National Parks Are Not For Sale

by Dr David Mabunda, Chief Executive SANParks

National Parks are not for sale, they belong to the nation. The National Parks Movement which was initiated by the United States of America in 1872, with the establishment of the Yellowstone National Park was one that was based, not on need for science, profit making, tourism or even ecosystems management, but rather the creation of heritage symbols for the nation. The US Congress in 1970, on declaring that all units of the national parks system have equal legal standing in a national system, proclaimed in the General Authorities Act that:

Dr David Mabunda,

"though distinct in character, are united through their inter-related purposes and resources 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 all people of the United States..."

National Parks were and still are meant to evoke patriotism of the country’s intrinsic values in addition to its socio-economic and political worth. A National Park is, therefore, not a mere physical entity, a geographical area or suite of ecosystems and species, but a mirror of society’s value system and a vigorous national symbol.

National Parks have been set aside for the highest form of protection, selecting from certain elements of the environment for perpetual protection, to be appreciated and enjoyed by future generations. National Parks are, therefore, synonymous with the flag and the national anthem. They are and always remain the pride of any nation.

The national parks system was soon taken up by other countries, on recognizing that this is indeed a worthy cause and an ideal to work towards. South Africa was no exception as it decided to proclaim the Sabie Game Reserve (proclaimed in 1898) and the Shingwedzi Game Reserve, the Kruger National Park in 1926. By according particular areas National Park status South Africa had subscribed to the universal understanding which allocated National Parks Category II protection. Category II Protected Areas (PAs) are described as follows:

[A] natural area designated to (a) protect its ecological integrity for present and future generations, (b) exclude exploitation or occupation inimical to the purpose of designation of the area and (c) provide a foundation for spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational and visitor opportunities, all of which must be environmentally and culturally compatible.

Whereas the two types of PAs in Category Ia and Ib, Strict Nature Reserve and Wilderness Area respectively, are conserved only for scientific purposes, the National Parks system is the highest form of protection that a country can accord its wonderful natural, cultural and even historical heritage for the perpetual enjoyment of future generations.

When people come to National Parks they must be prepared to leave nothing but footprints and to take knowledge and unforgettable memories with them.

Often people have continued to make the mistake of comparing what is happening in Provincial Protected Areas with what is happening in National Parks and drawing to the conclusion that the two are no different in nature or form. Such people have failed to recognize the intrinsic differences in the two types of PAs, in not only their respective governing legislation but the reasons for which they are created. As stated above National Parks are Category II Protected Areas while Provincial Parks are mostly Category VI PAs, which are universally described as:

Area[s] containing predominantly unmodified natural systems, managed to ensure long term protection and maintenance of biological diversity, while providing at the same time a sustainable flow of natural products and services to meet community needs.

It is clear therefore that where certain practices may be permissible in Provincial Parks, such practices may not be entertained in National Parks. This brings me to this issue of hunting that seems to have dominated the headlines since the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, announced that the self-imposed ban on culling of elephants in National Parks of South Africa will be lifted as from the 01 May 2008. The Minister, in the Norms and Standards for Management of Elephants in South Africa expressly stated that culling will be used as a management tool on consultation and advice of a qualified ecologist who is a recognised elephant management specialist.

By lifting the ban on culling and approving culling as one of the management tools for elephant population management, the Minister did not open a back door for hunting in National Parks. As an organization we have nothing against hunting, however, as custodians of the National Parks system on behalf of the nation, we cannot allow hunting or any form of extractive use in National Parks. Whereas hunting in South Africa is a perfectly legal activity that is governed through a number of enabling and restrictive legislation it is a form of activity that is not allowed in the National Parks of South Africa based on the principles and values held by this nation.

Confusion between culling and hunting must never be created or allowed. Hunting is a form of selective elimination of the strongest members of a herd, based on whatever distinction has been accepted in the hunting fraternity, whereas culling, though a lethal means of management, is only based on a precautionary principle of managing wildlife populations for the sole purposes of regulating systems for whatever reasons.

Those people who have purported to be representing the interests of South African National Parks by either claiming that the request to cull is based on the organisation’s need to create profit or that hunting, as a side show to culling, will bring a lot of money to the system, fail to recognize that this organization commands an operational revenue of close to a billion ZAR (R928 million in the 2006/07 financial year) without culling or hunting. SANParks is one of the few conservation agencies in the world which has managed to keep afloat with limited state support and is probably the only conservation agency in the world that is self generating more than 75% of its operating budget. Of course we could always do with more funds to patch up here, patch up there, but we are not destitute. Forget the myths now and ask yourself this question: Does South African National Parks need to cull or hunt for revenue generation purposes? Do the Maths.