by Michele Hofmeyr
Mokala National Park is SANParks newest park, situated approximately 80km south-southwest of Kimberley. The 19th of June 2007 saw the official proclamation, naming and launch of Mokala National Park by Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk. Mokala is a Setswana name for a Camel Thorn (Acacia erioloba) (Kameeldoring). These distinctive trees occur in dry woodland and arid, sandy areas and are one of the major tree species of the desert regions of Southern Africa.
A new park means new conservation challenges for both scientists and park management. Staff from the SANParks Scientific Services offices in the Kruger National Park and Kimberley joined the Mokala Park Manager and ranger to discuss these various issues. The first task was to draw up a list of objectives that will guide the conservation management strategy and determine what different components of the park ecosystems need to be monitored.
These are largely based on the unique attributes of the park which were identified during a stakeholder meeting in 2007. Of these unique attributes, the vegetation type at the interface of two biomes, namely the Savanna Biome and the Nama-Karoo Biome, the distinctive landscapes in the park, and the rare and unique biota that occur in the area are noteworthy.
The meeting discussions also focussed on the core objective of the park as being either an area for high value/ rare species breeding or for biodiversity conservation or a combination of the above. This will affect the management strategy for the park. Setting up the monitoring programme to detect “thresholds of potential concern” which could indicate changes in the ecosystem included looking at issues such as hydrology and ground water, erosion, the impacts of herbivory and changes in populations of threatened species such as black rhino.
“The park is currently 19611ha in size but it will be expanding as new land is acquired. In the past many animal species would have been transient, moving through the area where Mokala is now situated in search of adequate forage and water resources. This is not possible anymore due to the park’s fences, so natural processes such as predation and fluxes in herbivore distribution and densities will have to be mimicked within the boundaries of the park” says Izak Smit, Scientific Services research manager GIS and remote sensing.
Park management are working together with Scientific Services to see how the desired state of the park can be achieved. “Due to the historical land uses, such as livestock farming and hunting, in the area before it was proclaimed a national park, effort will be directed at restoring and rehabilitating different areas of the park. This may include removing dam walls from drainage lines to restore the natural water flow patterns, removing extralimital herbivores that did not historically occur in the area and possibly rehabilitating areas that were bushcleared using poisonous herbicides” explains Izak.
Mokala is presenting both SANParks science and management with a conservation opportunity that can provide an example on how to create a protected area that is carefully monitored and managed for the benefit of all.
As part of the park establishment, a total of 863 animals were moved from the de-proclaimed Vaalbos National Park to the new Mokala National Park. The average annual rainfall for the park is just over 400 mm per annum with the temperature varying between cold winters (coldest months June - July) as low as -4°C and the summer temperatures (warmest months December - January) as high as 44°C. In addition, due to the extremes in temperature the area has a low incidence of diseases, and rare species such as the tsessebe and roan antelope are breeding well in the new park. The park is also home to valuable disease-free buffalo.