The Game Rangers Association of Africa (GRAA) has called on Finance Minister Trevor Manuel to reconsider the budget allocated to the protection of protected areas in South Africa. Referring to an article in The Witness entitled, “SARS owed R35 billion” that stated that Finance Minister Trevor Manuel has announced that SARS collected R1 billion more than the revised budget of R417 billion for the last financial year.
The R418 116 billion collected was also R45, 3 billion more than the original estimate of R372,8 billion … The preliminary revenue result we announced today gives further credence and justification to the mood of optimism and confidence in the country and our ability to fund our ambition for a better life for all South Africans, Manuel said.”
In addition, adds the GRAA, Earthyear reported in 2004, that Sanparks CEO David Mabunda questioned if it is realistic to expect conservation agencies to be self-supporting or financially self-sufficient. According to the GRAA release conservation agencies suffer from chronic financial problems that prevent them carrying out their conservation mandate adequately.
In developed countries around the world the cost of managing protected areas is mostly fully borne by the state, whereas in developing countries there is a mix of donor-dependency and heavy reliance on tourism development. The GRAA further states that although Sanparks generates approximately 80% of its operational revenue from tourism and is a world leader in this regard, there are limitations to tourism performance, if the biodiversity mandate is not to be compromised.
Tourism in protected areas is not the panacea for the survival of nature conservation and enhancement of local economies. In spite of the controversial commercialisation programme implemented by Sanparks since 2000 (which generates approximately 8, 5% of SANParks total tourism income of over R200-million), not all national parks generate a surplus or break even. Only five out of the total of 20 parks do, whereas the 15 loss-making ones are of biodiversity value and most will probably never break even.
The same is true for the majority of our provincial protected areas. It should be recognized that the Kumleben commission of inquiry into the state of conservation in 1988 concluded that “nature conservation as such can never be self-supporting … it is therefore short-sighted and fallacious to expect a protected area to become economically selfsufficient”.
It continues that South Africa’s national park estate expansion of approximately 140 000 hectares since 1994 has not been followed by an increase in the state operational grant. Furthermore, the cost of conservation (fencing, resource protection, restocking of species, disease-control, monitoring, construction of management roads, administration, etc) has increased markedly in the last decade or so, yet state operational grants have decreased in relative terms.
Protected areas should not be declared without providing for the accompanying operational and capital costs. According to the GRAA over-dependence on tourism to fund protected area management can lead to unsustainable tourism practices. “As Mabunda cautioned, we could see the Kruger taking the Disney World route, and in fact many argue that South Africa’s flagship park has already commenced along this route.
The risk of introducing tourism products that will compromise the aesthetic and ecological attributes (including wilderness qualities) of protected areas to achieve “financial self-sufficiency” is a very real one.
Over-development of tourism facilities to the extent that they alter the ecological integrity of the protected area is another danger. Within this picture, many South Africans are excluded from conservation areas because of the tourist based pricing structures.”