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As a leading conservation authority, SANParks is a public entity under the jurisdiction of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE), where inclusive conservation as opposed to previous policies of exclusion is central to advancing the policies in line with the National Development Framework for Sustainable Development and the National Development Plan.

South Africa’s national parks conserve the country’s rich diversity of flora and fauna through a system of 21national parks, including three world heritage sites and ten marine protected areas (in terms of the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act No. 57 of 2003). This represents approximately 70% of state-owned terrestrial protected areas and 22% of state-managed marine protected areas, comprising over four million hectares (ha) on land and almost 370 000 ha at sea. In addition, five parks are integral components of Transfrontier conservation areas with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Lesotho. A key intrinsic value consideration for national parks and marine protected areas as public-good is their promotion of shared natural and cultural heritages as well as their contribution to building national solidarity and pride. Located largely in rural areas, they are catalysts for economic growth which can create employment and transformation in areas that generally lack such opportunities. They also contribute significantly to the preservation of water resources, protect the archaeological and historical record, and safeguard endangered ways of life.

The National Environmental Management Protected Areas Act mandates SANParks to create destinations for nature-based tourism in a manner that is not harmful to the environment. SANParks generates a substantial percentage of its operating budget from its ecotourism business, therefore, the fulfilment of its conservation mandate is heavily reliant on thriving and sustainable tourism operations.