South Africa’s peace parks – top 5 parks that transcend borders
Peace parks, also known as Transboundary Protected Areas (TBPA), allow animals to migrate freely between neighbouring countries in a return to their natural migration patterns. They promote tourism and goodwill between neighbouring countries.
It is also a potential tool to save a deteriorating ecology. Once parties or countries involved realise the importance of biological diversity, they are more likely to co-operate. Environmental cooperation, in turn, can help resolve political and territorial conflicts. Sharing physical space and management responsibilities sustains peace among countries.
Real-life examples of such successes include the Seslous-Niassa Wildlife Corridor, and the Emerald Triangle conservation zone in Indochina.
But the bonus for visitors is the increased access to a greater variety of game, and far greater variety of wildlife habitats.
South Africa has eight peace parks, and one in the making. All are worthy of a visit. Here is more on 5 of them:
ONE ǀAi-ǀAis/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park
Straddles the border between South Africa and Namibia. Formed in 2003 it combines the Namibian ǀai-ǀAis Hot Springs Game Park with the South African Richtersveld National Park. A substantial part of the South African portion of the park forms part of the Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape World Heritage Site.
This is a harsh environment; a land of rugged kloofs, mountains, extreme heat, rock formations befitting a moonscape, the curious halfmens (endemic stem succulents), giant tree aloes, quiver trees, miniature rock gardens that hug the edges of cliffs, and succulents so tiny that they are mere specks against the dramatic landscape.
All of this must survive on early morning fog (Malmokkies) that sweeps in from the Atlantic Ocean. Wildlife tends to congregate around the vegetation at the Orange River, the mouth of which is a Ramsar site. The world’s second largest canyon, the Fish River Canyon, cuts a passage through the cliffs of the park.
Notes: visit between April and September; you will need a 4×4 to navigate the park; the Succulent Karoo biome is the richest succulent flora in the world with over 10 000 species.
TWO Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Straddles the border between South Africa and Botswana combining the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park with Botswana’s Gemsbok National Park. Much of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier park lies within the southern Kalahari Desert; fitting then that Kgalagadi means place of thirst. This is the land of shifting white and red sand dunes, camelthorn trees, herds of gemsbok, springbuck, eland and blue wildebeest, black-maned lions, raptors and the dry river beds of the Nossob and Auob Rivers that briefly flood after intense thunderstorms.
It is a huge expanse – over 3.6 million hectares – one of few such vast conservation areas left on the planet. Now there is talk of extending it yet further by creating a corridor linking it to Augrabies National Park to the south, and to the ǀAi-ǀAis/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park to the west. To the north is Namibia’s Sperrgebiet National Park, which in turn adjoins the Namib Naukluft National Park.
Notes: best visited in spring and autumn; not essential to have a 4×4 but easier; only the South African side offers game drives; the park, despite being dry, supports large populations of small mammals, birds, reptiles and rodents, hence the large number of raptors
THREE Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation Area
Straddles the border between KwaZulu-Natal, southern Mozambique and Swaziland. It lies in the low-lying coastal plain between the Lebombo Mountains in the west and the Indian Ocean in the east, offering unique access to a combination of extensive wetlands, wildlife game country and an undeveloped coastal landscape. It also provides the first major elephant stronghold along Africa’s eastern coastline by combining the Maputo Elephant Reserve through the Futi Corridor and the Lubombo Conservancy to the Tembe Elephant Park.
This corridor reconnects two elephant populations fragmented by the civil war in Mozambique; divided by a fence since 1989. Until 2002 elephants had not walked the land of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, which forms part of the reserve, for over 100 years. This tranfrontier conservation area is regarded as the most complex of the transfrontier parks involving South Africa.
Notes: best outside of summer; enjoy excellent game night drives from St Lucia, turtle tours (Nov to Feb), and whale watching (June to Nov)
FOUR Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation Area
A UNESCO World Heritage Centre, this reserve combines the uKhahlamba Drakensberg National Park in South Africa and the Sehlathebe National Park in Lesotho. The fulcrum of the reserve is its soaring buttresses and towering cliffs of the Maloti and Drakensberg mountains that straddle the 300 km border between the two countries.
This the land of incredible natural beauty – soaring mountains, dramatic cutbacks and sandstone cliffs, rolling grasslands, river valleys and plunging gorges. It is also recognised as a Global Centre of Plant Diversity and endemism, a globally important bird area and a richly diverse area.
Note: the caves and rock shelters of the reserve contain the largest and most concentrated group of San rock paintings south of the Sahara
FIVE Songimbelo-Malolotja Transfrontier Conservation Area
Links the Songimvelo Game Reserve in South Africa near Barberton with the Malolotja Nature Reserve in Swaziland. At its heart is the Drakensberg escarpment with spectacular scenery to match. This is the land of mountain wilderness. The folds of the Barberton Mountains give way to a landscape that includes Ngwenya Mountain, Swaziland’s second highest peak, the Malolotja Falls that drop 90 metres, thick riverine scrub, bushveld, Afromontane mist belt forest and high-altitude grassland.
Songimvelo is a geological wonderland – with archaeological sites that date back to 400 BC, and rocks that date to four billion years ago. Long-term the plan is to incorporate this Peace Park into the Greater Lubombo Tranfronteir Conservation Area.
Notes: No lions, but elephants, zebras, giraffes and antelope; Songimvelo offers game viewing from the saddle of a horse; view their recently introduced herd of elephant and spot white rhino; only 5 percent of Songimvelo is accessible by 4×4
Nelson Mandela, together with Dr Anton Rupert and HRH Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, founded the Peace Parks Foundation in 1997 – a not-for-profit organisation that promotes the formation of transfrontier conservation areas.
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