Call for ‘4x4-free’ game parks

2014-05-14 00:00

A SOIL scientist has made a call to strictly regulate 4x4 vehicles in conservation areas, saying these vehicles cause long-term and largely irreparable damage to ecological systems.

Dr Gerhard Nortjé, a soil scientist, said while 4x4 enthusiasts all love the outdoors, their drivers often do not realise that their tyre tracks cause irreparable damage to plant growth. He made this finding as part of research for a doctoral thesis for the Centre for Wildlife Management at the University of Pretoria.

Nortjé said strict new laws were needed to regulate 4x4s in protected areas and to even to classify very sensitive areas, like wetlands, as “4x4-free”.

“Although people don’t think a 4x4 vehicle has a negative impact on the environment and especially the soil and plant growth, the risk of irreparable damage is very real,” he said.

He stressed that any bundu-bashing trip, which were often sold as an “eco-tourist activity” was not ecologically sustainable and “must not be allowed in conservation areas”.

A 4x4 enthusiast himself, Nortjé used a Land Rover game viewer loaded with 10 bags weighing 70 kg each to see the impact the tyres had on the soil. His findings show even a slow and careful “bundu bash” will accelerate erosion, damage plants and destroy habitats.

Nortjé did his research in the northern part of the Pafuri area of the Kruger Game Park and said SANParks must consider a total revision of their management strategies for game viewing trips in conservation areas.

He said SANParks’ current guidelines already acknowledge the potential negative impact of 4x4 trips, but underestimate the real impact they has on soil erosion.

He said one SANPark guideline in particular — for 4x4 vehicles not to follow in each other’s tracks — is directly against the findings of his research.

About 90% of the damage ise caused when a vehicle traverses a section of veld for the first time, hence if drivers follow one track they will cause a lot less damage than if each were to blaze a new set of tracks, Nortjé said.

SANPark spokesperson Rey Thakhuli said the organisation will study the thesis before officially reacting to it.

Nortjé said many game reserves allowed 4x4 vehicles to bundu bash new tracks over untravelled areas when they follow game.

Andre Karrim, an off-road driver trainer and driver assessor based in Durban, said that ultimately there has to be a balance on land conservation and the income derived from driving these sensitive areas.

“This is where 4x4 driver training (tyre pressure knowledge) is vital. But ultimately, it is the attitude of the drivers that plays the biggest role. A blanket ban is not the answer. The National Offroad Workgroup (NOW) had been tasked with finding the best solution.”

Karrim also believes that 4x4 enthusiasts should limit themselves to existing tracks and not blaze new ones.

Greg van der Reis, chairperson of the 4x4 Adventure Club, said members of the club know it takes up to 40 years for a track to become overgrown once a 4x4 vehicle has driven over it. “Our guides stick to the tracks,” Van der Reis. “We are quite strict about it and don’t tolerate hooligans.”

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