Supporting our World Heritage

Virunga National ParkUNESCO natural World Heritage Sites (WHS), covering less than 1% of the world’s surface, are recognised as being of Outstanding Universal Value to humanity and as such are the flagship of the global network of protected areas.  However, many of these important sites are threatened by industrial development, illegal activities and other threats, compounded by inadequate or unclear legal status, insufficient funding and low management capacity. ZSL is working with stakeholders and partners at a number of scales to ensure the long-term integrity of our natural World Heritage.

ZSL work on natural World Heritage

ZSL is working with World Heritage site managers, national governments, the private sector, other NGO partners, the IUCN World Heritage Programme and UNESCO to better monitor, manage and protect our natural World Heritage.

Supporting site management

ZSL works in a number of World Heritage sites around the world, building the capacity of protected area authorities to better manage and monitor their sites in the face of unprecedented levels of poaching, habitat loss and other threats.  ZSL is a founding member of the SMART Partnership, a ground-breaking protected area monitoring and adaptive management support system already employed in a number of World Heritage sites and planned for more, and has developed an ecological monitoring plug-in for SMART as well as pioneered the adaptation of SMART for use by other stakeholders in neighbouring community-managed areas and private concessions.  In addition, ZSL is developing a number of other ground-based monitoring tools, such as Instant Wild, a remote camera trap monitoring and alert system harnessing novel citizen science mobile app technology to enable real-time monitoring of wildlife and threats and facilitate anti-poaching and other law enforcement responses.

Setting up a camera trap in Virunga National Park

Monitoring the status and trends of World Heritage sites

We are committed to supporting IUCN’s World Heritage Outlook monitoring system, the first global assessment of all natural World Heritage sites and the action needed to achieve excellence in their conservation.  ZSL is proud to be one of the first official Outlook Partners . 

Our site-based monitoring systems can be used to ground-truth satellite-based remote sensing information to provide a more accurate and wider-scale assessment of the state of biodiversity in and threats to World Heritage sites. ZSL manages a number of global biodiversity indices and has adapted the Living Planet Index (an indicator of population trends), to monitor biodiversity trends in or across World Heritage sites. We are looking for wildlife survey data from World Heritage sites around the world to help on this – please download the call below and get in touch if you can help!

Download our call for World Heritage site data 

Improved civil society support of the World Heritage Convention

ZSL is working with other NGOs to:

  1. find common ground regarding some key issues such as ‘no-go’ and ‘no-impact’ policies for industrial activity in and around World Heritage sites and
  2. collaborate to better engage with the WHC process and provide coordinated and improved technical support.

Read more in our blog

Learn more about the African Natural World Heritage Site Support Network (ANWHSSN)

Evaluating regulatory frameworks

With 191 signatories to the World Heritage Convention, nearly every country in the world has committed to protect World Heritage for future generations under the framework of the Convention and the decisions of the World Heritage Committee. ZSL is working with Legal Atlas to analyse the national interpretation and implementation of the Convention, initially for a set of case study sites including: Dja Faunal Reserve in Cameroon and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, as well as the policies and safeguards set by development banks and voluntary certification bodies.  This information can be used to evaluate the basis for World Heritage protection as well as track the impact of regulatory changes on the state of World Heritage sites.

Engaging with the private sector

The growing demand for natural resources has placed an increasing number of UNESCO natural World Heritage sites under threat from industrial expansion, recently in particular from extractive activities.  While a number of companies and industry groups in the mining, oil/gas and finance sectors have committed to ‘no-go’ policies of varying scope for World Heritage sites, many other companies have yet to make such a pledge, and action by other key stakeholders beyond the private sector is also necessary to ensure effective, universal protection for World Heritage sites. We are engaged with extractive and finance companies and industry groups to look at how we can work together to better safeguard World Heritage.

Scale of extractive threats on World Heritage Sites

Examples of where we work

Chitwan National Park
ZSL has a long history supporting Chitwan National Park in Nepal, one of the last Bengal tiger and endangered greater one-horned rhino strongholds in Asia, assisting with rhino translocations and anti-poaching patrols to counter the threats from a growing human population and poaching

Dja Faunal Reserve

ZSL is working with the protected area authorities, timber companies and local communities in and around this World Heritage site in southern Cameroon, to build capacity to counter the increasing threat from bushmeat hunting and the illegal wildlife trade, to ensure best practice of commercial timber operations in the area and to support land use planning to reduce the threat from oil palm expansion. 

Virunga National Park

ZSL has been working in Virunga since 2002, with recent activities relating to our work on the elusive okapi, found in Virunga’s northern forests, and to highlight the threat from oil development via activities such as an award-winning documentary film, VIRUNGA and news highlighting the potential impact on the remaining okapi.

ZSL review of extractives and World Heritage

We have produced a review of the issues and suggestions on how to address the increasing threats to natural WHSs from extractives activities, including:

  • a review of regulatory frameworks for natural World Heritage protection
  • a survey of extractives and finance company policies on World Heritage sites
  • issues regarding data availability and accuracy on extractives activities in relation to natural World Heritage sites at different spatial scales
  • the actual and potential impacts on three case study natural World Heritage Sites (Virunga National Park, Dja Faunal Reserve and the Great Barrier Reef)
  • recommendations for multiple stakeholders to better safeguard natural WHSs from these threats.

NGO call for action on extractives and World Heritage

At the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney in November 2014, ZSL led a coalition of 9 of the world’s leading conservation NGOs to call for action to address the increasing threat to natural World Heritage sites from the extractives sector.

Read our call to action:

FIND OUT more here



Dr Noëlle Kümpel, Policy Programme Manager