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Nelspruit - Plans are underway to establish a 120 000 hectare central escarpment game reserve, which will be South Africa's fourth largest, according to the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA).
The proposed reserve would extend from the N4 Schoemanskloof Road to the R37 Long Tom Pass road, a Sapa correspondent reported.
“Although the idea is still in its very early days, MTPA is entertaining the possibility of making this reserve a reality,” said MTPA senior manager for protected areas expansion and establishment Brian Morris.
An interim goal for the venture was to fence the entire proposed area and introduce manageable numbers of game, including impala, zebra, blue wildebeest, eland and giraffe.
Sudwala Lodge manager Oscar Osberg, who helped develop the proposal for the new game reserve, said the ultimate goal for the reserve would be to introduce the Big Five.
“The absence of larger herbivores has led to areas which are wildly overgrown and almost inaccessible, so these animals will need to be introduced to make way for the Big Five,” he said.
In May a process was launched to ask local residents and other interested parties for their comments and advice about the possible establishment of the reserve.
“Such a proposed reserve is a massive undertaking, which can only be successful if all landowners and stakeholders in the potentially affected area support the initiative,” Osberg said.
The land where the reserve would be established is now used for forestry, farming and tourism, among other things.
“The proposed reserve will be managed to accommodate all these diverse forms of current land use by utilising mitigation measures such as fencing and using technology to monitor and manage potentially dangerous game,” said Osberg.
The area currently contains three existing game reserves - the Buffelskloof, Makobulaan, and Wonderkloof nature reserves.
However, Morris said the development of the central escarpment reserve was currently not at the top of the MTPA’s priority list.
“Savannah conservation areas are already well-established, and at the moment we are focusing on establishing protected environments in the threatened grassland and wetland ecosystems in the Highveld of the province, which are under-represented.”
The 62 000ha Chrissiesmeer Protected Environment (CPE), currently being developed, would represent the largest protected environment in South Africa’s grasslands biome.
The initiative is the result of collaborative efforts from the MTPA, BirdLife SA, the Endangered Wildlife Trust and more than 60
“A similar joint effort will be needed to accommodate the central escarpment reserve,” Morris said.
Philip Owen, the chairman of the Houtbosloop Environment Action Link, said the reserve would be unique as it would incorporate aspects of the Lowveld, Middleveld and Highveld.
“The reserve would boost eco-tourism and job creation. There is more than enough space to accommodate animals and everyone is supportive of the initiative.
“A lot of footwork still needs to be done though,” Owen said.