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SOS Rhino : In the News : Current Rhino News : Africans produce wildlife 'miracle'

Africans produce wildlife 'miracle'

Mon 9 Dec 2002
The Scotsman

THE WORLDíS biggest wilderness reserve for wild animals will be formally born today, when three African heads of state sign a treaty creating the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Peace Park.

It will eventually cover more than 38,000 square miles, some 7,000 square miles greater than the area of Scotland. It will stretch from South Africaís Drakensberg mountains, through the Kruger National Park, across the great floodplains of the Limpopo and all the way to tropical islands in the Indian Ocean off Mozambique. Huge tracts of Zimbabwe will also be incorporated.

The former South African president, Nelson Mandela, has hailed the park as an example of how "peace parks" can cement relations between neighbouring states.

Opening a gate recently in the fence between South Africaís richly stocked Kruger park and Mozambiqueís drastically depleted Gaza National Park to let giraffe, white rhino, blue wildebeest, zebra, impala, waterbuck and warthog stream across the frontier, Mr Mandela said: "We face the prospect of conflict on a world scale. The world can learn from us how to use our natural heritage in the form of peace parks and similar projects to the benefit of all."

The hugely successful Kruger is the heartland of the project, and the Gaza is just one of many regions that will be incorporated into the grand design. Conservationists and politicians are confident the Great Limpopo Park will work, although it may take more than a decade to slot in every piece of the jigsaw.

A first international park, the 15,000 square mile Kalahari Transfrontier Park straddling Botswana and South Africa, is fully operational, with tourists moving freely across borders. Frontiers within the Greater Limpopo will be rubbed out when the three presidents - South Africaís Thabo Mbeki, Mozambiqueís Joachim Chissano and Zimbabweís Robert Mugabe - sign the Transfrontier Peace Park treaty in the Mozambique town of Xai-Xai.

The treaty creates a joint management board with committees on conservation, tourism, security, finance, personnel and legislation that will begin work immediately.

South Africaís environment and tourism minister, Valli Moosa, one of the driving forces behind the park, believes it will attract foreign investment and much-needed jobs. He foresees international flights to airports adjoining the park to satisfy tourist demand.

One of the beauties of the transfrontier concept is that it allows animals to resume old migration routes, creating a better spread of genes and less pressure on habitats.

Once the Greater Limpopo is fully operational, spectacular migrations of blue wildebeest over nearly 1,000 miles between the Indian Ocean and the Drakensbergs, not seen for more than one hundred years, will resume.

It will also allow an end to the controversial annual cull of Kruger elephants, which has enraged international conservationists but which park authorities claim is essential to conserve habitat for less spectacular species.

Kruger elephants will be able to go walkabout for huge distances and repopulate areas barren of wildlife for many decades. Some 100 Kruger elephants have been relocated to a slice of the south-western Gaza, where Mozambique has built a tourist lodge.

Teams under Danie Pienaar, manager of Krugerís scientific services, went about the highly skilled business of capturing Kruger elephants destined for the new home.

First, Shangaan tribal trackers and a helicopter pilot singled out a family herd. The helicopter swooped down and from close up, a game ranger fired syringes loaded with tranquillisers into a spot behind each adult elephantís head.

Within minutes, the great beasts tottered and slumped to the ground, fast asleep. Panic-stricken baby elephants were shot with darts on the ground from close range. Then scores of rangers, game guards and trackers put mats under the elephants and gently shifted any who had fallen on their trunks.

Vets checked the animals before chains were placed around each so they could be winched on to trailers and taken to wooden enclosures where vets injected them with "wake-up" drugs before they were trucked to Mozambique.

Some 1,000 Kruger elephants will have been moved to Mozambique by the end of 2004, when the 200-mile elephant-proof fence between the Kruger and the Gaza will be removed. From 2005, lion and other predators will join the elephants and plains game animals, which will have begun breeding in Mozambique.

The peace parkís preparation has taken several years and political wrangling has caused immense headaches, requiring endless meetings.

Talks with the Zimbabwe National Parks Board for incorporating the spectacular Gonarezhou National Park delayed todayís treaty signing for a year. The troubled Zimbabwe government had to be persuaded to clear illegal settlers from the park and a corridor had to be negotiated across tribal land.

Piet Theron, a South African National Parks Board employee who co-ordinated the project, said: "The animals that have already crossed the international frontier are a miracle coming true, and this can only offer huge hope to the people of our countries.

"Visitors from all over the world will be able to enjoy the biggest slice of paradise here on earth. That canít be bad."



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