State-run game reserves were under discussion at last week’s sitting of the legislature after on-site visits by the Portfolio Committee on Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism. Here is an excerpt of the speech made by John Cupido during a debate on the committees’ report:
“The nature reserves managed by Eastern Cape Parks cover an area of some 438,000 hectares. They have a commitment to protecting bio-diversity and conservation of the biomes which will see a total increase of this area by 10,000 hectares annually; the eradication of non-indigenous flora and fauna; mutually beneficial relationships with neighbouring communities and the preservation of cultural resources.
However, when one reads the report it paints a different picture.
The mandate of the oversight visits was to assess the state of infrastructure in our various state reserves within the province. When looking at infrastructure, the first thing that a person would look at it access to the facility or entity at hand.
At almost every reserve it was found that the roads leading to the various reserves are in an extremely poor condition, with Stinkhoutberg Nature Reserve actually found to be inaccessible via road and potential visitors are expected to walk.
The visits were conducted in February this year. Since then we have had damaging floods and one can only imagine what the erosion caused by this has done to these roads.
The recommendation by the committee is that immediate work needs to be done to rectify the state of these roads. We don’t need beautifully tarred roads here – we need roads that are properly graded to make these reserves accessible to tourists that don’t have 4×4 and off-road vehicles at their disposal.
However, more importantly than that, we need an ongoing maintenance plan to consistently have these roads graded and repaired in order to maintain accessibility and increase our competitiveness with the private reserves.
Eastern Cape Park’s website states that accommodation in our reserves range from luxurious lodges and renovated classic Cape-style farm homesteads to wooden chalets, rustic cabins, bungalows and hikers huts. Picnic and camping sites are available at selected reserves.
Again the committee’s report negates many of these claims.
In the report we read of dilapidated and in some cases no accommodation found in our reserves, terrible camping facilities and so forth.
This is something that needs to be dealt with speedily, but not too hastily. We need to make sure that what we build and where we spend money is done viably and in a way that will give us returns. Proper feasibility studies need to be done.
We need to ensure that the management, staff and the various rangers of our provincial reserves are safely housed, properly equipped and sufficiently trained to do their work properly.
It is widely known that poaching – especially that of Rhinos – is a major problem throughout South Africa. To an extent, the Eastern Cape state reserves have been lucky and have managed to keep poaching numbers low in comparison with other provinces, but with the state of our infrastructure and inadequately resourced rangers, this will not last.
As the report recommends, fencing needs to be constructed, replaced, maintained and/or fixed. Rangers need to be facilitated… More needs to be done.
In my interactions with EC Parks I can confirm that they are trying. They are working towards the responsible conservation management that they claim, and I applaud Mr. Liebenberg and his officials and rangers for that.
If implemented, the proposals made here today are a step in the right direction, we now need to look forward and plan a viable future for these parks and our natural resources.
The general findings in the report are:
(1) There is a low staff complement across all of the nature reserves which leads to increased burdens shouldered by staff – particularly in the case of the law enforcement component of field ranging.
(2) The culling of game in order to keep game indigenous to the respective nature reserves has not been widely accepted by both the communities and the tourists. The commercial sale of the culled game to private game establishments has caused dissatisfaction among communities. This situation has fuelled an attitude which encourages poaching because communities believe that outsiders benefit from culling.
(3) There is an insufficient number of motor vehicles at all the nature reserves visited. This situation hampers the day to day work, which includes law enforcement in the form of monitoring and prevention of poaching.
(4) Staff quarters at all of these nature reserves need urgent attention.
(5) Continued budget cuts negatively affect the operations of the nature reserves.
General recommendation made by the committee are:
(1) The Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism must, within 30 days, report to the Committee on how it plans to address the issue of staff shortages in these reserves.
(2) The Department should provide the Committee with a report on how it intends to engage the aggrieved parties regarding the culling of game so that the matter can be resolved amicably.
(3) The Department must, within 30 days, report to the Committee on how it is going to ensure the availability of tools of trade for the park’s employees so that they are better able to carry out their duties.
(4) The Department must report to the Committee on how it plans to ensure the maintenance of the quarters in the parks so as to ensure the safety of its employees.
(5) The Department should explore the possibilities of entering into joint ventures regarding the management and the running of the parks in order that costs can be shared, given the budget shortfall they experience.