Safeguarding the Kruger

Time of article published Apr 13, 2012

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The idea of change rarely sits easy with nature parks. Their very purpose is to keep important pockets of the natural environment the way they are, as free as possible of human interference.

The reality, though, is that parks have to justify their existence beyond their conservation role, compelling as their service as wildlife sanctuaries might be.

They have to pay their way. Striking a balance between conservation and development for the sake of attracting more visitors, thereby contributing to the upkeep of reserves, is not always easy. But the overriding consideration is that parks cannot be considered safe unless they enjoy the overwhelming support of the establishment of the day as indeed of the broad population. It is in this respect that there must surely be understanding of SANParks’ review of its parks’ ability to attract not only more tourists but more black people.

It is a concern that nearly two decades into our all-race democracy there are still so few black people going to parks. As worrying must be the indifference, if not animosity, which years of alienation seem to have left among many communities living right next to reserves. This must change.

South Africa is richly endowed with natural attractions. Ideally the government should be investing heavily in their protection, more so as tourism has been singled out as one of the country’s big job creators and economic drivers.

But with money and resources having to go into meeting other priorities such as in the education, health and welfare fields, it is largely left to the parks administrations to look after the wellbeing of our parks.

While the political, economic and social determinants are compelling, the development of facilities and infrastructure in our reserves should nevertheless keep being approached with circumspection.

It should never unduly harm the natural environment, as it is in the protection they give to precious parts of nature, and in the escape they offer us from the pressures of modern life to the wilderness as it once was, that lies the magic of our nature reserves.

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