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So What is SANParks Week All About?

At the Groenkloof launch of SANParks week (see pictures below), Dr. David Mabunda Chief Executive, SANParks, explained the thinking behind National Parks week to staff and guests. The material below is taken from his address.

The National Parks Concept

George Catlin (1796-1872), a self-taught artist, is regarded as one of the pioneers in crafting the national park concept. On a trip to the Dakotas in 1832, he was worried about the impact of America’s westward expansion on Indian civilization, wildlife and wilderness. He suggested that the culture of the indigenous Americans and wildlife might be preserved “by some great protecting policy of government… in a magnificent park… A nation’s park, containing man and beast, in all the wild and freshness of their nature’s beauty”

National Parks were not initially established for science or biodiversity purposes; they were for protection of the last wild places and the associated cultural landscapes for the benefit of the people or public enjoyment. Science became a means to achieve the protection of the natural wildness of the protected environments much later.

In 1872 the national park movement gave birth to the proclamation of Yellowstone National on 1st March 1872.

Yellowstone is regarded as America’s gift of the national park concept to the world. It influenced the spreading of the national park concept worldwide. South Africa was no exception. Among others, the establishment of the following parks is linked to the Yellowstone model;

• Banff National Park (Canada 1885)
• Royal national Park (Australia 1879)
• Tongarero National Park (New Zealand 1887)
• Udjun Kulon National Park (Indonesia 1915)
• Albert National Park (Zaire 1925) [ now renamed Virunga National Park)
• Kruger National Park (South Africa 1926)
• Tsavo National Park (Kenya 1948)

The formal national park management system commenced in 1916 in the USA under the leadership of President Woodrow Wilson.

Early Origin of National Parks

“Though distinct in character, national parks are united through their inter-related purposes into one national park system as cumulative expressions of a single national heritage; that individually and collectively, these areas derive increased national dignity and recognition of their superb environmental quality through their inclusion jointly with each other in one national park system preserved and managed for the benefit and inspiration of the nation”

In 1969 the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recommended that all governments agree to reserve the term “National Park” to areas sharing the following characteristics:

• Where one or several ecosystems are not materially altered by human exploitation and occupation; where plant and animal species, geomorphological sites and habitats are of special scientific, educational and recreational interest or which contain a natural landscape of great beauty;

• Where the highest competent authority of the country has taken steps to prevent or eliminate as soon as possible exploitation or occupation in the whole area and to enforce effectively the respect of ecological, geomorphological or aesthetic features which have led to its establishment;

• Where visitors are allowed to enter, under special conditions, for inspirational, educational, cultural and recreational purposes.

In South Africa

In South Africa the national park system replaced the “Game Reserve” system which had been in existence since the early 19th century. Game Reserves were preservationist in outlook and were focused on the protection of animals (game) from poachers and hunters alike. Ecosystem and plants did not feature in the game reserve “equation”. Even our provincial protected areas are no longer protecting game only but ecosystems in their entirety (nature reserves).

In 1926 the then Union of SA government established the National Parks Board as a national park management system with only the KNP as its first park. In 1931 three more parks (Kgalagadi, Bontebok and Addo) were added to the stable. Today we boast a total of 22 national parks throughout South Africa. National Parks cover just under 4 million hectares of land and constitute 53% of all state owned protected areas.

The Future of National Parks Week

National Parks Week will become our annual proclaimed week for the celebration and recognition of our national parks. Our national parks are living examples of the best that our nation can offer – our magnificent natural landscapes and our varied yet interrelated heritage. National Parks provide recreational tourism experiences, opportunities to learn and grow, and places of quiet refuge. Through this week’s celebration we want to positively influence and inculcate responsible behaviour towards national parks and the environment as a whole.

Invited Guests, Staff, and School kids celerating the launch of SANParks week on 18 September 2006.

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