SOUTHERN SUDAN — After years of civil war in which the spectacular wildlife populations were ignored, the creation of a new country out of Southern Sudan will allow for wildlife conservation to be an integral part of the nation. Discover the profound effects the vote for independence could have on wildlife conservation. — Global Animal

Flag of the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement; Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Discovery News, Jennifer Viegas

If Southern Sudan becomes a new nation in East Africa, wildlife there will benefit, according to a prominent conservationist.

The outlook so far appears to be hopeful, as thousands of South Sudanese continued to vote today on a landmark independence referendum that is poised to create the world’s newest country. According to an AFP reporter in Juba, Sudan, some voters have been walking for over 8 hours to and from polling sites and standing for lengthy periods in the hot sun just to make sure their voices are counted.

Nearly four million people registered for the vote. During a recent survey, 97 percent of all South Sudanese participants answered that they are going to vote for independence.

Over the weekend, Steven Sanderson, president and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society, issued an op-ed mentioning that he believes this moment represents “a historic opportunity, perhaps unprecedented, for wildlife conservation, sustainable natural resource management, and environmentally-friendly ecotourism to be integrated into the nation-building process.”

Sanderson explained that before civil war broke out in 1983, the southern region “boasted some of the most spectacular and important wildlife populations in Africa and the world’s second-largest wildlife migration of some 1.3 million antelope.”


Kob antelope; Credit: Frank Dickert

“Large populations of buffalo, antelope, elephants, and chimpanzees were neglected and presumed lost during the two-decade war,” he added.

In 2007, WCS conservationists went to the area and, Sanderson said, confirmed the existense “of more than 1.2 million white-eared kob (antelope), tiang antelope, and Mongalla gazelle in Southern Sudan.” In fact, some species didn’t just survive, they thrived, by going to more peaceful areas east of the Nile River.

Sanderson thinks the case for conservation is clear, with the protection of parkland and wildlife serving as a rallying point, with many potential benefits for people too. He believes that “animal migrations, along with pristine savanna and wetland habitat, could become one of the greatest tourism attractions in Africa and a key component of South Sudan’s growth and economic security.”

“Local communities live off the land and depend upon its management for their livelihoods,” Sanderson concluded. “Integrating conservation in land-use planning offers hope to those most in need.”