More than 150 rhinos have already been poached so far this year, the majority in Kruger Park. So here’s a link to the Sanparks website page about the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park:
It’s not clear exactly when it was written, but I’m guessing sometime in the early 2000s, just after the proclamation of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, which includes, of course, Kruger National Park. I’ll spare you the trouble of reading this paean of hope and self-congratulation – here are some key lines from it:
“A major, dynamic conservation initiative – the establishment of transfrontier conservation areas (TFCAs) – is currently unfolding across the southern African region.”
“The establishment of transfrontier conservation areas is an exemplary process of partnerships between governments and the private sector.”
“The Great Limpopo TFCA is truly the jewel among the various southern African TFCAs currently being developed.”
And – perhaps most importantly:
“One of the main goals in the establishment of a TFCA is that the local communities will benefit from the increased eco-tourism to the area. This, in turn, is dependant on the communities’ involvement in the development of the park.”
It continues in this vein for a couple of thousand words, and we can say with some assurance that roughly ten years after these words were drafted, some communities are most certainly benefiting – especially, but not exclusively, on the Mozambican side of the border. Entire towns, like Kabok and Massingir, are dedicated to the poaching of rhino and its very lucrative spinoffs, like vehicle sales, buildings, and so on.
Hindsight is always an exact science, but re-reading the document on the Sanparks website, it’s clear that most of the aspirations of the well-intentioned people who set up the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park were nothing more than pie in the sky. South Africa’s contribution to the effort – a real jewel, the world-famous Kruger National Park – has had its gates thrown open to Mozambican poachers. The Mozambican contribution, including the former hunting concession, Coudata 16, is a wasteland. Not a single rhino has been seen there for more than two years, thanks to poaching. Not a great deal more can be said about the Zimbabwean addition of Gonarezhou.
But let’s be clear about the reality of being a dirt-poor human being living in a mud-walled hut somewhere “over there”, with a wife and two or three children to feed. If a poaching kingpin comes by and offers you a thousand US dollars to go and hunt a rhino, you’ll take it. I know I would – to hell with the rhino, we have no food, no prospects, no nothing. And when I’ve done it once, I’ll try and do it again. In my world, this kind of money represents wealth beyond my dreams.
Sorry – that’s the way it is because patently there has been no community involvement in the park of any sort from the Mozambican side. Nor do the Mozambicans appear interested in policing this problem. Let’s also be cautious about ascribing too much blame in that direction: plenty of South Africans of all races and backgrounds have been involved in killing rhino in Kruger Park and some have been caught. Take a drive along Kruger’s borders with Limpopo and Mpumalanga and you’ll find tens of thousands of people who receive absolutely no benefit whatsoever from the Park. Many are also dirt poor. Some of them have also taken the poachers’ money.
Kruger Park may well be an important conservation area, but it is also a zoo. A very big zoo, but a zoo nonetheless. Man has interfered with the natural ebb and flow of the beasts and when that happens, the game park becomes an area controlled and delineated by man – a zoological gardens, to give it its full name.
That being the case, we need to treat Kruger as though it’s a zoo. Zoos require strong fences to keep the animals in and the neighbours out, and stringent security for the same reasons. Armed guards, rangers, drones with night sights – all of those things – but above everything else, forget the idea of the transfrontier national conservation area because it is patently not working for anyone except the poachers.
Without question, that means replacing the fence between Kruger National Park and Mozambique and patrolling that boundary assiduously. I know that road, having driven it from Crocodile Bridge all the way up to Crook’s Corner when the original fence was being taken down. It was a very large and intimidating structure. To restore it would be a major undertaking and very expensive.
But to pretend that somehow this warm, fuzzy, transfrontier idea is anything but an absolute disaster would be to condemn Kruger’s rhinos to a slow, brutal and excruciatingly bloody extinction.
The conservationists who designed this park meant well but they are the root cause of the problem.