Dams potential damage to gorges inspected

Dr Ian Player and other renowned conservationists again directed attention to the destruction of two of the Kruger National Park (KNP)'s pristine habitats. On a visit to the Massingir Dam in February Dr Player and other members of the Game Rangers Association of Africa (GRAA) became aware of the threat the rehabilitation of the dam wall poses to the Olifants River Gorge. "I walked in the Bangu river to where it joins the Olifants and then down that Gorge. I said: "This is where God lives," was how he described the area now under threat.

On his and other conservationists' urging the Bataleurs, a volunteer organisation comprising about 115 pilots who fly missions for conservation as and where needed, undertook "one of the most important missions we have ever flown." Rupert Lorimer, chairman of The National Parks Support Group Trust, asked the Bataleurs to fly a fact-finding mission on the impact of the raising of the walls of the Massingir and Corumana dams would have on the gorges of the Olifants and Sabie rivers.

The intention was to photograph the areas of possible inundation, closely examine the relevant contours and thus provide understanding of what could be lost to the KNP. After David Mabunda, chief executive officer of Sanparks, granted permission, John Watson and Petri Viljoen took to the air. Watson is a member of the GRAA and the Bataleur's first helicopter member.

Viljoen, who assisted with the data capturing, is a consultant having spent 14 years in Kruger. Col Bill de Pinho of the South African Air Force provided Landsat satellite images to help plot the extent of the flooding that would take place. Viljoen said the final report should be finalised within the next month and presented to relevant decision-makers. - Bateleurs

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