Somkhanda Game Reserve – developing it into a successful community conservation area
As the human population continues to grow and the demand for resources follows in its wake, there is increasing threat to biodiversity worldwide. Most areas in Africa which are rich in biodiversity are in rural areas where communities themselves are impoverished and are easily swayed by promises by resource hungry organisations looking for profit. However, if the communities living in these areas are given the necessary skills and ability to make their own decisions and use their natural resources as economic drivers for the area, then they can build for the future, creating their own opportunities. By identifying the wildlife of the area as the valuable resource and using it to their advantage, e.g. through eco-tourism offers, they can develop themselves while maintaining and conserving the habitat and biodiversity in the long term. It is with this philosophy that the Global Nature Fund (GNF) and Wildlands Conservation Trust (WCT) assist in the development of a community conservation area in the Zululand district of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The project is being funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). It has run from April 2012, and will be completed next month in September 2014.
In this area called Somkhanda Game Reserve, 12 000 hectares of prime Zululand Bushveld has been set aside by the Gumbi community with the intention of using it in a sustainable manner for species conservation and poverty alleviation through sustainable eco-tourism offers. This land was awarded to the community as part of South Africa’s land restitution process and the project was initiated to provide much needed expertise and infrastructure into the area. In order to realise the full potential of the tourism on the reserve, the project is also assisting the community in reintroducing critically endangered African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus) - this to compliment the diverse wildlife on the reserve already. All these inputs are vital for the reserve to compete and succeed in the tourism market.
As part of the development process, game rangers were selected and trained, with all equipment being provided for a job which is on the front line of conservation. To ensure efficient operations, a team of five managers were selected from the local community to undergo training. Reserve management is not an easy task and the two year mentorship of these managers through the project has been vital to instil confidence in their abilities. The tourism opportunities on the reserve are diverse, and as such, a number of different enterprises have been developed. In order to establish necessary standards, an outside tourism operator, African Insight, has been brought in to assist in development and training. This has resulted in exciting products such as Mobile Bush Camps, Student Camps and offerings such as ‘Science on Safari’. Somkhanda Game Reserve offers guests the chance to view critically endangered wildlife while having an element of freedom not often experienced.
An additional aspect of the project is to create awareness of wildlife and the environment throughout the community. This is being carried out through the local schools by Wildlife ACT Fund and involves in-classroom education as well as four night educational camps for the children on the reserve. Dr Simon Morgan of Wildlife ACT Fund says ‘It is great to be able to expose these children to their environment from a conservationists viewpoint and to highlight that there are opportunities within this field for them’.
Long term support and guidance is critical and it is something which requires commitment and a common goal. The funding, time and expertise provided through this project is something which is needed if we are going to maintain wilderness areas, while at the same time creating development opportunities for rural communities.
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This article is a guest post by Mark Gerrard, the Conservation Grants Manager of Wildlands Conservation Trust. For more information, please contact Mark at MarkG@wildlands.co.za
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