Southern African countries like Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa have been opening their borders on boundaries where conservation areas meet, to allow wildlife free passage between countries.
This new freedom of movement creates vast tracts of land where governments, wildlife management and environmentalists cooperate to help conserve wildlife ecosystems for generations to come.
In a similar vein, Thornybush Private Game Reserve has taken down the fences along the Timbavati boarder – which is unfenced on its Kruger boundary. This means that the 14 500 hectare wilderness of Thornybush, is now part of the Greater Kruger National Park.
This decision took a long time to come into effect, but has had positive results for guests on safari at Thornybush, as well as the local wildlife.
Why was it important for the fences to come down?
These bold (and sometimes controversial) moves have several aims in mind:
- To boost and sustain the environment through free movement of animals across larger tracts of land
- To encourage eco-tourism and economic growth, and
- To provide involvement for local communities
While these motivations may seem only remotely related to the conservation of wildlife, they are in fact inexorably linked. Let’s take a look at the impact that these larger tracts of land have on wildlife and the communities that rely on the tourism generated by game reserves.
Encouraging Natural Migration Routes
For decades, the first instinct of conservationists has been to keep their precious resources under lock and key from the ‘world out there’ where dangers in the form of human-animal conflict, poaching and modern development lurk. However, by doing this, wild animals are prevented from following the natural migration patterns, which are important for them to flourish.
The concept is as simple as pasture management in agriculture. Wild animals naturally move toward areas where food and water are abundant, allowing barren, overgrazed lands to recover. This loosely means they must ‘follow’ the seasonal rain patterns of their host country.
Fences however prevent the herds from leaving for greener pastures when they have exhausted their available resources.
Times of plenty allow animals to increase their numbers beyond the threshold that the land can bear, and with nowhere to go, this ultimately leads to over-population, famine and starvation.
By removing the fences between game reserve areas, animals can move freely along their traditional migration routes, bringing back a natural, seasonal balance to the fauna in the area.
Global warming, with its changing, unpredictable weather patterns, has also got a role to play. Wild animals are forced to adapt their behaviour and in many cases, the wildlife management techniques that used to work before, simply don’t anymore.
So it’s vital that conservationists, landowners, local communities and governments act together to come up with ways in which to weather any major environmental changes.
Genetic diversity is limited in fenced-off, confined spaces and inbreeding has to be carefully managed. Endangered animals, like the cheetah for example, already experience a gene pool which is limited to the extent that it adds yet another obstacle to their continued existence.
Some reserves are too small to sustain a viable population of particular species, so by joining forces, the smaller reserves are able to benefit from a far more efficient conservation effort, when fences are brought down.
Poaching is unfortunately an issue plaguing game reserves in Southern Africa. While there can be no argument that fences deter poachers to a degree, they have been of little effect in stemming the tide of poaching. In fact sometimes the very fences that are put in place to protect animals from poachers become a confined environment where animals are easier to seek and destroy.
While uncommon, it is not unheard of for animals to injure themselves on fences or to become separated from their peers by breaking through and being unable to return. This can be a death sentence for herd animals left to fend for themselves, leaving them more vulnerable to attack by predators or poachers.
The Peace Park Initiative
The aim of this initiative is to establishing a broad band of conservation land stretching from the mouth of the Limpopo River on the East Coast of Africa to where the Orange River empties into the sea in the West. As they say, charity begins at home, so it is important that the game reserves in South Africa set the example.
By merging the conservation areas on its borders with the larger Kruger National Park, Thornybush is committing to the greater good of enhanced freedom for their animal inhabitants, and paving the way for conservation success in Southern Africa.
Clearly this involves cooperation between large numbers of conservation areas but it also means that more players are involved in a collaborative conservation effort. More players in the field means more skills, knowledge and experience working together for the greater good.
Allowing animals to move freely between reserves provides guests at the smaller, more intimate lodges with a greater pool of animals to admire. Now tourists can enjoy the full-blown diversity of a large reserve such as Kruger, combined with the luxury of the intimate safari experiences offered by Thornybush.
One only has to look at the impact that the Serengeti migration has had on Tanzanian tourism, to see that allowing animals the freedom to roam can be the ticket towards increased tourism revenue.
As it is, eco-tourism is one of world’s largest growing industry and provides employment both directly and indirectly to many of the local communities in close proximity to nature reserves.
The bottom line is that more tourism equals more employment for local communities. This has a knock-on effect with conservation efforts and leads communities being more inclined to protect their natural resources and less inclined to be lured by the short-term benefits of poaching.
Likewise, funds generated from tourism activities can be used towards conserving the natural resources that make these activities possible.
Taking all of these factors into consideration, the removal of fences between our big game reserves, contributes to the welfare of Southern Africa’s wild animals and the continued existence of our thriving game lodge industry.