The mopane tree is a constant of the African landscape. Here, this tree has dominated the area, because many other species cannot survive in the highly saline soil conditions. As the mopane tree has adapted to tolerate this environment and thrive in harsh conditions, it is considered a keystone species, able to have a significant impact on the ecosystem.
Many animals depend on the mopane for their survival. During tough spells, elephant and kudu browse on mopane leaves and bark, despite the fact that the tree is very high in tannin making it difficult to digest. Buffalo too, will also eat the leaves from the forest floor if they cannot find other food.
It is also a useful tree for communities. The mopane worm that feasts on this tree is an edible caterpillar of a species of emperor moth and a great alternative source of protein. During harvest time, a few weeks into the rainy season, people hand pick them from the trees, dry them and eat them all year round.
The mopane tree is just one of thousands of flora found in southern Africa, a region containing remarkable species richness and diversity and hosting exceptional ecological processes. Unfortunately, it is estimated that by 2100, climate change alone could cause a significant loss of plant species across Africa. This loss of biodiversity will affect livelihoods, water supply and food security as well as lessen resilience to extreme climate events such as wildfire or floods, particularly for people living in rural areas who are often the poorest. To that end, Peace Parks Foundation and partners consider not only the wildlife but also the flora when managing transfrontier conservation areas.
Africa’s vast landscapes and unique large mammal species are the most important economic drivers for tourism. This is not only a sustainable industry (with 8 billion visitors to protected areas in 2015 – more than Earth’s total population) but also vital to the future of the planet as a whole. Large African landscapes act as lungs of the world and critically important carbon sinks. To preserve and protect these areas for the benefit of humankind and nature is of global benefit.