Photo: Jay Caboz
  • The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has released a new report of 20 amazing African sites that could become Unesco World Heritage Sites in the future.
  • Among the listed candidates is South Africa's own Succulent Karoo desert that stretches from the Northern Cape all the way into Namibia, which is home to a third of the world's succulent plant species.
  • More than half of Africa's natural World Heritage Sites are in critical condition and sites face even more pressure, following Covid-19-related lockdowns that have shut down tourism - a vital revenue generator.
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Quiver Trees are large succulents that can be found in the Succulent Karoo Dessert. Photo Jay Caboz.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has released a new report of 20 amazing African sites that could become Unesco World Heritage Sites.

The IUCN, which is responsible for approving Wold Heritage Sites and encompasses government, civil society and the input of more than 15 000 experts, has released its Natural World Heritage in Africa: Progress and Prospects report to help shine a light on Africa's natural wonders.

The 84-page document identifies 20 remarkable wonders, from the unique Madagascar dry forests, home to endemic lemurs and baobabs, to Africa's largest wetland in South Sudan.

Among the listed candidates is South Africa's own Succulent Karoo desert, part of a biome that stretches from parts of the Northern Cape all the way into Namibia. This is the world's only plant hotspot that is entirely arid and harbours about one third of the world's approximately 10 000 succulent species, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

The IUCN report also includes, for the first time, a detailed update of Africa's current 48 World Heritage Sites, a chapter for new listing nominations to prepare for the World Heritage Convention, where decisions are made to add sites onto the Word Heritage List.

Of the 48 sites, it identified 17 that could be extended, including South Africa's own Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains in Mpumalanga, and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in KwaZulu-Natal.

More than half of Africa's world heritage sites are in critical condition and Covid-19 isn't helping

By the end of 2019, a total of 1 121 World Heritage Sites had been inscribed, including 252 under the natural and mixed criteria. Forty-eight are located across 54 countries in Africa.

More than half of the 48 sites are in a critical condition, according to the IUC's World Heritage Outlookwith 12 natural sites categorised as being "in danger". This is as a result of factors that include civil unrest, poaching, infrastructure development, mining and uncontrolled timber harvesting.

Sites are also under pressure following Covid-19-related lockdowns that have shut down tourism, a vital revenue generator. Lockdowns threaten jobs, from park management to local communities and businesses.

Here are the 20 remarkable areas that the IUCN says could be next:

Source: Natural World Heritage in Africa: Progress and Prospects 

Succulent Karoo (Namibia and South Africa).

The Succulent Karooincludes the richest succulent flora in the world. Some 40% of the plant species occur nowhere else on the planet.

Bale Mountains National Park (Ethiopia).

The Bale Mountainssupport the largest expanse of Afroalpine vegetation, plants growing 3 500 metres to 4 000 metres above sea level, in Africa. The area is home to threatened and endemic species, such as the mountain nyala and the Ethiopian wolf.

Benguela Current Marine Sites (Namibia).

The Benguela marine ecosystem is home to rich stocks of fish that feed large populations of Cape gannets, African penguins, cormorants, dolphins and Cape fur seals.

Bijagós Archipelago (Guinea-Bissau).

The Bijagós Archipelago is composed of 88 islands and one of the most important areas in West Africa for migratory birds.

Government-Badingilo Migratory Landscape (South Sudan).

It supports one of the last great mammal migrations on Earth, involving about a million white-eared kob, an antelope found across Central Africa and parts of West Africa and East Africa.

Chott el Jerid (Tunisia).

The Chott el Jerid is a dry salt lake located in southwest Tunisia.

Dinosaur Fossil Beds of Niger (Niger).

Home to fascinating fossil deposits that date back to the late Triassic through to the Cretaceous period.

East African Coastal Forests (Kenya and Tanzania).

The biodiversity is endemic and there are massive concentrations of threatened plant and animal species.

Eastern Arc Mountains (Kenya and Tanzania).

The biodiversity of this ancient complex of mountain ranges is home to many species of plant and animal that remain isolated.

Equatorial Atlantic Coastal Forests (Congo and Gabon).

These forests form the western fringes of the vast Central African rainforests. Populations of critically endangered western lowland gorilla, chimpanzee, and forest elephant dwell here. Along the shoreline are multiple nesting sites for leatherback turtles.

Erte Arle and the Danakil Depression (Ethiopia).

Erte Arle is an active volcano in the north of Africa's Great Rift Valley. It has been in an active, more or less, state of eruption for more than 100 years. It has the world's longest-lived lava lake.

Great Western Desert (Egypt).

Egypt's western desert has been identified as a priority site for stunning sand, dune and rock formations forged by wind action and preserved in extremely dry conditions.

Lake Tanganyika (Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania and Zambia).

Lake Tanganyika is the world's second oldest freshwater lake, the second largest by volume and the second deepest. Its fish include some 330 species and much of the lake's biodiversity remains to be documented.

Madagascar Dry Forests (Madagascar).

The dry forests of western Madagascar support threatened and endemic plants and animals – including the characteristic lemur and ancient baobab trees.

Montane Forests of the Southern Albertine Rift (Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda).

They are home to a high diversity of plants, more than 500 bird species and primates - including the critically endangered eastern lowland or Grauer's gorilla and endangered chimpanzee.

Mozambique Channel (Comoros, France, Madagascar, Mozambique and Tanzania).

The Mozambique Channel is a priority marine site in the Western Indian Ocean. The IUCN says six specific localities have been identified which would ideally be incorporated into a single transboundary serial site.

Protected Forests of the Gulf of Guinea (Cameroon and Nigeria).

Home to the critically endangered Cross River gorilla and endangered chimpanzee. A portion of this has the highest diversity of primates recorded at a single site in Africa, with 18 recorded species.

Sudd Wetland (South Sudan).

The Sudd is Africa's largest wetland and one of the largest tropical wetlands in the world. It is in the middle reaches of the White Nile providing refuge to a large proportion of the world's 8 000 endangered shoebill storks.

Tropical Moist Forests of the Upper Guinea Biodiversity Hotspot (Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone).

The Upper Guinea forests of West Africa are important for their biological diversity and the high degree of endemism in most groups of flora and fauna.

Volcanic Islands and Forests of the Gulf of Guinea and Cameroon Highlands (Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria and São Tomé and Príncipe).

The flora and fauna of each "island" is distinctive and a plant and bird species have evolved with typical "island adaptations", such as gigantism and dwarfism.

*The report was produced by the BIOPAMA Programme, an initiative of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States financed by the European Union's 11th European Development Fund (EDF) and jointly implemented by the IUCN and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (JRC).

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