Whatever Happened to Vaalbos?

In the heart of the unspoilt Northern Cape, a new South African National Park is preparing to welcome the public to a sanctuary filled with abundant game, a landscape that is as varied as it is beautiful, and a range of accommodation and activities designed to ensure that trips to the new park are unforgettable.The establishment of the new 19 611 ha national park south west of Kimberly is the result of the de-proclamation of Vaalbos National Park following a successful land claim made on a section of the original park by the Sidney on Vaal claimants.

The new park, formerly known as Wintershoek, is similar to the old park in size, climate and vegetation and is in an area that has been protected from mining and other industrial activities. “Two independent studies were done to look for an alternative site”, explains Park Manager Deon Joubert, “and both indicated that the Wintershoek area would be ideal for the new park in terms of SANParks biodiversity, conservation and tourism mandates”.

While the park waits to be officially proclaimed by the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, an extensive operation to ready the new park for its first guests has been underway.

This has involved moving a huge number of animals to their new home in the Wintershoek and other national parks, and a large amount of infrastructure development. Work began early in 2006, with the first phase of animal relocations completed in March 2006.

In this first phase, 234 animals were relocated to other national parks like Tankwa Karoo National Park and Augrabies Falls National Park in the Northern Cape, Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape and Mapungubwe National Park in Limpopo. “This is to ensure that we spread the gene pool and maintain healthy animal populations in all of our parks”, explains Henriette Engelbrecht, spokesperson for the park.

Phase two, which started on 22 June 2006, was scheduled specifically for the winter season for heat sensitive animals and 346 more animals were moved. Animals relocated during both phases include 5 White Rhinos ; 11 Giraffe; 163 Red Hartebeest; 43 Blue Wildebeest; 39 Teesside; 85 Gemsbok; 36 Plains Zebra; 76 Springbok; 10 Eland and 141 Buffalos.
“This type of operation is extremely challenging”, explains Engelbrecht, “but the game capture team is incredibly professional, and the animals welfare is of prime importance throughout the operation, so much so that different animals are catered for differently depending on their age, temperaments and physical condition”.

The game is monitored throughout the move and after the move to ensure the health and safety of the animals in their new home. “The animals moved in the first two phases have adapted very well, especially as the conditions in the new park are similar to those of the old park”, says Engelbrecht. Many animals have even calved, including a giraffe that gave birth to a healthy calf just days after the move.

The third phase of this massive operation took place at the beginning of October, with the SANParks animal capture team from Kimberley working round the clock to ensure that the move remained on target. This last phase was planned specifically for this time of year in order to move animals like the Black Rhino which are sensitive to cold temperatures.

A typical capture operation takes place early in the day, and much of it is complete before midday. The logistical operation involved an integration of various services, equipment and personnel from SANParks and other specialised wildlife services. Two veterinary doctors; three assistants and 12 park rangers form a core part of the capture team; while 4 large translocation trucks, 2 specialised containers for Rhino transportation, 1 crane truck and a helicopter are also used.

In total the translocation involved moving roughly 1 200 animals. Pregnant, old and sensitive animals like Black Rhino are the hardest to move, but the state veterinarian is present during the entire operation to ensure that procedures and safety elements are adhered to. “It is not just a case of pack up and go, but a very sensitive and unique operation to relocate a whole national park”, says Dr David Zimmerman, from SANParks Veterinary Wildlife Services. The unspoilt condition of the new park has provided plenty of vegetation and a calm environment for the animals and this has assisted in their quick rehabilitation.

The new park is made up of Kalahari Thornveld, Savanna and Nama Karoo, interspersed with rocky outcrops, and a wetland area that stretches for 18 kilometres. The new park will offer a range of accommodation and activities, as well great restaurants and conference and team-building facilities. Future developments will also include a day visitor’s area and more rustic wilderness self-catering camps. A lot of work has gone into establishing a good road network and, and ensuring that a high standard is maintained throughout the park.

A number of outdoor activities such as mountain biking, day walks, sunset and night drives and bush braais will be offered. The park also plans to take full advantage of perfect night skies and star-gazing as a night time activity will also be offered.

“The park can already accommodate groups”, says Hein Grobler, Hospitality Services Manager at the new park, adding “if you book now, you’ll be one of the first to experience this new park”. Day visitors and overnight guests will have to wait a little while longer to make their first visit as management and staff polish this gem of a park into flawless perfection.

The new name for the park was decided on through a process of public partcipation and will soon be announced. Keep checking www.sanparks.org for updates.

For more information contact the “new” National Park on:

Tel.: (053) 2040 158 / 164 / 168
Fax: (053) 2040 176

Ms. Marilyn Zimmermann for general enquiries.

Mr. Hein Grobler, the Hospitality Services Manager for all ecotourism related enquiries, facilities, activities, conferencing and group reservations.

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