Malik Marjan, a Ph.D. Student in Environmental Conservation, voted on Sunday.  He is one of more than 3 million people in Southern Sudan that are expected to vote during 9-15 January in a referendum to create a new nation in Eastern Africa. The referendum is the last stage of the Comprehensive Peace Agreed (CPA) signed in 2005 in Kenya ending two decades of war between South and North Sudan and, if passed, will create Africa’s newest state with an estimated area about 640,000 km2 and a population of about 12 million people.

Secession will mean a lot in terms of establishing a permanent end to a long and protracted war, which cost the lives of an estimated 2.5 million people.  South Sudan will have control over its resources and development; this means a lot because Southern Sudan accounts to about 85% of the oil production of Sudan and also is rich in natural resources including wildlife, minerals, and arable lands.  However, it remains extremely underdeveloped as a result of previous imbalances and inequality in development in the country, and is regarded one of the poorest areas in the world

In particular, this is an unprecedented opportunity for wildlife conservation, sustainable natural resource management, and environmentally friendly ecotourism to be integrated into the nation-building process.  Historically, Southern Sudan had tremendous wildlife populations little affected by hunting or agricultural development.  During the 20 years of war, populations of large mammals, in particular, were thought to have been decimated. In 2007, however, Malik Marjan helped carry out aerial surveys in the southeastern part of South Sudan where he is focusing his Ph.D. research.  The surveys revealed what is regarded as one of the world’s largest herds of migratory wildlife – 800,000 white-eared kob, 500,000 tiang antelope, and 250,000 Mongalla gazelles – in vast tracts of savannas, wetlands and woodlands that have remained largely intact.  Since then, Malik has monitored kob and tiang with satellite radiocollars to document their annual migrations and is collecting important information on utilization of wildlife by local peoples in and near Boma National Park, a major focus area for these migrations.

Malik’s task is to collect information that will help the government establish conservation and sustainable natural resource management as part of the region’s development strategy.  Wildlife migrations, along with pristine savanna and wetland habitat, could become one of the greatest tourism attractions in Africa and a key component of Southern Sudan’s growth and economic security.  Local communities that depend on natural resources must also benefit from integration of conservation in land-use planning.  A sound conservation and resource management agenda will enable the people and government of Southern Sudan to move toward a free and stable democratic nation.