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Introduction

NATURE’S STRONGHOLDS
The World's Great Wildlife Reserves

INTRODUCTION

Most of the world’s charismatic and endangered species owe their continued existence to reserves set aside for them on every continent—Bengal tigers in India, birds-of-paradise in the wilds of New Guinea, Shaggy, humanlike orangutans that swing through forests of Indonesia, penguins nesting by the millions on frozen beaches in Antarctica.

Osprey, worldwide except Antarctica.Cheetahs, lions, elephants, and more are protected on African plains. Giant anteaters forage with enormous sticky tongues among man-sized, luminescent termite mounds in Brazil. Jaguars skulk through protected jungle reserves of Central America. Gorillas devour thistles in the mountains of Rwanda. Leopards drape themselves on tree branches in East and South Africa. Seabirds arrive every spring on islands off the United Kingdom to nest by the millions.

There are reserves for endangered honeybees in Russia; for sacred snails in Ghana; and one in Asia for the legendary Abominable Snowman. There are reserves for species until recently entirely unknown to science—like the Vu Quang ox in Vietnam.

These great reserves represent the last places on earth where the natural world remains largely intact. Some are as big as European countries and they grow in numbers and size as people everywhere become aware of their beauty and importance and learn as well about the fascinating, precarious lives of their wild inhabitants.

Some 40 million persons every year undertake journeys around the world to visit nature reserves—at recent count 15 million of them with the specific purpose of observing wildlife, according to figures of the Ecotourism Society. This helps the reserves and the wildlife living in them. Properly managed, with appropriate protection for wild inhabitants, ecotourism is potentially the most powerful single force for preservation of wild creatures and places. Expenditures for guides and lodging increasingly benefit local economies. In Belize and Costa Rica, for example, ecotourism earns more for local economies than any other source. Local communities, in turn, have come to see protection of species and ecosystems as having practical as well as esthetic value, often resulting in incentives for expanded protection and more land set aside.

Here for the first time in one place are the best of these extraordinary places around the world, based on hundreds of on-scene reports, interviews, and personal experiences, with information on how to visit them, what to see, their ecological significance, and often their historical background.

Running jaguar, Central and South America.Many of the world’s rarest wildlife species, for example, owe their survival today to bygone kings, princes, maharajahs, and other ruling figures who first set aside the land for private hunting preserves. European bison, once one of the most numerous hoofed animals the world has known, roamed forests from the Atlantic Ocean to the China Sea in the tens of millions until hunting and continent-wide deforestation reduced their habitat range to a single large primeval forest owned by royal families in Poland and neighboring Belarus. The last wild European bison was shot during World War I—but a remnant herd, reassembled from scattered individuals given to zoos and private parks, became a renewed breeding entity which was protected during World War II by Hitler’s aide Hermann Goering. The species survives now in protected and sustainable numbers in Poland’s Bialowieza National Park and a transborder reserve in Belarus.

Hundreds of bird species from thousands of miles around—from painted storks to stately sarus cranes—crowd Bharatpur in India, a lush wetland transformed from a desert by a 19thcentury maharajah wishing to return hospitality of British royals who had entertained him at hunting parties in England. He directed thousands of his subjects to divert a river, dig miles of dikes and ditches, and build dams to create ponds and marshes to attract ducks, geese, and other water-oriented birds. Stone monuments record where dukes and princes once shot thousands in a day. Now all are protected in one of the world’s great bird sanctuaries.

Great reserves such as America’s Yellowstone are well known, but many others are described here in book form for the first time, a unique resource not only for visitors and those who organize trips but for wildlife students and armchair travelers who may never visit these places but enjoy reading about them.

Black&White-LemurReserves covered in Africa include not only Tanzania’s renowned Serengeti and Kenya’s Maasai Mara but Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, where lions hunt seals on beaches of the frigid South Atlantic, and its Waterberg Plateau, with endangered species from all over the continent; Botswana’s Okavango Delta, where water often is naturally purified to drinking water standard by hundreds of square miles of papyrus plants, and where hippos walk on canal bottoms, clearly visible through the limpid water.

Ecuador has not only the world-famous Galapagos Islands with giant tortoises, confidingly tame waved albatrosses and dragon-like marine iguanas that prowl underwater, but five other national parks winding through its mountains and lowlands.

A few miles away from world-renowned luxury resorts at Cancun on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula are sheltered, little-known lagoons with up to 50,000 brilliant flamingos and, shared with reserves in Belize and Guatemala, one of the world’s largest tropical forest preserves sheltering jaguars, yard-long scarlet macaws, ornate hawk-eagles, and much of the wintering population of bright warblers that nest in summer in the U.S. and Canada.

This linking of contiguous or nearby reserves in neighboring countries is a promising development of recent years, creating enormous protected areas where wildlife, requiring no passports, can range freely back and forth. In Africa, some of the continent’s main populations of lowland gorillas, forest elephants, and rare, striped, spiral-horned bongo antelopes roam through more than 5,000 square miles (14,000 km2) in a preserve linking Dja Faunal Reserve in Cameroon with Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the Congo Republic and Dzanga-Sangha Reserve in the Central African Republic. In Bhutan, Royal Manas and Black Mountains National Parks adjoin India’s Manas Wildlife Preserve creating almost 2,000 square miles (5,000 km2) of uninterrupted habitat with more tigers than any other protected area of south-central Asia. Imperial eagles soar over Ordesa and Monte Perdidi National Parks in Spain, now linked by transborder agreement with Pyrénées Occidentales in France. Conservationists hope the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea, with numerous endangered species, will become such a transborder reserve.

Also useful are “debt swaps,” as when the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) purchased $2 million U.S. in Philippines’ external dept, funds than made available for development of St. Paul’s National Park on Palawan and El Nido National Marine Park in Benguet. Conservation International paid $650,000 U.S. of Bolivia’s foreign debt in exchange for protection of 1,290- square-mile (3,340 km2) Reserva Biosferica del Beni.

Europe is often regarded as denuded of wildlife, but 3,500 scimitar-horned ibexes survive in Italy’s mountainous Gran Paradiso National Park. Long-legged greater flamingos turn salt flats rosy in France’s Camargue. European lynx make one of their last stands in Spain’s Coto Doñana National Park which is essential to the life cycles of more than half of Europe’s migratory birds plus an immense variety of permanent residents including red deer, wild boars, otters, and the nearly extinct Spanish lynx.

Reserves set aside for particular species save others as well—whole interdependent ecosystems of rare, interesting, and important insects and plants. The Russian Federation has dozens of these protecting Siberian tigers, Amur leopards, lovely demoiselle cranes and Steller’s sea eagles as well as tiny rustic buntings, willow tits, and bird’s nest orchids.

Many of these, now set aside as national parks and reserves, began not with governments but with small groups of dedicated individuals who believed them worth saving and worked tirelessly until they convinced others of their importance. Their value can be seen by comparing them with surrounding areas, often laid waste from an ecological view by logging, clearing for agriculture, unchecked construction of roads, dams, resorts, residential housing, and commercial development, and oil and gas exploration.

Reserves in over 80 countries were selected for inclusion, among many thousands around the world, after consultation with major wildlife organizations such as World Wide Fund for Nature and Wildlife Conservation Society. A factor taken into consideration was whether persons with personal or professional interest in wildlife would wish to travel halfway around the world to see them. Along with these principal reserves are others of special interest in the countries covered.

Each entry contains information on the country’s gateway city (usually international jet entry point), temperature and rainfall data for each month of the year, best times to visit, and general information about available facilities. In most cases, contact information, such as telephone, fax number, and e-mail address, is included to allow the reader to check for up-to-date information on the country and the principal reserves. A bibliography lists references we found useful.

 

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