National Geographic : 2001 Sep
lan Whyte, Kruger's resident elephant spe cialist, describes the scene routinely witnessed. "Vehicles drove up and down the fence, shoot ing anything that moved, irrespective of size or sex or species. AK-47s were common, so any impala, kudu, or duiker was fair game. Even smaller animals such as genets and porcupines got shot." Park employees observed that when elephants crossed over, as is possible if a sec tion of fence washes away along a river, they knew to come back that very same night, or they wouldn't survive. Now, however, the South Africans have cut back on the dedicated fence-repair teams who constantly patrolled the line. And since peace has returned to Mozambique, Pretoria's con servation czars are considering something that until very recently would have been labeled by many as insane: bringing down the fence alto gether. If the plan succeeds, similar fences will soon be coming down all over southern Africa and beyond, to create a series of "peace parks," or transfrontier conservation areas. It is one of the most ambitious conservation moves since the creation of Africa's first game reserve, which is now Kruger National Park, a century ago. It is also a high-risk, high-reward proposal, the fate of which will, in large measure, determine the future of conservation in Africa-after all, its goal is nothing less than to change the con servation map of a continent. The first transfrontier conservation park, launched last year, was the Kgalagadi Trans frontier Park, which unites the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana with the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa. Such a union presents few problems-the two parks were separated only by an unfenced dry riverbed. A joint management plan has been devised to run the area as a single ecological unit, and tourists who enter one park may now pass freely into the other and back again, thus increasing traffic and revenue to both. In many ways this unification is a no-brainer. Other transfrontier areas are more complex and ambitious. What they attempt to do, as explained in a groundbreaking report by the World Bank in 1996, is to bring conservation to the people. The aim is to show the local com munities living alongside traditional game reserves that money can be made from wildlife, and in so doing to undercut the resentment felt by many of these people at being prevented from farming the land. South Africa's Nelson Mandela explained it to me thus: "If the government unilaterally decides to establish transfrontier parks without consulting the community, then the community will not cooperate." (See "A Conversation With Nelson Mandela," page 30.) Three pilot transfrontier areas have been put on the fast track: The first, and in size the most ambitious, is Gaza-Kruger-Gonarezhou (map, page 24). This will join Kruger to Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe and Coutada 16, a huge chunk of state-owned land in Mozam bique's Gaza Province, to create one superpark. Not all fences will come down. Armed patrols along the boundary of South Africa's Tembe Elephant Park help protect nearby villages from damage by elephants and reduce the chance of predators' attacking livestock.