Cross-Border Park Is Africa's Largest Wildlife Refuge

Leon Marshall in Johannesburg
for National Geographic News
February 11, 2003

A high security fence erected in 1975 that blocked an ancient elephant migration route between South Africa and Mozambique is being torn down to create what will be the largest wildlife reserve in Africa.

The 13,513-square mile (35,000 square kilometer) Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park will connect the parks of three countries: South Africa's Kruger National Park, Mozambique's Limpopo National Park, and Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou National Park.

In the more than two decades since South Africa's white-minority government built the fence to keep the violent revolution in Mozambique from spilling into Kruger National Park, elephant populations on both sides have suffered, although for different reasons.

Kruger National Park is over-populated, with more than 10,000 elephants in an area with a carrying capacity for about 7,000. The resulting ecological pressure could ultimately force wildlife managers to conduct massive culling if not relieved.

Mozambique has been left denuded of elephants and most other game due to hunting under Portuguese colonial rule and the protracted war for independence during which soldiers hunted for meat and ivory to trade for weapons.

As more sections of the 75-mile (120-kilometer) fence are removed, it will only be a matter of time before the elephants resume their old seasonal migration, said Kobus Wentzel, northern district ranger for Kruger Park.

Prior to the erection of the fence, the elephants moved across the border to water pans in Mozambique during the dry winter season, beginning in June, he said. They could resume that migration pattern as soon as they discovered the fence was gone, possibly in this coming winter season.

Massive Game Translocation

Opening the old migration route is just part of a massive animal translocation program.

It could take other game species in Kruger some years to break with the roaming patterns instilled by the fence and start drifting into Mozambique, said Wentzel. But when they start doing so, it will do wonders for improving gene pools and relieving pressures on habitats, he said.

To hasten the distribution of game throughout the greater park, South Africa has delivered more than a thousand head of game to a temporary sanctuary in Mozambique. The goal is to move about 3, 000 animals, ranging from elephants and rhinos to a variety of buck species, and to keep them in the sanctuary until they are sufficiently adapted not to want to move back across the border.

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