A backgrounder to our speaker on Thursday, December 15, ecologist Brian Huntley, as excerpted from the Sonangol magazine, Universo, March 2011

New Nature Conservation Areas

 One of the fathers of Angolan ecology and conservation is Brian Huntley, a renowned conservation scientist who has worked across Africa and until recently headed the South African National Biodiversity Institute.

Huntley has played a major role in shaping environmental sensibility and research in Angola.  His work includes the development plans for existing and new protected areas, as well as closely examining wildlife populations in the southern Namibe Desert right up to lush Cabinda rainforests in the north.

Huntley’s research has resulted in 28 separate reports on the conservation and management of biodiversity in Angola, many of which serve as the basis for mapping and current scientific research. 

Although officially retired, for the past year Huntley, Emeritus Professor at the University of Cape Town, has been working with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), developing an environmental programme for Angola in partnership with the Angolan Government.

A large part of this is about creating the Angolan Protected Area Expansion Strategy (APAES) to preserve critical areas of natural interest. There are 11 target areas, mainly moist lowland, escarpment and montane forest systems, covering a total of 11800 square kilometers.

Huntley told Universo: “There’s a very narrow window of opportunity left in Angola to identify and protect important areas, as in those which haven’t yet been developed or inhabited, because once development starts, it’s much more difficult to protect an area.”

As part of his APAES work, this year Huntley will be travelling to a remote part of Lunda Norte, one of the target areas, for a mapping exercise.

“It’s a very important area, he explained. “It has the largest lake in Angola, white-water rivers, gallery forests, extensive woodlands, and the landscapes are stunning, and almost completely devoid of human occupation. It is in pristine condition, barely visited by humans and will be perfect for a national park.”

The Lunda Norte team will be made up of mostly Angolan students, hand-picked by Huntley who is passionate about furthering home-grown scientific research.

“For many years, perhaps as many as 30, there have been very few Angolan scientists and very few who have studied their own environment, which has led to some serious gaps in local knowledge” he said.

“But I am quite encouraged by a new generation of Angolan graduates who are showing new enthusiasm to finding out more about their own country.

“Many have been lucky enough to have been educated abroad or have had the chance to travel – but they are certainly more willing to go into the bush to discover their own country.”

Huntley said it was important that Angolans became interested in their own environment because it would foster a great sensibility in the future.

“There are several generations who for various reasons are not familiar with environmental sensibility and until now, there has been a lack of political will to confront the issues,” he explained.

He said much work was required to help Angola protect its valuable natural resources – but he said the outlook was increasingly positive.