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Africa's mega peace parks.

The dream of creating vast game park areas that straddle several African countries is getting closer to becoming a reality with every passing day. The conservation and tourism benefits are immense but problems could also multiply. Stephen Williams reports.

One of Africa's largest game parks, the Kruger National Park, stretches almost the entire length of South Africa's Transvaal border with Mozambique and is claimed to have the greatest variety of wildlife of any park in Africa. It is home to an estimated population of 1,500 lion, 8,000 elephant, 2,500 rhino, 2,000 hippo and 5,000 giraffe. It also boasts over 500 species of birdlife, more than 50 species of fish, 35 species of amphibian and over 100 species of reptile.

The plant life of the park is equally diverse, varying from tropical to subtropical with some temperate species occurring at higher altitudes. Nearly 2,000 species of vascular plants have been identified in the park.

The Kruger is also recognised as of great archaeological value, with the recent discovery of a site at Thulamela Hill dating from the gold and ivory cultures that prevailed from 1200AD to around 1640AD.

As if all this is not enough, if all goes to plan, the Kruger National Park may become part of a bigger and better 'transfontier conservation area' stretching across two of South Africa's borders and into a number of private game reserves that border it. Discussions are currently underway to link up the Kruger National Park with Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou National Park, the Bhanhine-Zinave National Parks of Mozambique and neighbouring private game farms to create the Kruger/Banhine-Zinave/Gonarezhou Transfrontier Conservation Area (K/BZ/G TFCA). A development of the Peace Parks Foundation, a nonprofit-making company formed two years ago under the chairmanship of Dr Anton Rupert, this entity will create a park of some 96,000 sq kms.

With the stated aims of contributing to local and national economies by encouraging employment through tourist revenues, providing pools of protected bio-diversity, and stimulating co-operation between neighbouring countries, the Peace Parks Foundation has attracted a high level of political support. The heads of state of Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe have all agreed to be honorary patrons.

The South African National Parks Board has struggled for some years to accommodate the growing number of visitors - some 900,000 per annum - to the Kruger, while the remote Gonarezhou receives just 5,000 visitors, simply not enough to cover the Zimbabwean park's annual running costs. By creating a corridor for wildlife to migrate, and tourists to use, the understocked Gonarezhou and Banhine-Zinave could take a fair proportion of the Kruger's overspill, particularly of elephant which are concentrated in the north of the Kruger. This would eliminate the necessity to cull hundreds of animals a year in the Kruger just to keep the elephant herds within sustainable levels.

Opposition to the project

Although economies of scale and joint management agreements seem to benefit all parties, not everyone is enamoured with the project. The Zimbabwe Farmer's Union (ZFU) is up in arms at the prospect of the removal of fences allowing the unrestricted movement of South African game into Zimbabwe. They point to the very real danger of disease transmission, in particular the risk to their valuable beef herds from bovine tuberculosis carried by several of the Kruger's mammal species, including buffalo.

The many years of civil war in Mozambique, coupled with recurrent droughts and the lack of adequate management has resulted in a serious decline in the quality of the country's wildlife centres. No systematic survey had been undertaken for over 20 years until the Peace Parks Foundation facilitated World Bank funding to conduct viability studies.

Over two thirds of the new park's total area is in Mozambique territory, and this vast sector will require focused attention to address the problems of increased human encroachment and associated deforestation, ongoing poaching and the lack of staff and funds needed to restock its much depleted numbers of large and medium-sized mammals. These problems will need to be addressed before the Kruger/Mozambique game fence is dismantled.

It will take many years before the border fences of the three countries involved are removed and replaced by the wider TFCA boundary fences, but meanwhile work continues apace to realise the huge potential that exists, especially in Mozambique, for new eco-tourism development projects. In fact the K/BZ/G TFCA project is just one of an original seven proposed Peace Parks. Last April, the Presidents of South Africa and Botswana signed the treaty that links South Africa's Gemsbok National Park with Botswana's Kalahari Gemsbok National Park to form the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

The two countries will still retain sovereignty but pool resources, share revenues and co-operate in a joint management plan. Under the agreement, visitors will only have to complete formalities once on entry and are then free to travel unhindered throughout the entire 38,000 sq km semi-desert park, provided they stay in their vehicles unless in fenced camps.

The Kgalagadi project was relatively straight forward, involving only two governments and their existing national parks, but the project's success has clearly encouraged progress with other proposed TFCA areas. These are the 6,222 sq km Richterveld/AisAis TFCA and 2,774 sq km Garlep TFCA, which are on different stretches of the Orange River, which constitutes the border between Namibia and South Africa; the 4,872 sq km Dongola/Limpopo TFCA centred on the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe Rivers between Botswana and South Africa; the 4,195 sq km Maputaland TFCA which straddles the Mozambique, Swaziland and South African borders and the 8,113 sq km Drakensburg/Maloti TFCA between Lesotho and South Africa which contains the largest and most important high-altitude protected area in the sub-continent.

Local communities to benefit

An important consideration for the Peace Parks Foundation with any of the proposed TFCAs is the question of communities occupying land within those areas. They are to be offered the choice of leasing the land to the TFCA and being given priority consideration for training and employment within the park's management and tourist developments, or to continue their lives within the TFCA boundaries but protected by fences from the wildlife. Indeed, within the K/BZ/G TFCA, peoples that had previously been expelled from the Kruger in 1969, the Makuleke, have had the title to their 23,000 hectares of ancestral land returned to them and been offered the same choice. They have chosen to lease the land to the TFCA and share in the profits of eco-tourism.

Similar sensitive negotiations are involved with private game parks and farms that fall within, or neighbour, the proposed TFCAs to secure the widest cooperation possible.

Dr Anton's extraordinary vision is of vast tracts of national parks, conservation areas and wildlife sanctuaries being linked to form seamless corridors of wildlife habitats throughout Africa. The dream seems to have a dynamic all of its own. The more progress that is made, the more the objectives of the Peace Park Foundation are being recognised as a valuable tool for conserving and promoting what is generally recognised as Africa's greatest tourist attraction, her wealth of wildlife.

Latest reports speak of two huge new areas under consideration. Detailed studies are underway studying the viability of linking the Hwange, Victoria Falls and Upper Zambezi in Zimbabwe with the Kafue National Park of Zambia.

The other area surrounds Lake Malawi, with the further possibility of including the Nyassa National Park of Mozambique, and the Selous and Ruaha National Parks of southern Tanzania.
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Title Annotation:game parks
Author:Williams, Stephen
Publication:African Business
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Oct 1, 1999
Previous Article:Protecting Africa's greatest asset.
Next Article:South Africa's winter of discontent.

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