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Now is the time for South African’s and the South African media to put their Saturday morning beers down, put out the braai fires and dowse their willingness to react, half cocked, to an incredibly unfortunate and horrific set of circumstances which led to 2 rhinos being burnt in the management fires in the Kruger National Park.

Now is the time for South Africans and the South African media to grab the opportunity to learn, appreciate and understand just how difficult it is to manage our heritage – the Kruger National Park – a savanna ecosystem unparalleled in the world today. We have to understand, learn about and appreciate the management required to keep safe, the tiny space we have allocated for the survival of higher organisms in this system despite the impact we have already had on it by subjecting it to our wanton (and often indiscriminate) need to see a lion, or a rhino or buffalo, elephant and leopard living in a natural space.

We have all created a ‘cage’ (albeit a big cage) and enjoy keeping our hamster in a cage or birds in an aviary. In the same way the Kruger ‘cage’ too has to be cleaned and managed. Too many rabbits, hamsters and dogs in your back garden has you racing around to sell them, swap them or destroy them – or else they get sick – the quality of their lives are reduced, the whole thing becomes a mess. So, the Kruger cage (the one we created by building cities and roads that could not support other life forms, the one we created because of indiscriminate hunting, the one we created because you didn’t want a lion eating your children) has to be managed.

South Africa’s savanna ecosystem equals about 45% of our country, and in terms of animal biodiversity, is richer than any other system in our country. In South Africa it is largely used for meat production, game farming and hunting. Then there is the Kruger – a part of this system dedicated to eco-tourism activities, research and conservation. South Africa’s savanna is rapidly declining because of our need for firewood, building materials, our insatiable demand for citrus and sugar and the water that this agricultural activity demands.

So we have to manage what we’ve got – what we have left ourselves and what we are still taking away from the environment to feed ourselves.

Fire is not the only necessary management tool to protect this savanna system – we have to start reducing the unnatural water in the Kruger – we have to manage animal populations in the Kruger, we have to manage diseases and alien plants brought into the Kruger. All of these things are emotional and controversial but here’s something that none of you want to talk about. We have to start managing the amount of people in the Kruger, the amount of cars and vehicles in the Kruger, the amount of rubbish and plastic we leave in the Kruger. We have to manage the impact we are having on the Kruger. Try and highlight these things to your children before it becomes too late for the Kruger.

So now we end up in a situation where, because of the impact we have on everything else, it has become inevitable that most of the natural world has to be managed by us. The Kruger National Park and many other national parks and reserves around the world were created to maintain ecosystems as close to their natural state as possible and to keep natural ecosystem processes intact. To learn about them, and to promote their natural richness and hopefully allow our children to benefit from them.

Now within a controlled or managed ecosystem such as the Kruger National Park – all the life of plants and animals, and the way they work together and the natural process have created some of the earths most biologically diverse elements – this is referred to as biodiversity.

Biodiversity attracts tourists to an area. The often exhilarating and inspiring diversity of wildlife and plant life in the Kruger National Park is as much a part of its attraction as is any particular species. There is nowhere quite like the Kruger, where one can see and experience elephants, rhino, zebras, giraffe and other large mammals in their natural environments. If that biodiversity is adversely affected, the allurement and wholeness of the area is damaged.

The above is an eco-tourism an extremely important part of the management of this issue, and so too is the conservation of the vegetation – it is the vegetation that supports higher organisms. In a way ecotourism is responsible for the development and maintenance of reserves like the Kruger. The Kruger is found in a precarious situation – It has immense biological value with high diversity and will remain a crucial part of South Africa’s future. Employment, local people, local communities, local industry can and should all benefit from the protection and maintenance of a sound eco-tourism plan that sustains the Kruger’s biodiversity.

We all benefit from biodiversity. About a quarter of all prescribed medical drugs (including codeine, morphine, quinine and strychnine) are extracted directly from flowering plants. Traditional medicines, foods and ceremonies all add value to the way the Kruger is managed – not to mention the way the Kruger is ‘sold’ as a tourist attraction.

I returned from a 14-day south to north Kruger trip and the realisation that there is currently nowhere else on this planet that I can see 35 large mammalian animals living in their natural state (and I could have seen more), 234 birds (and I could have seen more) 37 tree species, the flowers and grasses and the variety of landscapes is like a wake-up call. Please wake up South Africa, and learn that collateral damage in the management process of the Kruger National Park is what you have already created because of your one-minded, insatiable and often unwarranted need to see a lion and little else when you visit the Kruger…

Sadly during the World Cup I collected dead puffadders that had been driven over, vervet monkeys that had to be destroyed because of the processed food they are fed by tourists – we have to stop erosion and the increase of sodic areas because of tourists driving off-road – one hundred animals injured or dead by speeding – bats and monkeys and birds dead by rat poison, litter and carnage – hornbills passing cigarette buts too each other – birds eating half consumed human breakfasts. It’s just too much, think about your reaction to this unfortunate incident before you point fingers.

Think about FROM ZERO WHITE RHINOS IN THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK at the turn of the century to 8 000 WHITE RHINOS IN THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK TODAY! That’s good management – the hardworking Kruger rangers should be commended, don’t you think?

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