Introducing... African Heartlands

Introducing... African Heartlands


African Wildlife Foundation is launching an ambitious new approach to wildlife conservation by focusing beyond protected areas to vast landscapes called African Heartlands.

"We're looking at the big picture," AWF President R. Michael Wright says. "Wild animals in East Africa are not confined to parks but migrate to other areas, areas often populated by humans. It makes sense then to consider the interactions and needs of humans and wildlife together, across large landscapes."

The boundaries of AWF's African Heartlands are defined naturally by ecosystems and patterns of human land use. Heartlands encompass parks, private reserves and surrounding communities. In one heartland alone, there may be a variety of terrains, perhaps grassy plains, mountainous rain forests and low-lying, dry river beds. If managed well, African Heartlands can provide the ranging space wildlife needs to find food, shelter and water. They can support local people by opening up new economic opportunities.

The African Heartlands are neither static nor self-contained. As the ecological processes within each continually evolve, the boundaries shift. A heartland is typically anchored by large national parks or forest reserves connected by corridors that allow wildlife to migrate from one place to another in search of food. Located throughout the corridors are conservation-minded businesses, such as safari outfitters and tourist lodges, and other community-based enterprises that benefit people in the area.

The goals are to preserve ecosystems by encouraging the extensive involvement of all players--landowners, communities, parks--in conservation, and to reduce conflicts between wildlife and people. The African Heartlands concept recognizes that conservation is both a matter of saving wildlife and of taking a sweeping, long-term view of resource management that embraces all economic, scientific, cultural and other interests.

"African Heartlands rejects a conservation ethic built upon a false vision of a primitive African Eden," Wright says, "and instead recognizes that the wildlife must be preserved in a large landscape that is scientifically grounded in ecological understanding and that addresses human concerns."

Initially, the focus is on four African Heartlands defined by AWF, all of them areas where AWF already has projects underway:


The first region AWF designated as an African Heartland, this area includes Tarangire and Lake Manyara national parks, the Marang Forest and a large area of the Masai Steppe and a number of small urban areas between the parks.

The area consists of savannah, lakes, swamps and flood plains. Land outside the parks is generally used for pastoralism, ranching or agriculture.

The elephant population exceeds 3,000 in Tarangire. Other indigenous, endangered species include greater kudu and wild dogs. Flamingos are abundant on Lake Manyara.

Tanzania National Parks and AWF have pioneered the concept and practice of community conservation in Tanzania, encouraging park authorities and local people to address wildlife issues together. Although communities support conservation in principle, more work is needed to reduce conflicts between people (particularly farmers) and wildlife searching for food and using traditional migratory routes.

AWF's Partnership Options for Resource-Use Innovation (PORI), a project supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development, is our first African Heartland effort. A primary goal of PORI is to help develop community-based wildlife enterprises in northern Tanzania.


Located in north central Kenya, this heartland encompasses the slopes of Mt. Kenya and parts of Aberdare National Park, Samburu and Shaba national game reserves and extensive ranch and communal lands.

The terrain varies from mountains to semi-arid grasslands where rainfall is low. With few rivers or wetlands, wildlife congregate during the dry season to find water, migrating primarily to the southern Laikipia plateau.

About 70 percent of the plateau is used as ranch land; some areas in the south and west that get more rain are used for farming. Pastoralists use a vast area north of the plateau.

The area still supports carnivores such as lions, cheetahs and hyenas, and wild dogs have begun to reappear. The second-largest population of elephants in Kenya reside in this region, and wildlife numbers generally are increasing in Laikipia.

Laikipia is the focus for the first efforts of AWF's Wildlife Enterprise Business Services Center to help wildlife-related businesses succeed. AWF is also supporting a predator study in Laikipia to improve relations between these species and their human neighbors.

The Mpala Research Center, landowner associations and private and communal ranches are among the many partners working together in the Laikipia-Samburu Heartland.

Greater Virungas

Located in the heart of the African continent, this heartland includes four national parks, villages and farms in Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. It is anchored in the north by Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and in the south by the Virunga Mountains, which include Rwanda's Volcano National Park, Congo's Virunga National Park and Uganda's Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

The terrain includes afro-montane forests and crater lakes in the inactive volcanos of the Virungas.

The area is home to the world's remaining 600 mountain gorillas and to many other primate species. It is known for the high diversity and abundance of plant and animal species.

Population densities in this region are the highest in Africa, placing great pressure on the forested mountain habitat of the gorillas.

The principal role of AWF in the area at present is its support of the International Gorilla Conservation Program, which is working to protect mountain gorillas and their habitat.

Because of recent civil wars in Congo and Rwanda, some parts of the Virunga Heartland are still unstable and not open to tourists.


The Amboseli-Longido Heartland lies west and north of Mount Kilimanjaro. Included are Amboseli National Park and six large ranches to the north in Kenya, and in Tanzania, the slopes of Kilimanjaro and the savannahs of Longido, which abut the Kenya-Tanzania border near Amboseli.

This semi-arid plains area is predominantly pastoral. Large, seasonal wildlife migrations are common as animals search for food and water sources, and there is space for more wildlife.

The Amboseli-Longido Heartland features a variety of plains mammals, such as zebras, Thompson's gazelles and buffalo, as well as numerous other species and could once again be a major migration route between Kenya and Tanzania. Amboseli National Park, with one of the world's most stable elephant populations, is a top tourist attraction.

AWF's 28-year old Amboseli Elephant Research Project has undertaken a community conservation outreach effort to ease conflicts between elephants and people and to increase the security of elephants migrating outside the park.

Improved conservation in the region will help revive the populations of lions and other species that have declined in recent years.

Communities surrounding the park (predominantly Masai villages) are developing a number of successful tourism-related businesses. A revived migration of large animals would offer huge new economic opportunities for local people.

AWF is helping develop a pioneering Wildlife Management Area in the Longido area.