Plans for SA's 4th biggest game reserve

2013-10-13 22:47

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Mbombela - The Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) has announced that plans are underway to establish the fourth largest protected area in South Africa - the 120 000ha Central Escarpment Reserve.

The proposed reserve would extend from the N4 Schoemanskloof Road to the R37 Long Tom Pass road.

“Although the idea is still in its very early days, MTPA is entertaining the possibility of making this reserve a reality,” said MTPA's senior manager for protected areas expansion and establishment, Brian Morris.

Morris said the medium term goal for the venture is to appropriately fence the entire proposed reserve area and introduce manageable numbers of wild game including impala, zebra, blue wildebeest, eland and giraffe.

Those who developed the proposal, including Sudwala Lodge manager Oscar Osberg, have said the ultimate goal will be to introduce the Big 5.

“The absence of larger herbivores has led to areas which are wildly overgrown and almost inaccessible, so these animals will need to be introduced to make way for the Big 5,” said Osberg.

Osberg said that a consultative process was launched in May 2013 to ask local residents and stakeholders for their comments and advice regarding the potential establishment of the reserve.

“Such a proposed reserve is a massive undertaking, which can only be successful if all landowners and stakeholders in the potentially affected area support the initiative,” he explained.

Current land use in the proposed reserve area includes forestry, agriculture and tourism.

“The proposed reserve will be managed to accommodate all these diverse forms of current land use by utilising mitigation measures such as fencing and using technology to monitor and manage potentially dangerous game,” said Osberg.

Not priority

The 120 000ha area currently contains three existing game reserves - the Buffelskloof Private Nature Reserve and the Makobulaan and Wonderkloof reserves.

Morris, however, said that the development of the Central Escarpment Reserve was currently not at the top of MTPA’s priority list.

“Savannah conservation areas are already well established, and at the moment we are focusing on establishing protected environments in the threatened grassland and wetland ecosystems in the Highveld of the province, which are under-represented,” Morris explained.

Currently being developed, the 62 000ha Chrissiesmeer Protected Environment (CPE) will represent the largest Protected Environment in South Africa’s grasslands biome.

The initiative is the result of collaborative efforts from the MTPA, BirdLife South Africa, the Endangered Wildlife Trust and more than 60 Chrissiesmeer landowners.

“A similar joint effort will be needed to accommodate the Central Escarpment Reserve,” said Morris.

Philip Owen, chairperson of the Houtbosloop Environment Action Link, said that the reserve would be unique in that it would incorporate aspects of the Lowveld, Middleveld and Highveld.

“The reserve would boost eco-tourism and job creation. There is more than enough space to accommodate animals and everyone is supportive of the initiative.

"A lot of footwork still needs to be done though,” Owen stressed.
Read more on:    mbombela  |  environment

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