11 August 2003
One of the biggest conservation areas in the world has been signed officially into being, with South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe opening their borders to create a 35 000km² animal kingdom – leading the way in one of the boldest cross-border initiatives currently unfolding in southern Africa: the development of transfrontier parks.
The presidents of the three countries signed the historic Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park Treaty in Xai-Xai, Mozambique in December 2002, officially launching the continent’s biggest game park, bringing together some of the best, most established wildlife areas in southern Africa.
The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park includes South Africa’s world-famous Kruger National Park, with its extraordinary abundance of wildlife, established infrastructure and tourism base, Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou National Park, renowned for its geological splendour, and the newly developed Limpopo National Park in Mozambique.
While the total surface area of the transfrontier park is approximately 35 000km² – about the size of Israel – the park is seen as the first phase in the eventual establishment of a transfrontier conservation area measuring a staggering 100 000 km².
Much work remains to be done on the joint park, including the building of infrastructure and the accommodation of more than 20 000 villagers living inside the Mozambican section. The organisers say that villagers who choose not to leave will be protected from wild animals by fences around their villages; under the park’s charter, there will be no forced relocation of people.
- Great Limpopo Park takes shape
Up to 120km of electric fencing separating the Kruger and Limpopo national parks will gradually be removed to allow animals to migrate freely across the borders. South Africa recently launched a three-year operation to release thousands of animals from Kruger to the Mozambican park. The first translocation was conducted in October last year, and 1 130 animals have been translocated to date.
Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou park will be linked to the South African side via a corridor, to be built first for people and only later for animals.
The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park’s boundaries are in yellow. The brown cross-shaded part of the map represents areas that could eventually be incorporated into the park. (Image: Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park)
Within the new park, tourists will be able to drive across international boundaries in the three countries with minimal fuss. In addition to the usual game-viewing opportunities, visitors will have a broad range of new attractions, including bird-rich tropical wetlands, lake cruises, tiger fishing, rugged 4×4 adventure drives, and much more. A mix of cultural experiences will also be offered, with traditional healers explaining their trade, story-telling, foods, dance, music, handicraft and art to explore and enjoy.
The individual parks will continue to operate as separate entities, but will be branded as part of the transnational park. A joint management committee comprising three representatives from each country will oversee management of the joint park and rationalise its rules.
The new park will boost regional co-operation between the three countries, promote peace and security in the region, and help deal with illegal animal poaching. It will restore the integrity of an ecosystem artificially segmented by colonial boundaries, opening up the natural migratory routes of African elephants, endangered species such as the roan antelope, and other animals.
Tourism will also be a big winner. According to Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Mohammed Valli Moosa, the park “will open to the world the biggest ever animal kingdom, increasing foreign investment into the region and creating much-needed jobs for our people, further acting as a symbol of peace and unity for the African people.’
President Thabo Mbeki said the park is part of South Africa’s attempt to reverse biodiversity loss by 2010 – a global target adopted at this year’s World Summit on Sustainable Development.
The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park is at the forefront of one of the boldest cross-border initiatives currently unfolding in southern Africa – the development of Transfrontier Parks and Transfrontier Conservation Areas.
It is hoped that the park will serve as a model for up to 21 others being planned across Africa. “Peace parks” in various stages of development in the southern African region include:
- The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park links 37 991 km² of Kalahari across the borders of South Africa and Botswana. Officially opened in May 2000.
- The Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation and Development Programme covers over 8 000 km² of the mountains that straddle the northeastern border between Lesotho and South Africa. Expected to be complete within two years.
- The |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Conservation Park merges Namibia’s |Ai-|Ais Hot Springs Game Park with South Africa’s Richtersveld National Park. The treaty establishing the park was signed in August 2003.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, officially opened in May 2000, has been de facto in existence since 1948 through a verbal agreement between South Africa and Botswana.
The 37 991 km² transfrontier park consisted originally of the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana (proclaimed in 1971) and the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa (proclaimed in 1931), and was subsequently extended to incorporate the Mabuasehube Game Reserve.
This park, 27% of which is in South Africa and the remainder in Botswana, represents a large ecosystem relatively free of human influence, an increasingly rare phenomenon in Africa.
Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation and Development Programme
The Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation and Development Programme covers over 8 000 km² of the mountains that straddle the northeastern border between Lesotho and South Africa. These mountains form the highest areas in the sub-region, and support unique montane and sub-alpine ecosystems as well as spectacular scenery.
The area consists of a number of proclaimed provincial nature reserves in South Africa and a National Park in Lesotho.
South Africa and Lesotho signed a memorandum of understanding in June 2001 initiating the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation and Development Project and, for the first time, allowing mutual management of nature conservation areas such as the Sehlaba-Thebe National Park in Lesotho and the uKhahlamba Park in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa.
In July 2002 an agreement was signed at ministerial level between the two countries, leading to a R62-million grant by the World Bank’s Global Environment Facility.
The project seeks to protect the biodiversity of the areas between the two countries through conservation, sustainable resource use and development planning, while boosting ecotourism and helping to alleviate poverty in the border region.
The project, the largest of its kind in Lesotho and the first bilateral conservation project between the mountain kingdom and South Africa, will cover just over 5 170 km² in Lesotho and 2 943 km² on the South African side, is expected to be completed in two years.
|Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Conservation Park
The |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Conservation Park (TFCP) spans about 5 086 km² of some of the most spectacular scenery of the arid and desert environments in southern Africa. It merges Namibia’s |Ai-|Ais Hot Springs Game Park, which incorporates the famous Fish River Canyon, with South Africa’s Richtersveld National Park, which is owned by the Richtersveld communities but contractually managed by South African National Parks.
South Africa and Namibia signed a memorandum of understanding in August 2001 paving the way for the establishment of the park, and in August 2003 signed the treaty establishing the park.
Besides the Fish River Canyon – often likened to the Grand Canyon in the USA – and the |Ai-|Ais Hot Springs, the Richtersveld is situated in one of the most species-rich arid zones in the world, making the transfrontier park an undisputed biodiversity hotspot.
The Richtersveld National Park is also regarded as a role model for a new approach to conservation, which incorporates local people into management. Because of these assets, South African National Parks will soon be applying for the Richtersveld National Park to be recognised as a World Heritage Site.
Bisected by the Orange River, which forms the border between the two countries, the transfrontier park offers enormous potential for development as a viable conservation area.
In particular, the Namibian section of the peace park could in future be expanded to include the entire Namibian coastline and to link up with the Iona National Park in Angola. An expansion on both sides along the Orange River, to link up with the Orange River Mouth Transfrontier Conservation Area to the west and the Augrabies Falls National Park in the east on the South African side, is also a possibility.
Combining all these areas could lead eventually to the creation of the third-largest protected area in the world, spanning over 19 million hectares.