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.