Two of SA’s Peace Parks are a Study of Contrasts

How do institutions within Transfrontier Parks (TFP) or Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCA) react to dynamics in and around the parks? What are these dynamics and how can they be effectively managed, if at all? These are some of the questions that took Michael Schoon, political ecologist from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs of the Indiana University in the United States of America (USA), to both the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP) and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTFP) over a period of 18 months. He presented his preliminary findings in a paper at the Parks, Peace and Partnership Conference in Canada in September 2007.

"The GLTP encompasses the Kruger National Park (KNP) in South Africa, the Limpopo National Park (LNP) in Zimbabwe and Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe. It was established in 2002 and the 35000km2 area is home to 146 mammal species, 114 types of reptiles and more than 550 bird species.

"The park's primarily southern savannah woodland and grassland embraces 17 distinct eco-zones, ranging from open acacia lowlands to thick scrubby mopane bushveld. "Regarded as a flagship peace park in southern Africa, many stakeholders impact the day-to-day management, as well as the strategic development of the park. It was established by deliberate design from the "top down". In 2006, about 1,3 million visitors entered Kruger and 15 000 people visited the LNP.

" It is home to the "big five" and about eight million people live in 185 villages on Kruger's western border, while 28 000 people reside within the LNP. The park's development has been marked by events such as the opening of the Giriyondo tourism access facility, taking down sections of the fence between the Kruger and the LNP, the translocation of animals and the resettlement of people within the LNP.

The situation in the Kgalagadi is somewhat different. "The KTFP was created in the 1940s with South African rangers managing both sides of the park for 40 years. It is South Africa's first peace park and was officially proclaimed in 2000." According to Michael's observation, its "bottom up" beginning has helped build a stable situation and relatively straightforward transboundary circumstances for managers to operate in.

"The KTP lies in a sparsely populated, remote area centred around Union's End, the point where Botswana, South Africa and Namibia meet." The roughly 40 000km2 is made up of 9 591km2 South African land and 28 400km2 contributed by Botswana.

Referred to as an arid savannah, the area has two distinct eco-types - the Kalahari duneveld in the south-east and the Kalahari plains thornveld in the north east. It is home to the one of the few remaining genetically pure populations of the African wildcat (Felis lybica) and holds populations of 66 mammal species, more than 280 bird species, 55 types of reptiles, five amphibian species and "hundreds of flora species".

Both these TFPs are very large and have South Africa as a partner. They have long histories as national protected areas, have similar governance structures and the same international recognition. At the same time, they also differ in their governance, resources, and relationships within the system and have different ecosystems. "They do not have the same population densities beyond the fence, have different historical land use and different tourism levels."

Policy Puzzles

Michael's goal is to provide practical applications for managers by shedding some light on policy puzzles that would typically include issues like the roles of the joint management board (JMB) as compared to those of the national parks staff, and how transboundary cooperation can be improved.

He also looked at how to manage within a multi-level governance system with multiple centres of power and authority. Michael believes that if there is greater understanding of what, when, where and to what extent disturbances impact on the institutional design, the better these questions will be answered. "A practical example: the LNP and KNP cannot tell each other what to do, but they can order their relations.

They can work together on some issues (for instance poaching, animal census, veterinary disease control), inform each other about their activities on other issues (border control policies) and on further issues do their own thing (community relations)." He adds, "the key is that not all things need full cooperation. This raises transaction costs. It depends on the nature of the disturbance."


But what is a disturbance? Michael describes it using what people he interviewed define as "challenges, issues, problems and pressures" that they face as managers, either in the TFP or in a national park. After conducting 150 semi-structured interviews he identified roughly about 700 disturbances, which he grouped into "a few dozen main groups". Looking at both TFCAs he set out to examine the institutional responses to these disturbances.

"Are the responses co-ordinated at international level, between sub-national groups or at local level? What actions have the JMBs taken and at what level?" This necessitated that he look closer into some of the leading interconnected disturbances, such as relations between communities and the park, human-wildlife conflict, veterinary disease and border security.

The term 'disturbance' comes from literature on the resilience of social-ecological systems. A system's resilience could be affected by a disturbance, which will then result in a change of state for the system. "Depending on the size of the disturbance and the resilience of the system, the system would either 'absorb' the disturbance or be pushed into another state.

" Ecologists distinguish between large infrequent disturbances and chronic problems. Large disturbances act as shocks to the system and would result in transformative change. Distinctive examples are floods and fire damage. Chronic problems, such as invasive alien species, act as pressures to the system and would typically result in a more incremental adaptive change.

Social scientists like Michael distinguish between shocks, which are mostly large infrequent disturbances such as a regime change in a country; and pressures, which could include issues such as population growth, poaching and land claims. In grouping these disturbances, Michael used a number of continuums which include themes such as from shocks to pressures, from predominantly social to predominantly ecological and from an operational to political level. The disturbances were further grouped according to size, prominence, location, who is diagnosing it and so forth.

Six Assumptions

Michael suggested six probable scenarios for the developing TFCAs. Firstly he proposed that large disturbances or those of immediate concern to multiple countries will generate greater degrees of transboundary cooperation. Secondly, cases of bottom-up TFCAs, such as the Kgalagadi, will have higher degrees of operational cooperation than where top-down parks originated, such as the GLTP. Thirdly, cases of top-down TFCA development, such as the GLTP, will have higher degrees of political cooperation than the bottom-up parks.

In the fourth instance, the higher transaction costs of international coordination and the lack of direct enforcement abilities of the JMB will minimise the amount of the institutional development at the international level relative to national and sub-national levels. The next scenario highlights transaction costs that will decline with higher levels of cooperation and the last assumption states that different types of disturbances may lead to different degrees of cooperation at either the political or an operational level, "depending on whether the disturbance is a shock or a pressure, whether the issue is politically important in its timing, or is a recurring issue." To test these assumptions, Michael looked at the institutional responses to several of the key disturbances mentioned earlier.

Institutional Responses to Key Disturbances

Institutional responses to key disturbances in the two TFCAs have produced something of a mixed bag. Many of these disturbances closely interlink with each other and are applicable in both TFCAs. These include human-wildlife conflict (damage causing animals) and community relations between the park and its neighbours.

In the GLTP some of the 'big' additional disturbances mentioned are veterinary disease control, border security, water levels in the rivers, removal of fences and elephant populations. Drawing upon theories of resilience and robustness, Michael assessed the park's managements' responses to these disturbances to see whether the park went through a transformative or adaptive change or no major changes took place at all.

He found that several transformative events took place. In both parks there was a shift from the resettlement of people to the creation of contractual parks and settling of land claims, which resulted in the Makuleke contractual park in the Pafuri section of the Kruger National Park and the contractual park with the Mier and the San in the KTP.

There was also a move away from the former "fortress conservation" mode of thinking to a more modern model, engaging local communities, with the introduction of SANParks' social ecology programme through its People and Conservation department in 1995.

The resettlement policy of the Limpopo National Park (LNP) in Mozambique regarding the communities in the park stands in stark contrast with the creation of contractual parks and ongoing restitution underway in South Africa. According to Michael, "discussions have started again to expand thinking beyond park borders to a giant multiple-use conservation area.

With this decision, more discussions with communities along the Limpopo River focus on the creation of an unfenced buffer zone rather than a hard, fenced boundary." He says South African park managers are discussing the possibilities of creating buffer zones on its western borders and possible changes in resource use by community members.

Other institutional responses to disturbances have taken a more incremental, adaptive approach, one being the control of veterinary disease. Working with the Wildlife Conservation Society, the GLTP staff and veterinary sub-committee established a working group, AHEAD (Animal Health for the Environment and Development) project in the GLTP to collaborate on veterinary disease control.

Other adaptive changes have been brought about in both parks by disturbances such as the removal of fences and the responses to human-wildlife conflict. "Whether this conflict takes the form of crop loss to elephants in Limpopo, loss of livestock to predation in the KTP, or direct threats to human life: human wildlife conflict has the potential to destroy lives and livelihoods and tear relations between park and community asunder.

" A final disturbance of critical importance is that of border security. In the Kgalagadi, the concept of a transfrontier park as an opportunity for staff, tourists and wildlife to have a completely borderless view of the park "has come close to fruition." "The situation in the GLTP is quite different." Border crossings between South Africa and Mozambique required the establishment of the Giriyondo tourism access facility where visitors must have the necessary paperwork to visit both sides.

Preliminary Conclusion

"Initial analysis of the institutional changes in response to various disturbances appears to be inconclusive and without pattern, but a few insights emerge after examining the disturbances and responses in the two TFCAs." First, though not surprising, political convenience overrides ecological goals, economic development plans, and day-to-day park administration plans for a new park.

Second, transformative events, such as philosophical shifts from 'fortress conservation' to 'people and conservation', often emerged at the political level, not at the operational level. "However, implementation of these levels take considerable time" SANParks is only now beginning to show results 13 years after implementation with efforts being slower at park level.

"One of the constant challenges of the TFCA development emerges from the discrepancy between political time frames and the time requirement of implementation. Both politicians and donor organisations often want rapid results, but the creation and management of a contractual park, the development and rollout of a veterinary disease control programme, or changes in response to damage causing animals all take considerable time, often years longer than the expectations of politicians.

" The same can be said that to increase adaptive capacity to manage disturbances at an operational level often takes time before changes can be seen. "In comparing the KTP and the GLTP, implementation often moves faster in the KTP. This is in part due to the historical co-operation, experience of cross border management and bottom-up approach to park development. The GLTP, however, had high levels of political buy-in and cross border collaboration, though it battled to move forward as an entity at an operational level."

"It is safe to say that institutional responses vary at a political and operational level. Cooperation levels also vary at the two levels and depend, in part, to the historical route of the institutions." Managers should keep in mind the time lag between political decisions and operational fulfillment to keep expectations realistic.

They should also bear in mind that JMBs are not the cure-alls, so JMB management plans for the transfrontier parks must be incorporated within the management plans for each of the national parks. "Finally, early stage success provides support that TFCAs can, but will not always, make progress toward their goals of biodiversity conservation, economic development, and the promotion of peace."

By Lynette Strauss

Kruger National Park - South African Safari