National Geographic : 2001 Sep
More than 100,000 elephants . z roam the Okavango and - tNAMIBIA upper Zambezi River Basins, shared by Angola, Botswana, " Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Joint wetland and TA nA wildlife conservation TWANA isplanned, though no details have been settled. oi - Okm50 NGMAPS river is well known to van Riet: He once spent six weeks canoeing down it to the sea. Halfway, he encountered Zambezi sharks and crocodiles in the same stretch of water. "One shark took the stern of my kayak in its jaws and gave it a great shake," he recalls. He taped up the hole and paddled on. Most of the 12,000 people living in Coutada 16 farm on the fertile soils of the riverbank. They are to be the first beneficiaries of the jobs created by the new reserve. Ironically, in light of the eventual dropping of the Kruger fence, the first jobs will be constructing a new electric fence to keep the elephants out of populated areas. Solar panels erected to charge this fence will also provide a source of power for local vil lagers. "This is not going to be a people prob lem, this park," says van Riet confidently, and Cuco nods his agreement as we fly south again over more vast tracts of uninhabited land. Reduced to its most simple equation, Mozambique has the space, Kruger has the animals-and one animal in particular: elephants. Kruger's crisis with elephant over population is urgently spurring the whole transfrontier park process here.* In many ways the story of Kruger National Park is the polar opposite to that of Mozam bique's wildlife areas. While Mozambique's parks have languished completely unmanaged, Kruger has enjoyed the most sophisticated management of any African park (though, in an effort to rationalize its organization, Kruger's staff has recently been cut by a fourth). But in its hands-on management experience lies a cautionary tale, and maybe a little hubris too, for Kruger has proved a painful illus tration of how bad humans are at trying *See "A Place for Parks in the New South Africa," by Douglas H. Chadwick, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, July 1996. UNITING AFRICA S WILDLIFE RESERVES Lo T ,' t BIA/) to replicate the subtleties of nature. After the empti , ness of Mozambique, Kruger comes as a bit of a culture shock. ZIMBAB E More than a hundred years old, the park now ROPOSED attracts more than a mil )KAVANGO FCPR ZAMBEZI lion visitors a year to 25 lodges ,r-season and numerous campsites. Among wildlife movement recent lodge concessions auctioned to private operators, Nwanetsi, on the border with Mozambique, went for a down payment of a million dollars, which goes into the national parks kitty, with further payments linked to income. It's an optimistic indication of the kind of largesse in store for Coutada 16 once it gains access to Kruger's extensive tour ism catchment. Kruger brings in more money by far than any other national park in South Africa, helping to subsidize most of the others. It has 600 miles of paved road, more than some entire African countries. Kruger's headquarters are at Skukuza, named after the Shangaan nickname (meaning "he who sweeps clean") of the park's first warden, Col. James Stevenson Hamilton, a stickler for tidiness. Based here is the battalion of ecologists who try to steer the THE PEACE PARKS IDEA HANGS ON THE GOLDEN THREAD OF POLITICAL STABILITY, STILL A FRAGILE THREAD IN AFRICA. three principal architects of the park's bush veld: fire, water, and elephants. But recently the park's managers had to execute U-turns in their policies on all three. Their policy of controlled burning was dropped after they belatedly realized that such fires burned hotter than natural fires and were harming wildlife habitat. And the firebreaks themselves sometimes caused seri ous erosion. Today you can also see the abandoned wells of their "water for animals" program, a misconceived network of 400 artificial water holes that distorted seasonal migrations and undermined the natural com petitive advantage enjoyed by less water dependent animals.