The fate of the hundreds of kilometres of the Kruger National Park's western boundary fence is under review. High-level executives, including South African National Parks chief operating officer Sydney Soundy and chief financial officer Nambulelo Mkhumane met in Pretoria with senior members of the department of agriculture and Limpopo and Mpumalanga parks' board officials on November 3, 2005 to discuss who will maintain and upgrade the fence in future.
The maintenance of the fence is not only important to prevent the spread of economically disastrous diseases like foot and mouth, but to prevent damage causing animals from leaving the KNP and wreaking havoc in neighbouring villages. Not only do the villagers object to the animal intruders, but the shooting of animals such as lions and elephants has attracted significant media attention and public condemnation.
Some critics say that if the fence were better maintained, the number of animals causing damage would be minimised. Maintenance of the fence is a costly exercise. In 1999, fence upgrades cost R12 million and the 2000 floods caused at least R7 million in damages. People regularly short out the electric fence, encouraging elephants to knock it down without getting a shock, and other animals to escape in their wake.
It is estimated that in the first eight months of this year at least 2,000 people temporarily disabled the electric fence. New alternative fencing made of cables intended to keep elephants in and withstand human interference is estimated to cost R200,000 per kilometre. The funds to keep the fence in repair come from the national Treasury, but are currently directed to the Department of Agriculture's animal health section.
The department originally erected the fence and has been maintaining it to date, as it is a barrier against the spread of animal diseases. However, in terms of the animal health act, it is the responsibility of the owner or manager of properties containing buffalo to prevent the spread of disease with suitable fencing.
William Mabasa, head of Kruger's public relations says, "As custodians of wildlife we have a responsibility to keep animals inside the area we manage." The Pretoria meeting has appointed a task team that will see how best to transfer the responsibility for the fence to Sanparks, including such matters as the time frame in which the transfer will be effected, the sourcing of maintenance funds and the state of the fence at the time of transfer.
Provincial nature reserves bordering the park will also have to take over the responsibility for their fences from the department of agriculture. The task team will have to finalise a plan of action for the fence by March next year.