Multibillion park opens
The multi-billion-dollar Great Limpopo Trans-Frontier Park (GLTP), mooted in 1999, is expected to be completed in the next five years and will eventually encompass the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique, Kruger National Park in South Africa, Gonarezhou National Park, Manjinji Pan Sanctuary and Malipati Safari Area in Zimbabwe’s Sengwe communal lands as well as the Makulele region in South Africa to form one of the largest game reserves and natural habitats in the world.
It will enable ancient migration roots, previously disrupted by border fences set up to establish political divisions, to be re-opened to millions of wild animals, including the world’s last species of elephants, rhinos and lions and is anticipated to increase tourist flow significantly once the marketing plan is put in motion.
The establishment of the first phase of the trans-frontier park, covering approximately 35 000 square km, is regarded as a giant step towards the recreation of the massive ecological environment measuring a staggering 100 000 square km.
Presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Armando Guebuza of Mozambique and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe gathered at the Giriyondo Border Post linking South Africa and Mozambique for the formal opening. The road was opened last December to limited traffic.
“Nature has triumphed and shown us that we can transcend national boundaries and that we can create ‘benefits beyond boundaries,'” President Mbeki said in a speech prepared for delivery at the opening ceremony.
“Today our wild animals ‘ the elephants, rhino, antelope and many others ‘ are once again beginning to roam freely.”
He said that the Giriyondo Access Facility marked the “beginning of a new era when we will bring down the colonial fences, which divided our nations over several centuries.”
It will take years to turn the dreams of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier park into reality, with free movement of animals – and people – throughout the 36 000 square kilometres of scrubby, sunbaked bush.
It is hoped that the cooperation between the three countries will improve conservation measures although there have also been fears the “borderless” park could also make it easier for poachers to operate.
Rob Little, chief conservation officer at the World Wildlife Fund’s South African branch, said in an interview Wednesday that benefits would outweigh possible increase in poaching.
“The transfrontier park is a wonderful idea for conservation in general and opening up movement patterns, and also on international commitments to conservation in those regions,” he said.
“There are management implications and those need to be dealt with, as with any creation of a new conservation area.
“Some are going to work better than others. We have to remain optimistic as it’s a wonderful opportunity.”
Much of the funding for the park, which will be about the size of Israel, has come from the World Bank and German government.
Although the area is famed for the Big Five ‘ the lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo ‘ the Kruger Park also hosts 147 species of mammals, 505 species of birds, 116 species of reptiles, 34 species of frogs and at least 2 000 species of plants.
It is hoped that the nature reserves in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, which are much wilder than the Kruger, may host additional species. Experts say the increasing range opportunities provided by a bigger park would help conservation of threatened animals like the endangered wild dog. It would also ease pressure on the Kruger posed by the booming elephant population, which has revived a debate on whether the mighty beast should be culled.
Park proponents hope it will serve as a model for 21 other parks planned across Africa. A transfrontier park linking the Kalahari across the borders of South Africa and Botswana already exists.
Mbeki noted that it will fit into larger tourism development plans: “I have no doubt that the easy access facilities and open spaces within the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, which has been branded as the world’s largest animal kingdom, will be a major attraction before, during and after the 2010 FIFA World Cup,” President Mbeki said.
“We must surely redouble our efforts to ensure that this unique and rich tapestry of life on our planet is turned into a jewel of the tourism market.”
Speaking at the border post after the official opening ceremony on Wednesday afternoon, President Mugabe said the mega-park was special as it sought to satisfy the simultaneous goals of conservation, socio-economic development and public enjoyment.
“Zimbabwe realises the enormous potential of marrying the conservation of bio-diversity with broad social and economic goals.
“Although our countries are richly endowed with resources which are managed on a country level, it is particularly important that resources which do not easily lend themselves to the structures of national borders such as elephants, buffalo, fish and water are managed in a collaborative and harmonious way,” he said.
Cde Mugabe pledged 20 sables to boost the attractions in the GLTP, a demonstration of Zimbabwe’s commitment to the unprecedented multi-national project.
Zimbabwe had allotted $2 billion (revalued) for the improvement of infrastructure in Gonarezhou.
“My Government has set aside $2 billion for the rehabilitation of roads, and the construction of bridges and lodges.
Electrification is also in progress for various camps in Gonarezhou.”
To this end, the Zimbabwe National Army will commence de-mining in the Sengwe Corridor (which connects Gonarezhou to Kruger) shortly, while plans were underway to upgrade Buffalo Range Airport in Chiredzi to international standards.
Zimbabwe would play its part to expedite the development of the bridge link to connect Gonarezhou and Kruger national parks, with six sites so far having been identified for the project.
President Guebuza, speaking through an interpreter, said the GLTP’s significance lay in that it showed steps towards decolonisation.