Remarkably, especially for a country like South Africa with its well-established network of reserves, only about 2,560 km of the Succulent Karoo, or 2.5 percent of the land area, is protected, with only 1,890 km (1.8 percent) in IUCN categories I to IV. The largest of the statutory reserves, the 1,624 km² Richtersveld National Park, is governed by an arrangement between the South African government and the community that lives there. Economic benefits and grazing rights are granted to the community in exchange for national park status of the communally owned land.
There are more than 900 nationally threatened plant species in the hotspot, and the present system of protected areas is inadequate for the preservation of all its biodiversity. Two new developments, however, are positive signs for the region's future. First, the reserve system is expanding throughout the hotspot. The creation of the Namaqua National Park (600 km) in the central uplands of Namaqualand is an example of one such positive development, and the park is set to expand westwards to encompass Sandveld habitats on the coastal plain.
Second, public awareness of the rich natural heritage of the Succulent Karoo is growing, thanks in large part to the Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Programme (SKEP). SKEP is the result of a one-year planning exercise that combined a rigorous scientific process with broad land-user participation to identify and generate consensus for a 20-year Conservation and Sustainable Land-use Strategy for the Succulent Karoo Hotspot. SKEP aims to meet quantitative targets for the conservation of vegetation types and globally threatened and endemic species at particular sites, as well as critical ecological and evolutionary processes that must be conserved to ensure the persistence of these species. The increased public awareness that SKEP has raised, of the importance and fragility of the Succulent Karoo, has yielded increased efforts of landowners to adopt biodiversity-friendly land-use patterns, and, fortunately, funds have become available to help fuel this interest.
Building on the SKEP framework, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund has allocated $8 million over five years to support civil society groups and conservation initiatives in the Succulent Karoo. A key objective is to test and expand innovative approaches that will involve people of the region to support sustainable development and promote conservation of this unique treasure.