In a remarkable cooperative venture between private landowners, various government agencies and a large mining company, a potential disease crisis that could have cost millions has been averted, and approximately 2,500 hectares of land can now be managed in line with the conservation objectives of the greater Kruger National Park. In the process, 68 elephant and 35 buffalo have been removed from Foskor mine and returned to the greater Kruger system.
In a few short months, in excess of eight kilometres of game proof fencing has been erected on the state farms of Doreen, Rhoda and Sheila, which lie on the northern bank of the Olifants River. This has created an area where wild animals are free to roam between the Kruger National Park (KNP) and Balule and Klaserie Private Nature Reserves, and cross forwards and backwards over the Olifants River, without posing a disease threat to domestic animals.
The three farms had previously been zoned for agriculture, and some land was leased out to individuals who grazed cattle in the area. According to chief state veterinarian Dr Dewald Keet, "An outbreak of corridor disease had drawn attention to the area. One of the lessees, Piet du Plooy, had lost sixteen cattle to this disease earlier this year. Corridor disease only occurs when grazing is shared by buffaloes and cattle."
An initial aerial survey revealed 72 buffalo and 92 elephants on the farms Doreen and Rhoda, mingling in with Foskor's mining activities in the area. A plan was put forward to cull these buffalo, as they were free to move up the Selati River spreading diseases like foot and mouth to the domestic cattle in the Namakgale area outside Phalaborwa.
A previous outbreak of foot and mouth on the western boundary of Kruger is estimated to have cost the state R93 million in direct costs. The proposed cull sparked concerns with the management of Balule Private Nature Reserve, who felt that this was not a sustainable solution as more buffalo were likely to cross the river, necessitating further culling. This was borne out when a later aerial survey found 186 buffalo and 110 elephants in the same area.
Several stakeholder meetings then ensued between provincial nature conservation officials, state veterinary authorities, Foskor mining company, private individuals and the department of land affairs. The department of land affairs was involved as the land in question is subject to a land claim. It was agreed that a suitable fence in the correct location would help curb the disease threat, while allowing the game to remain in the area.
The eight kilometres of fencing was jointly erected by land affairs and Foskor mining company. Cattle grids were also installed. Foskor spent in the region of R300,000 to erect their portion of the fence, despite the fact that the wild animals had never created any problems with their mining activities in the area and were not otherwise affecting their main interest in the land, their mining rights.
The fence has significantly reduced the amount of land where lessee Piet du Plooy can graze his cattle on the farm Rhoda. When the fence was almost complete, the department of agriculture helicopter was brought in. Over several days of extreme flying conditions, they were able to chase 68 elephant and 21 buffalo out of Foskor's mining areas onto the other side of the fence, where they effectively became part of the greater KNP complex.
A further 14 buffalo were immobilised and relocated south of the fence. Dr Keet reports, "Fortunately the larger portion of the buffalo population was already south of the newly erected fence line at the time of the chase-back." However, 11 buffalo and 3 elephant somehow managed to find their way back onto the wrong side of the fence after fencing operations were completed.
Due to the fence breaking nature of elephants, and in the spirit of cooperation that the fencing exercise was carried out, representatives of the Balule Private Nature Reserve have previously committed themselves to help maintain the section of fence erected by the department of land affairs.