Tourists love to see lion, cheetah and other big cats; they are beautiful and beguiling creatures. Beyond their magnificence however, wild animals are vital to the Peace Parks mission, which is to re-establish, renew and preserve large functional ecosystems that transcend man-made boundaries. Rather like a tower made of cards, every ecosystem is a finely balanced entity, with every species of flora and fauna playing an important part in holding up the integrity of the whole ecosystem. Take one card, or species, away and the system collapses.
Predators are key to every ecosystem. Animals such as lion, leopard, cheetah and many more, help control the size of prey populations. By feeding on vulnerable animals such as the injured, sick, old or very young, they ensure the prey population is more vigorous, and there is more food for their survival. Additionally, predators can help slow down the spread of disease. The hyena is a predator that can digest every part of a carcass including the bones in their highly acidic stomachs. Not only does this ‘clean up’ the bush, it also means that diseases that could poison other animals are removed from the food chain.
Experts are now convinced that ecosystems are ruled from the top, with predators exerting control over smaller predators, prey and the plant world, rather than the other way round. Accordingly, Peace Parks Foundation works to restore and protect predators in the transfrontier conservation areas, with plans to build the carnivore guild already underway. In Zinave National Park, the first large resident predators, a clan of four hyena, were settled in 2020 followed by cheetah that were reintroduced into Maputo Special Reserve. In many areas, much is being done to increase the lion and other big predator populations by securing the landscape.
This is all part of the Peace Parks mission to rebuild healthy ecosystems, because they protect and regenerate the natural and cultural heritage essential to enable and sustain a harmonious future for humankind and the natural world.