Cross-Border Park Is Africa's Largest Wildlife Refuge

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It will take a good deal longer for animal migrations to be restored with Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou Park to the north.

The volatile state of Zimbabwean politics, aggravated by the government's controversial land-reform program, has repeatedly delayed the launch of the transfrontier park.

The treaty signed on December 9, 2002 by the presidents of the three countries—Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Joachim Chissano of Mozambique, and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe—was initially to have been signed more than a year earlier.

Willem van Riet, chief executive of the South African-based Peace Parks Foundation, a driving force behind the creation of transfrontier parks in southern Africa, has been a strong proponent for pushing ahead with the launch of the Great Limpopo despite the political problems.

"Why wait for people to sort out their problems? Let us get those fences down so that the animals can at least start moving about freely," said van Riet.

He says the big picture of what the transfrontier park could mean for southern Africa is so fantastic that it makes no sense to allow it to get bogged down in small and transient problems.

Livelihood for the Poor

Hopes for the park go far beyond its considerable environmental benefits. Supporters expect ecotourism to provide jobs for many of the people living in the sprawling, poverty-stricken communities that surround the park.

South Africa's minister of environmental affairs, Valli Moosa, says the creation of the park will contribute to establishing a sustainable tourism economy for all three countries.

"It will provide Mozambique with almost immediate access to a million people visiting Kruger annually," he said. "We predict that the overall number of tourists will be much more than the sum of those who have been visiting the three parks separately."

Others hope that it will foster peace and stability in a region left ravaged by years of war and political instability.

In his speech at the treaty-singing ceremony in December, Mbeki, who is also head of the newly-formed African Union, said it should reinforce the process of creating the conditions for Africa's collective renewal.

"The challenge ahead of us is to create these conditions, to build a new world of boundless peace and prosperity for our peoples, even as the animals of the wild learn to live in the new world created by the open frontiers of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park," he said.

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