were particularly impressed when the impact was immediately visible to us, such as the lodge owners sponsoring schools and first-aid stations", said DEG tourism expert Valentina Zeisler.
The KfW Group attaches great importance to training specialists, which is an advantage for the locals, just like Likando Imangolwa who was given the opportunity to train to become a manager in the field of "Biodiversity and Cross-Border Nature Conservation" at the Southern African Wildlife College.
"This experience changed my attitude to nature", the ranger said. "The pyramid of life can only remain stable if we treat our surroundings with respect. As conservationists, we are a minority charged with the task of convincing the world of this truth."