Bigger, better Marakele Park

2 September 2003

A new enlarged Marakele National Park has been launched in Limpopo province as part of SA National Parks’ (SANParks’) programme to increase South Africa’s protected areas to 10% of land mass by 2010.

The 110 000 hectare park is the result of a private-public deal, the first of its kind in the country and a potential model for future biodiversity management in SA.

Marakele National Park incorporates the original Marakele park in the Waterberg Mountains in the western part of Limpopo Province, the 34 000 hectare Welgevonden private game reserve, and the 20 000 hectare Marakele contractual park owned by Dutch businessman and conservationist Paul van Vlissingen.

Limpopo Premier Ngoako Ramatlhodi, speaking at the launch of the park in Thabazimbi, said the land consolidation plan would help complete the province’s “golden horseshoe” of protected areas along its northwestern, northern and northeastern boundaries.

The consolidation plan was funded mainly by Van Vlissingen. The enlarged park will be run by a management company, Marakele (Pty) Ltd, set up by Van Vlissingen. The company will be responsible for the development of the park, particularly in respect of fencing, rehabilitation and the introduction of new game.

According to The Citizen newspaper, SANParks will receive 4% of turnover on all commercial operations on its land, increasing to between 6% and 8% as this land is bought back. SANParks will also receive 50% of the entrance fee paid by all visitors to the contractual park.

Van Vlissingen, who bought up farms in the area for twice their market price, will remain the owner of the contractual park until it is bought back by the state at the price he paid for it plus inflation.

Van Vlissingen told The Citizen that he was “looking to give something back to Africa. I am not looking for wealth. I want to do something that is good for the planet and for the people”.

Van Vlissingen plans to draw in private investors to build exclusive, upmarket lodges in the reserve, as well as to provide accommodation more affordable for local visitors.

All fences between the parks were removed last week in terms of agreements between SANParks and the Welgevonden Land Owners Association, enabling wildlife – including elephant, white and black rhinoceros, buffalo, hyena, cheetah, wild dog, giraffe and eland – to move freely in a wider area.

The Marakele also plays an important role in the conservation of the Cape vulture, with up to 900 pairs recorded there, making it the largest colony in Africa.

Ramatlhodi paid tribute to Van Vlissingen and SANParks chief executive Mavuso Msimang, whose joint efforts ensured the success of the Marakele initiative, calling it a boost for tourism to the province.

SANParks chairman Murphy Morobe said the Marakele project was part of his board’s ongoing expansion programme, aimed at increasing the scope of protected areas in South Africa from the current 6.5% of land volume to 10% by 2010.

“A lack of finance has slowed this expansion programme, and partnerships with the private sector will therefore become increasingly important in the future,” Morobe said, adding that the agreement with Van Vlissingen could serve as a model for the establishment of new parks in the future.

The launch was also attended by prominent guests, including former president Nelson Mandela and veteran conservation patron Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands. reporter

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