I am the convenor of the AIKONA GROUP (acronym for Against Interference In Kruger And Our other Nature Assets), we a group of nature lovers we are not SANParks bashers to the contrary we are great supporters of our National Parks but who are opposing the commercialization and exploitation of our National Parks.
Unfortunately certain people were excluded from our Parks before and that was wrong.
The devastating Rinderpest and the onslaught of hunters together with the Anglo Boer War contributed much to the destruction of the game animals of the Lowveld west of the LebomboMountains.
The Kruger National Park, an area of 19487 sq km was proclaimed in 1926. This flagship National Park has a diversity equaled by few; it is home to 336 tree species, 49 fish species, 34 amphibians, 144 reptile, 507 bird and 147 mammal species.
This wonderful place has been home to man for many centuries, Bushman rock paintings mainly in the south, reveal this, together with the archeological sites of Thulamela in the far north near Punda Maria, and Masorini in the northern area between Phalaborwa and the Letaba rest camp.
Much interesting time can be spent studying and enjoying the geology and history of the area.
All these treasures represent cultures and persons and events that played their part in the history of the area what we now know as the KNP.
Col Stevenson Hamilton was appointed Warden of the Sabie and Shingwedzi Game reserves in 1902, a position he held until his retirement in 1946, upon his retirement he pleaded that the area be kept simple and wild.
The tourist numbers have grown from 680 visitors in 1928 to 1 386 000 during the year 2010-2011, for 2009 -2010: 1428000.
The KNP has 2499 km of roads of which 35% is tarred. 906 km of the roads are in the south.
The KNP offers accommodation from budget to economy to family to guest houses and camping sites totaling 6073 beds per day or 2216645 per annum, camping occupancy included in what I have already mentioned totaled 414148 (419433) in 23 rest camps.
Additional to that already mentioned, 7 luxury concessions have been available since 2002 offering a further 300 beds per night.
Occupancy rates are 62% in the rest camps and with an average occupancy rate of 2.83 persons per site, concession occupancy rates were 40%, one of the concessions had earlier this year indicated that they need to renegotiate their contract prematurely as they were no longer viable.
SANParks are the appointed custodians of our National Parks which belong to the citizens of our country.
Much talk is done about saving or protecting our environment which is daily becoming more threatened, there seems to be no end or reversal to this. The poaching of our Rhinos is escalating, te year to date figure amounts to 388 of these magnificent animal being slaughtered in our country – 60% of these animals were slaughtered in the KNP.
Management and tourism plans for the KNP are drawn up and revised every five years.
It was announced in 2009 that SANParks are planning to build a hotel in the southern area which is already overutilized as per the findings in the UNISA report dated 2003.
I may mention to you that 36% of the accommodation on offer in the KNP is already in the Marula (southern) area with a density of .71 per sq km compared to the .31 for the whole of the Park.
The MSR is planned to be built in the KNP on the northern banks of the perennial Crocodile River, the hotel is planned to have 220 beds and all the amenities associated with a four and five star hotel. It will also have 24/7 access, guests will park their cars opposite the Pestano Lodge in the KNP and then be shuttled to and from the hotel as required.
Can you imagine the changes awaiting the guests to the Pestano Lodge?
What is even worse is the impact on the animals which have roamed and frequented the area for many years, longer than we can remember, antelope, predators, nightjars and owls and dikkops and other birds will have to get used to more travelling vehicles and try and evade being trampled by them, especially at night.
The critically endangered Swazi Impala lily is well represented on the sodic pans of the planned terrain. The only known nesting site of the endangered Pels Fishing Owl along the Crocodile River is on the island overlooked by the guests of the MSR.
Imagine the noise and the lights coming from this amenity.
The sound of a moving vehicle can be heard over a distance of five km during the still of the African night, lights are visible over a distance of seventeen km.
At a meeting held 3 May 2011 we were told that construction would commence during October of the same year, at the moment the scoping report has not yet been finalized. Thereafter the EIA has to be carried out and further public participation has to take place. The PR manager of the KNP recently informed the concession holders that construction would commence during October this year, his facts are obviously not correct.
The MSR will be the seventh largest accommodation facility in the KNP, while SANParks also have plans to build a hotel offering between 400 and 500 beds in the Skukuza rest camp for the conference goers.
The decision of SANParks to approve an up market hotel is a major deviation from the ethos established for the KNP over more than a century. The KNP has acquired not only national but also international acclaim for its rich biodiversity and its sound ecological management programmes and the maintenance of its pristine wilderness ambience, which is mandated and delegated to SANParks by the protected areas act of 2003.
In the spirit of the act it is fair to conclude that the only purpose of the provision of facilities should be to provide access to visitors.
The facilities on offer in a National Park or Nature Reserve should never be the main attraction to the area or be seen as a method of income generation at the cost of the primary attraction – being the natural environment and wilderness area.
I have had many discussions with visitors of our National Parks and the vast majority have expressed their intangible source of energy, fulfillment, spiritual enrichment and perfect harmony derived from the KNP.
Genl. Smuts the then leader of the opposition the man WHO seconded the proposal for the proclamation of the KNP and a great carer for Nature, made mention of the Guardian Spirit which broods over this vast solitude where no human pressure is felt, where the human element indeed shrinks into utter insignificance, and where the subtle spirit, older than human spirit, grips you and subdues you and makes you one with itself . .
SANParks are using a formula of 10% of the total area of a National Park being acceptable for development; decide for yourselves if this should be applicable to the KrugerNational Park. The current area developed in the KNP is less than .4%.
The current CEO of SANParks is on record stating that the mentioned guardian spirit means nothing today. The old colonial conservation methods are said to be outdated, we are called purists and old fashioned and anti transformation. This is his opinion; I can tell you today that we are only doing this because we care.
No one can deny that what is scoffed at now was good for Conservation.
Much talk is made about job creation and distribution of wealth. It is a well known fact that SANParks already employ more than 12000 persons and that the KNP contributes more than R2 billion to the economy of the country. It is also said that Government subsidies to our National Parks are being reduced and that our parks should be self sufficient.
Our National parks are already generating 85% of their operating budget. The expected income from the MSR is expected to be R800 000 per annum during its first three years of existence. Is the sacrifice for this pittance not too big?
There is no survey available that indicates that there is a need for hotels in the KNP, if people want to build hotels and create jobs and distribute wealth this can be done much better by having the hotels outside the perimeter of the KNP, accessible to the general public and not restricted to persons in the KNP.
Surveys done by the T&L faculty of the North-West University on request of SANParks have indicated that >85% of the respondents require the KNP to remain as is. >85% of the respondents also indicated that conferences and events are less important or not important at all.
>80% of the respondents indicated that the KNP was preferred as a holiday destination, their reason for visiting the KNP were given as to relax, to get away from routine as well as:
The Big 5 and a variety of wildlife.
The Nature experience and appreciation.
The Unique atmosphere in the Park.
To Experience the peacefulness and tranquility.
The Park’s uniqueness to South Africa.
SANParks have also stated that they would like to increase the number of Black Diamonds visiting the National Parks, this is wonderful but a third of them have already indicated that National parks are too expensive to warrant visiting or staying in them. Special deals on accommodation were rated as being likely to draw Black Diamonds to National Parks.
Family deals would be the key – specifically for the established Black Diamonds.
Black Diamonds who have visited our National Parks have very favourable perceptions of the parks overall.
Much is said about EIA’s not being required during the earlier period for the development of the KNP, that may be so but I may remind those saying this, these studies were thoroughly done in-house by highly qualified scientists of whom many of them having doctorates in Botany and Zoology, many heated arguments resulted in plans being amended or cancelled.
The preservation of pristine qualities of the ecosystems should receive precedence over conflicting tourist facilities,
The provision of tourist facilities should be subject to a zoning system, based on ecological sensitivities.
Developments could only take place within the framework of accepted nature conservation principles and philosophies.
Care had to be taken against over-exploitation.
Insidious influences had to be controlled and monitored, including those that may arise in the future.
This all weighed heavily in the decision making process.
Today SANParks do not have a qualified botanist in the KNP.
During interviews, the absolute majority of the visitors have indicated to me that they would not support hotels in the KNP, it was mentioned that if entertainment was required it was available at institutions like Sun City and the close by Pilanesberg.
Numerous Private Game Reserves are available for visitors who may have the need for a manicured visit to a Game area.
Overseas visitors indicated that their visit to Africa is for an African experience – if they required pampering in hotels they could experience that much closer to home and also much cheaper.
The BANFFNational Park in Alaska is often referred to as an example of an area that was overutilized, Harvey Lock a conservator of the area has warned that Africa should not fall into the same trap.
I have a great concern about who will rehabilitate the area back into its natural state if the venture is not a success, why I am saying this is because the developer replied to a question on this matter, that the area reverts back to SANParks if not viable and it would become their responsibility.
He could also not give me the expected break-even occupancy rate for the MSR.
There are rumours that SANParks are planning a total of six hotels for the KNP, this is currently being denied but only time will tell.
The KNP is a conservation area and cannot be transformed into just another holiday resort.
In conclusion I am appealing to you to assist AIKONA in our effort to keep the Kruger National Park Simple and Wild.
Thanks for listening to me.
It appeared as if summer had arrived early, the cold weather has left us. As is often the case, August was a windy month with steady breezes cooling things down. The local tribe, Shangaans named the month of August “Mhawuri” – the month of strong winds. They also believe that if the wind doesn’t blow in August we will experience drought and if it blows strong and continuous it foretells of a good rainy season.
The flowering acacia trees are the most prominent indicator of the coming spring. Midday temperatures have reached a comfortable 32 degrees Celsius with evening temperatures cooling to around 15 degrees. The August winds have faded to dusty red sunrises.
The wildlife has been spectacular this month at Inyati, incredible variety of species sighted continues as the last of the trees lose their leaves and the dry grasses are now trampled into the dust allowing us to see from big to small animals.
LEOPARD (PANTHERA PARDUS)
She continues to roam large and large areas, she is heavily pregnant possible expand a territory to have more room to raise her litter arriving soon. She has got into a serious territorial battle with another female leopard, Xikhavi that resulted in big gash on shoulder of Xikhavi female.
She killed an impala ewe on one morning after a good feed she left the carcass in the bushes to rest in the nearby shades. One of the Selati male lion was lying within 400 metres from her; maybe it would have been a good idea to hoist the carcass in a tree. We went back to find her on the afternoon drive only to find that the Selati male had stolen the carcass and she left the area.
She has settled in her new territory and because of the distance and thick vegetation in that area she is very seldom seen. She was found with an impala carcass hoisted on jackalberry tree. Tlangisa being her usual self, she played with her food until she dropped it accidently and the hyena that was waiting underneath the tree claimed it before she could come down to get it up. All she could do is watch her hard earn meal being devoured by a hungry mother hyena.
This female is very seldom seen as her territory is outside our traversing area, this move however she came across to outside killed an impala, went back to fetch the cubs to a kill. We were treated with some mother leopard and cubs interactions this morning for couple of days.
A female leopard, Dam 3 is getting more and more comfortable with us, the game viewers. She has been seen from a distance, resting on a rocky outcrop, upon viewing her for a while we decided to get closer and closer to our surprise she just lay there on the rock allowing for fantastic photography opportunities. Typically this resident female is very elusive, so it is a pleasure to see that this may not always be the case.
Lion (Panthera leo)
Lion sightings have been outstanding over the past month. It is a regular experience to see the lions hunting, with varying degrees of success.
Selati coalition and Ximhungwe pride
The Selati males continue to frequent our area and the Ximhungwe pride seems to have finally accepted this new male coalition. There was more mating for good part of the month. There one female was seen mating with one mate for week and straight after that she was mating with another male this is possible for the protection of the cubs yet to be born but certainly helped to reduce fight between the coalition.
The three lionesses have been very active this month covering the entire length of our traversing area in search of food and possible den site. We followed them hunting impalas on one morning it was fascinating to watch team work and co-ordinations at play and it yielded good result, they managed to kill sub-adult impala. The lionesses are still carrying; the cubbies are on their way, watch this space….
Elephant (Loxodonta africana)
August has always been the month of the elephant. This year, the number of elephants in our area was astonishing. Day and night the lodge was surrounded by large bulls clearing the dwindling greenery. Hardly an activity passed without an elephant sighting. Lone males, breeding herds and the odd bachelor group were spotted regularly.
It was rather interesting to watch this bull spraying water on the annoying little bird, the fork-tailed drongo. Many of us on the vehicle thought it was funny but not the drongo who was soaking wet and could barely fly.
We have had big herds of buffalo back in the area for the good part of the month and there were also lots of bachelor herds of buffalo bulls all around the reserve at the moment as well as the ever-present herd of old males that live around the camp.
On one morning we watched two lioness hunt ,kill and eat an impala and then just when we thought it can’t get better we heard on radio that a new pack of five cape hunting dogs got sighted ,we rushed there see these beautiful painted animals.
And no description of colours in the bush can be complete without the painted wolves – the wild dogs loping through the brittle stems of winter grass, loping out of every impala’s waking nightmare. Their teeth perfectly adapted for slashing and tearing at impala bellies, carried along on tireless legs. The horror, the horror – the wonder of a wild dog hunt, rocking and rolling effortlessly along…
And later into the month august the moment we have been patiently waiting for arrives. Our resident pack return after four months, they been denning outside our traversing area, they brought back with the 6 little puppies of about three months old just old enough to run with the pack. It’s a privilege to watch these interesting animals go on about their lives.
Hyena population continues to increase in the area; we are getting great viewing of these adaptable predators. We followed this lactating mother carrying a large piece of meat for long distance hoping she will take us to her den site but we could only follow for so long before we had to get back to the lodge for a delicious breakfast.
In and around camp
Dayone male leopard walked past room seven just as the afternoon game drive started. Many animals frequent the river and the lodge from one time to another but watching a leopard walking through the lodge is always a treat for staff that don’t often get to go out on game drives.
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After the 45-minute flight from Johannesburg, I am completely surrounded by the African bush.
The only manmade items are the runway and a little airport terminal which is a thatch roof hut. “Hi, I am
Richard, from Inyati, come with me.” Inyati Private Lodge is located in the Sabi Sand Reserve, one of the world’s largest private conservation areas on the North East tip of South Africa made up of private reserves, whose owners run commercial safaris. With unfenced borders between each other and an unfenced 50km boundary with the famous Kruger National Park, there is almost a guarantee to see the African Big Five – lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino – during your stay.
Inyati means magnificent buffalo in Shangaan, a local African language. The resort caters to 22 guests, with a one-to-one guest to staff ratio, and has seven luxury chalets and four executive chalets.
On arrival, guests are guided to the restaurant area which is a large deck overlooking the Sand River.
‘The resort is unfenced, so animals may wonder through. They are wild so do not approach them.
Make sure your door is always locked, as the monkeys know how to open them’ – with these warnings, I am escorted to my chalet, a thatch roof luxury bungalow with a walk-in-robe and large ensuite.
With two hours before the first game drive, I unpack and head to the pool, checking twice that the door and windows are locked. As I refresh from the heat, I see the cheeky monkeys running through the open gardens in between the chalets and a mother kudu and her calf chewing on grass. By 3:30pm, I’m refreshed, showered and doused in insect repellent – it is peak malaria season.
Back at the restaurant I am greeted by the other guests who are enjoying the afternoon tea spread of local
pastries and cakes. At 4pm, we are guided to the open top Land Rover and introduced to the ranger, Khimbini, and his brother, Richard, who picked me up earlier. While Khimbini explains the ways of the bush, Richard is perched on the seat attached the front grill of the Land Rover to track the animals.
Khimbini explains the rules: ‘The animals are used to the shape of the car, so please don’t stand up or lean out. Also, sometimes we will go off track into the bush, do not grab at the branches as some have dangerous thorns, just get out of their way’. And with that we are off.
After thirty minutes, we are all getting worried. Not one animal in view. Just as I think about putting my camera away, we turn a corner and find ourselves in a herd of 100 buffalo. As Khimbini turns off the car, he points out the days-old calf running after its mother, five metres from the car. It is like we are in the middle of a National Geographic documentary.
We slowly move on, and while the sun is setting, Khimbini veers off the dirt track. One of the unique things about Sabi Sand is rangers are allowed to go off road to get closer to the animals. Everyone remembers the rules and dives as the thorn branches scrape the car. Without warning we stop and sit in complete darkness. Richard turns on the spotlight and we are surrounded by four lionesses and their five cubs. I have no idea how Khimbini and Richard knew they would be here, but they are adorable, with the cubs play fighting and sometimes annoying mum.
Driving back to Inyati, I see what the night sky looks like without large city lights, more stars than sky. As we have drinks and dinner on the balcony overlooking the lit-up river, the conversation is on the lion cubs.
There is a knock on my front door at 4.30 in the morning, my wake-up call. The sun is already starting to light up the river and there are impala on the other side eating the dew-laden grass. After a few biscuits and local Rooibos tea, we head back onto the trucks.
Eight giraffe – one heavily pregnant – meet us first off. They don’t seem to mind us staring at them as they reach the tops of the trees to get the sweetest leaves with their long tongues. After a short stop we drive off, with Khimbini and Richard staring down at the dirt road. The guests take a look too, but no one wants to admit that all they see is dirt. As we turn a corner, three elephants appear.
“That is the mother,” Khimbini points to the largest of the three, “and these are her two daughters with the youngest probably a few months old.” The baby is upset by our presence and tries to charge the car but runs off crying to mum when it doesn’t work.
Richard jumps off his seat and Khimbini gets out, continuing to examine the ground. To the untrained eye the road looks bare, but Khimbini and Richard are figuring out which way the leopard went from the faint
footprints. After thirty minutes driving, with all eyes on our ranger and tracker, Khimbini’s head pops up. On a large rock a leopard is sunning herself in the early morning rays. She doesn’t even mind that we have now driven, off road, within a metre of her and we all start clicking our cameras, while she grooms herself. After a couple poses, she grows tired of us and disappears off into the distance.
We drive off in search for more. I soon start to worry that we won’t see any rhino, after all they are once again nearing extinction due to the illegal poaching of their horns. However, Khimbini doesn’t let me down and we find a group of four white rhinos munching on the long grass. They are an extraordinary animal, prehistoric but gentle. Normally, Khimbini would be on the radio, letting the other rangers in the area know about the finding but not this time. “We don’t call out rhino sightings on the radio, as we are worried that poachers are listening in and we don’t want to let them know where they are,” he explains.
As I take my photos, I wonder whether the next generation will be able to see them in the wild.
Heading back to Inyati for brunch, I realise, that within less than 24 hours, I have seen all of the African Big Five. I shouldn’t expect any less. Inyati doesn’t only provide luxury accommodation, they also provide expert local staff, all with over ten years’ experience, to ensure you see all the wildlife you wish for.