Speaking on behalf of South African National Parks (SANParks) executive management, Dr. Nomvuselelo Songelwa made the announcement at an event held today to commemorate 30 years of the Park’s existence after its proclamation on 12 September 1979.
“The introduction of lions will bring back a historically-occurring species to the Great Karoo ecosystem,” said Songelwa.
Songelwa added that the introduction would take place in the first half of 2010 once measures had been put in place to ensure the safety of visitors walking around the Park’s rest camp. The decision had been made after careful consideration of the viability of introducing this top predator, taking into account the numbers of prey species most likely to be targeted by lions in the Park.
Truman Prince, Executive Mayor of the Central Karoo District Municipality, opened the celebrations with a welcome speech. Prince pledged the full support of the district and local municipality for Park conservation initiatives in general, as well as a specific fencing issue delaying the full completion of the Park’s predator-proof fencing.
Upon receiving a Kuduzela from the Park manager, Prince – an executive member of the South African Football Association - declared that he would put it into use at Bafana Bafana’s next match against Japan.
Beaufort West Executive Mayor, Juliet Jonas, highlighted the contribution to the Park’s existence by the local community which commenced in 1976 with the donation of communal land to form the core of the Park prior to proclamation.
Jonas also expanded on the role that national parks play, saying: “Like the Karoo National Park, all national parks lie at the centre of our South African character. They reflect and strengthen our sense of place; they protect and support our unmatched biodiversity and increasingly, they anchor growth, job creation and hope through tourism for our communities.”
SANParks regional manager, Lucius Moolman, declared that the cooperation with and support from local government was “the best experienced by any national park in the country”.
Mzwandile Mjadu, Karoo National Park Manager, expanded on the major developments and achievements in the Park over the 30 years of its existence.
Highlights included the opening of the Park’s rest camp in 1989, the opening of SANParks first-ever 4x4 trail in 1992 and the opening of the first Braille fossil trail in the world in 1994.
More recent developments of tourist facilities include the opening of the Interpretive Centre in 2005, Bulkraal picnic site and swimming pool in 2006 and Grantham Environmental Education Centre and in 2008. New 4x4 eco-trails and overnight facilities were opened earlier this year.
Mjadu praised the Karoo National Park management and staff over the years for their dedication and service to SANParks, saying this is what had led the Park to its current success.
Testament to the improvements in tourism facilities is the increase in visitor numbers by 26% and an increase in accommodation unit occupancy by 5% over six months.
Karoo National Park’s rangers put on a parade to demonstrate their skills while the Park’s choir entertained guests with a few songs.
Photo: Megan Taplin