Marula Weir Bites the Dust

Lourie Venter, head of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) special forces school, estimated about six tonnes of explosives have been used in the demolition of two man-made structures in the Kruger National Park, this October.

This is the third time the Kruger National Park and SANDF have joined forces to implement the park's long-term rehabilitation programme. The special forces school undertakes these operations as an opportunity to hone its trainees' demolition skills. According to Venter the idea is to "use the minimum amount of explosives with the maximum effect."

Malelane section ranger, Don English and other Kruger National Park staff, joined the defence force team, which first focused on the Marula weir in the Crocodile River. Even though the team used small charges, the blasts caused some windows at a nearby farmhouse to break.

On Monday, the teams continued with the blasting, but after reports of more broken windows, it was decided to breach the wall, instead of demolishing it completely. By the evening this was achieved down to riverbed level, opening a channel about 10 metres wide to facilitate unobstructed water flow.

In addition the team knocked down two wing walls by using 100 kilogramme charges at a time for the initial explosions and mines to break down the rubble into smaller, manageable pieces."SANParks replaced the neighbours' broken windows the following morning," says English.

On Tuesday, English and Fourie's team met up with the Kruger National Park's Stolsnek section ranger, Rob Thomson, to blow up the Mlambane weir, which is situated about four kilometres upstream of the Mlambane Bridge in the Mlambane spruit. The team only managed one blast, which was enough to remove the biggest part of the weir, without damaging any of the nearby rock formations and trees.

Marula weir

The Marula weir was illegally constructed in 1995. Ralf Kalwa, former section ranger for the Kruger National Park in the Malelane section, had just been transferred from Kingfisherspruit at the time. He took over from section ranger Tom Yssel, who told him, in his review of the section, that farmers were planning to construct a weir in the Crocodile River.

The Kruger National Park was opposed to the weir as "these structures have an impact on water flow, resulting in destruction of habitat (the Crocodile River is home to the tiger fish which requires clean, fast flowing water amongst others things) and often silt up shortly after construction," says Kalwa.

In an effort to accommodate the needs of the farmers and the park, "the Kruger National Park volunteered the services of Dr. Freek Venter and Dr. Andrew Deacon to undertake an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to see if they could find a suitable, potential site for such a weir which would satisfy and maintain the ecological integrity of the river and the irrigation requirements of the farmers. A potential site was identified a few kilometers upstream of the farmers' site."

However, the farmers were not happy with the proposed site. Both parties were considering the possible sites and discussions were in limbo when Yssel left the section about a month before Kalwa took over. In that time the farmers began construction of the weir without permission from the Kruger National Pak to do so.

"During my first foot patrol with Trails Ranger Jan Erasmus we walked down the river as I wanted to get to know the section and reaffirm my knowledge of the site the farmers had identified for the weir. To our shock and amazement we came across the construction activities which were taking place at the site and the progress that had been made in the past four weeks.

Two meetings between the farmers and the park later, the farmers withdrew their construction teams after refusing to break down the sections already built and rehabilitating the construction site. It remained as is until it was demolished in October 2008.

Kruger National Park water policy

The first borehole in the Kruger National Park (KNP) was sunk in 1933 at Pretoriuskop rest camp. Another 12 were sunk before the end of 1935.This marked the implementation of the first official water provisioning programme in the Park. The main idea was to allow a more even distribution of game throughout the KNP and to prevent the emigration of animals outside the Park, even though the reserve was not evenfenced in those early years.

Kruger's water provision policy evolved over time and a number of artificial waterpoints were established, notably under the Water for Game initiative. During recent years, within the Park's policy of adaptive management, a new water provision policy had been adopted.

As part of this policy, it was found that the unnatural water provisioning - dams and boreholes - has an adverse effect on the environment and some species of animals. As a result of this, a new policy was put into place to remove a selected number of redundant dams and boreholes.

By Lynette Strauss

Kruger National Park - South African Safari