Boma and Bandingilo are two separate national parks located along the passage of what is now recognised as one of Africa’s largest mammal migrations. Distinct in size and character, and separated by hundreds of kilometres, the two parks are connected via the Jonglei corridor. Together, they play pivotal roles in preserving the wildlife supported by the wider ecoregion, which also reaches north into the Sudd, Africa’s largest wetland area, collectively covering an area of some 200,000km².
When researchers began returning to South Sudan following decades of war, they were astonished at what they discovered in the vast grasslands east of the White Nile. Herds of white-eared kob, tiang, and other ungulates – such as Mongalla gazelle and reedbuck – were to be found in staggering numbers. It had been assumed that pressures arising from conflict would have severely impacted these populations. Miraculously, white-eared kob and tiang still numbered in the hundreds of thousands, while the migration as a whole is now estimated to be over a million strong. Conservationists quickly recognised they were witnessing a mammal migration that in size was second only to the Serengeti migration across Tanzania and Kenya.
At approximately 20,000km², Boma is South Sudan’s biggest national park by far, rivalling South Africa’s Kruger National Park in scale – for perspective, both are close in size to Israel. Expansive and largely flat terrain is intermittently interrupted by forested hills which become larger and more dramatic in the east. Migrating herds arrive from the banks of the Nile in the south and travel north-eastward through Boma, before crossing the Ethiopian border towards Gambella National Park. Other notable wildlife includes lion, leopard, wild dog, the endangered Nubian giraffe, and elephant, as well as 400 species of bird.
Bandingilo, meanwhile, is roughly half the size of Boma, spanning the border of South Sudan’s southernmost states of Central Equatoria and Eastern Equatoria. The southwestern tip of the park extends out in the direction of Juba, stopping a mere 22km from the capital, close to the bank of the White Nile. Considered an extremely pretty part of the country, Bandingilo’s habitats vary from seasonal floodplains to Sahelian savanna through to woodland. Here too, the vast migratory herds move through the park on a scale almost unseen on the continent. The park is also home to the Nubian giraffe, cheetah, lion, spotted hyena, and caracal.
For centuries these lands have been home to a variety of distinct ethnic groups, such as the Murle, Jie, Dinka and Anuak, which sustainably hunted migrating antelope as a complement to pastoral practices. However, the years of recent conflict saw a marked increase in animals being poached, both for bushmeat and commercial purposes. Both parks were impacted, though Bandingilo’s proximity to Juba meant it was particularly badly affected. While the risk of war is now thankfully a thing of the past, economic pressures are leading to renewed interest in the region’s natural resources, particularly its oil reserves. This could result in major infrastructure projects and the potential growth of tiny settlements into full-scale towns, all of which would significantly impact migration patterns in this pristine ecosystem.
Fortunately, a ray of hope arrived in 2022 with the signing of a ten-year renewable management agreement between the NGO African Parks and the South Sudanese government, protecting two million hectares of land across both parks. In another promising development, the wider Boma-Badingilo Migration Landscape has been presented for UNESCO World Heritage Status. If successful, this too would significantly strengthen conservation efforts throughout this spectacular natural wonder.
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