French Language Sacred Natural Sites Guidelines Launched

Today at the Indigenous Forum of the International Congress of Ethnobiology the IUCN - UNESCO Sacred Natural Sites Guidelines - French Language Version were launched.

The Guidelines are part of the Protected Area Best Practice Guideline Series of the World Commission on Protected Areas. They provide advice to protected area managers how to support the biological and cultural values of sacred natural sites.

Sites naturels sacrés - IUCN Best Practice Guideline no. 16, French

First launched in 2008 at the World Conservation Congress, the full guidelines have been translated into Russian, Spanish and Estonian with Japanese at advanced stage.

"Our Zwifho (sacred natural sites) are facing many threats, especially from tourism and mining", said Mphatheleni Makaulule, from Dzomo la Mupo, a group of community members and site custodians that unites the custodian clans of sacred sites in the rural Venda region, northern South Africa. "The knowledge of how to protect Zwifho is held in the memory of the elders, especially the women custodians called VHOMakhadzi. These IUCN-UNESCO guidelines have helped us by giving custodian clans of Zwifho,local communities, Venda elders and young children from custodians clans, confidence to stand up for defending the zwifho. They support our conviction that zwifhos are not just a local concern of outdated indigenous demonic ways, but an internationally recognized issue. It is pleasing to see them translated into other languages so other communities can benefit. We have confidence when we are confronted,and we the custodians we request recognitions to protect our Zwifho.‘’

As a response to the Guidelines, indigenous and local communities are developing their own principles for the conservation and use of their sites. This was one of the initiatives discussed by participants at the Indigenous Forum Day on Sacred Lands at the congress.

Ken Wilson, Executive Director of the Christensen Fund, said during the launch:"We have been really pleased to have supported this IUCN guidelines project since the start and it is good to see others stepping in and helping it grow, we feel a productive partnership between indigenous guardians of nature and the conservation movement has a great opportunity to face the challenges of cultural and biological erosion that concern us all".

Sacred natural sites, that is sacred wells, groves, forests wetlands, mountains and other natural features with spiritual values, are an almost universal phenomenon found in every country across the globe. They encode sustainable relationships between people and nature that stretch back into human history. While many have survived into the modern era, they are now facing tremendous threats from development pressure and cultural change, including from mining, infrastructure and climate change impacts.

"We are now really worried, as we hear about another sacred natural site under threat every day", stated Robert Wild, lead author and co-editor of the Guidelines. “These places that are so valuable to many cultures also support all kinds of rare plants and animals that are inexorably nudging into extinction. As well as the dramatic increase in mining due in part to the economic crisis, many sites are facing rapid cultural changes that are lending them vulnerable to increased exploitation and harm."

Robert went on to say "We are, however, encouraged by the response to the Guidelines and particularly the number of communities that are stepping forward to translate them into their own languages. The short form of the guidelines (5 pages) is now available in Persian, Italian, Chinese and Czech, and we invite other communities to take up the challenge of translating them into their language as well.".

The French translation of the Guidelines was taken forward by the IUCN’s Protected Areas Programme for West and Central Africa, IUCN-PAPACO, funded by the project on biodiversity and protected areas conservation (BIPA) of GEF, through the World Bank. The Sacred Natural Sites Guidelines Project, including translations and testing, is being taken forward by the IUCN Specialist Group on the Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas (CSVPA) and the Sacred Natural Sites Initiative , with support from many organizations and individuals.

The International Congress of Ethnobiology is hosted by the International Society of Ethnobiology, and held every two years. It brings together scientists, indigenous people, local communities and representatives of the conservation movement.

For more information contact Robert Wild at


Work area: 
Global Policy
Protected Areas
Protected Areas
West and Central Africa
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