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Before southern Sudan descended into civil war in 1983, the country's protected areas supported some of the most spectacular and important wildlife populations in Africa, and hosted the second largest wildlife migration in the world. Surveys in the preceding years revealed that Boma National Park, west of the Ethiopian border, as well as the Sudd wetland and Southern National Park near the border with Congo, provided habitat for large populations of kob and topis (two types of antelope), buffalo, elephants, giraffes, hartebeests (another antelope), and lions. Sudan's forest reserves also provided habitat for bongo (also an antelope), giant forest hogs, red river hogs, forest elephants, chimpanzees, and forest monkeys.
Recent surveys begun in 2005 by WCS in partnership with the government of South Sudan revealed that significant, though diminished wildlife populations still exist, and that, astonishingly, the huge migration of 1.3 million antelopes in the southeast is substantially intact. Today the nation is sparsely populated with only 7 million people spread across the vast floodplain of the Nile River.
In 2006 the president of South Sudan announced that the region would do everything possible to protect and propagate its flora and fauna, and seek to reduce the effects of wildfires, waste dumping, and water pollution. That was the good news. The bad news is that large multinational companies are poised to extract natural resources in South Sudan on a wide scale, posing threats to the nation's remarkable wildlife and their habitats.
- South Sudan’s wildlife habitats include grasslands, high-altitude plateaus and escarpments, wooded and grassy savannas, floodplains, and wetlands.
- Associated wildlife species include the endemic white-eared kob and Nile lechwe, as well as elephants, giraffes, common eland, giant eland, oryx, lions, wild dogs, buffalo, and topi (locally called tiang).
- Little is currently known about the white-eared kob and tiang, whose magnificent migrations were legendary before the civil war.
- The Boma-Jonglei Landscape region encompasses Boma National Park, broad pasturelands and floodplains, Bandingilo National Park, and the Sudd, a vast area of swamp and seasonally flooded grasslands that includes the Zeraf Wildlife Reserve.
Resource extraction plans started in earnest in southern Sudan after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. Oil companies are moving into the upper White Nile; logging companies are negotiating contracts to exploit the rich teak forests; and safari hunters are identifying concessions. Both internally displaced people and refugees are on the move looking to regain grazing and agricultural lands. Road construction and water diversion projects are under way. Automatic rifles (primarily AK47s) are common and often used for hunting. Like all protected areas in Sudan, Boma National Park, Bandingalo Park, and Zeraf Reserve are in need of effective management to secure their borders and ensure sustainable resource management. Boma and Bandingalo park limits do not adequately protect species’ migration patterns. The areas include people, and though populations are generally sparse, there is considerable competition for grazing areas and water, and agriculture is expanding. Oil exploration concessions have also been granted in a large section of the Boma-Jonglei landscape. The presence of land-use managers could significantly benefit the substantial human and natural resource scenario that unfolds in the coming decade.
WCS programs in southern Sudan date to the 1960s, though they were interrupted during the civil war. Early work assisted the government in the establishment of Boma National Park, and supported pioneering research on the migration and lekking (breeding displays) of the white-eared kob within the park.
The ongoing Boma-Jonglei landscape conservation initiative will act as a catalyst and platform to mobilize donor support and call attention to conservation and resource management in South Sudan and the overall Sudano-Sahelian region. WCS will continue to work with the government of Southern Sudan to assess the status of wildlife populations and the impacts of oil extraction; to establish and support protected area management; and to help develop sustainable land-use management plans, including promotion of a trans-boundary conservation link between Boma in South Sudan, adjacent protected areas in Ethiopia, and neighboring areas in northern Kenya.
From the Newsroom
In conflict and post-conflict areas, conservation can play a key role in diplomacy by increasing stability and providing economic opportunities.
Conservationist Paul Elkan, director of WCS’s South Sudan Country Program, discusses his work surveying the new nation’s vast wildlife herds, identifying its key migratory corridors, and helping to ensure a future for one of the great wonders of the world.
NPR reporter Frank Langfitt visits WCS’s Paul Elkan and Mike Kock on a mission to locate and radio-collar a group of elephants on the savannahs of South Sudan. The expedition is part of WCS’s work to protect the emerging nation’s remarkable wildlife from poachers and development.
In an op-ed published on CNN.com about the elections in Southern Sudan, WCS CEO and President Dr. Steven Sanderson argues that a sound conservation and resource management agenda will be a vital part of a nation-building process there.
Despite a decades-old conflict, wildlife populations are thriving in Southern Sudan, where WCS conservationists have tracked astonishing numbers of antelope, elephants, and other migrants.