A pioneering conservation plan to create a wildlife corridor linking the Pilanesberg National Park and the Madikwe Game Reserve appears to have collapsed because of mining and farming pressure in the North West Region.
The vision behind the proposed nearly 300 000 hectare Heritage Park, which was touted as a “revolutionary” move in the eco-tourism sector, would have allowed for a bigger migration area for wildlife such as Madikwe’s surging elephant population by taking down fences between the unified parks and creating a heritage destination that would ultimately link up with Botswana.
Local conservation authorities said it would have achieved a single “Big Five” game reserve, offering the free movement of game throughout the entire fenced area, according to the authorities.
But this week, Moremi Lesejane, the head of parks expansion of the North West Parks and Tourism Board, told the Saturday Star the original concept of connection the two parks “did not seem to be feasible at all because of all the mining activities” and limited buy-in from local landowners, many subsistence farmers.
In the latest mining bid, Pilanesberg Platinum Mine (PPM) received environmental authorisation to expand its mining operations in the proposed Madikwe-Pilanesberg corridor.
“Negotiations are still ongoing with the Bakgatla and other tribes in the corridor where there are also competing land uses and cattle farming, but the actual connection doesn’t seem feasible anymore, mainly because mining cuts off the connecting piece of land from the Pilanesberg to the remaining corridor.
“Farms have also been given to emerging farmers wand with the corridor, there’s a risk to farmers. We just don’t think this corridor is realisable because of mining and other competing land uses.”
The Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE) has appealed the PPM’s expansion was “within a highest biodiversity sensitive area and a national freshwater eco-system priority area”, arguing it would adversely impact on the functionality and viability of the proposed Heritage Park
The mine also do not have a water use licence for the expansion, it said.
The FSE said the cumulative impacts on biodiversity, groundwater, air pollution and of similar mining activities in the area had not been properly assessed by the authorities.
In 2013, the FSE laid criminal charges against another mining company Platmin, for operating an open cast mine on top of the Pilanesberg nature reserve.
Lesejane said the authorities had now instead decided to investigate the potential of a biosphere for the region, instead.
“We are thinking of having Pilanesberg as a core area with Madikwe and expanding a community reserve, where more elephants could be placed. The biosphere concept will allow the co-existence of agriculture and conservation in a managed fashion, not exclusively for conservation, as local landowners also need to benefit.
Dr Marion Garai, chairperson of the elephant specialist advisory group, said biospheres “as far as I have experienced are not worth more than the paper they are written on. People can still do what they like within a biosphere, it might just create awareness.
“People can live and work and have cattle in a biosphere, so no, it will do nothing for the elephants as long as they are fenced in.”
It was a pity that “once again money rules over nature. Conservation corridors are definitely the way to move forward.
“It allows all wildlife to migrate and choose the winter or summer feeding grounds giving the vegetation time to recover.
“Giving elephants more space relives the stress arising from high population densities or vegetation shortage.”