The South African National Parks (SANParks) is on a drive to conserve the country’s unique wildlife in more sustainable ways, particularly those hit by drought as in the Eastern Cape, where water shortages have led to restrictions.
Addo Elephant National Park, which celebrated its 90th birthday this week, has not been spared the effects of prolonged drought conditions, with water in the past having to be pumped into its dams from the municipality.
This was generated by thousands of litres of diesel, which releases carbon dioxide into the air.
But today, all the pumps in the park are powered by solar panels, a move park manager Nick de Goede said has significantly reduced costs associated with diesel-run water pumps.
“This is the driest it’s been in Addo in 90 years. We were lucky to have about 40mm of rain last week. That’s the most rain I’ve seen in Addo since I came here,” he said.
“In the last year we’ve changed every diesel-generated pump and it is interesting to see that with the sun we are able to pump more water than we have ever been able to pump.”
Most of the park’s staff accommodation is also fitted with solar geysers.
Considered the most diverse park in the country, Addo conserves the biggest population of black rhino and is home to 600 elephants. The 180 000-hectare park is linked to a marine protected area that connects to the Bird and St Croix islands. It is the only park in the world that can boast a “Big Seven” because the marine portion of the park protects the southern right whale and the great white shark.
And of South Africa’s seven unique biomes, Addo Elephant Park is home to five.
The park is in talks with companies seeking to offset their carbon emissions through funding the conservation of the spekboom succulent, which is indigenous to the Eastern Cape and is known for its super carbon dioxide absorption qualities and climate resilience.
“It absorbs the carbon and pushes out pure oxygen. It is the most important plant from that point of view,” said De Goede.
He said under good conditions wildlife did not feed off the spekboom, but because the plant thrives in drought, the animals had now turned to eating it.
“It’s an awesome plant. It grows very easily, it doesn’t need a lot of rain, and it does not need water. You can see [despite the drought] that the spekboom is in full bloom,” he said.
Carbon offsetting is a climate action method in which polluters pay for conservation and other mitigation efforts such as reforestation and renewable energy expansion in developing countries. This counts towards the polluters’ emission reductions.
“One of the projects we looked into is one in which the company purchases additional land adjacent to Addo to expand the spekboom species,” said De Goede.
The park was still establishing how to quantify the amount of carbon being absorbed to correctly credit the companies for the offset.
At the launch of National Parks Week on 21 November he said the park had convinced companies that it made more sense to include wildlife in the offset locations because, for example, elephants eat the top of the plant which then helps the plant grow and expand.
Entrance to national parks is free this week
Addo Elephant Park and other national parks across the country have opened their doors at no cost to South African identity document holders. The annual drive aims to get South Africans to know their parks and appreciate the conservation of wildlife and nature.
The week-long campaign encourages citizens through the #LiveYourWild programme to be part of a worldwide drive.
“SANParks is striving to provide all South Africans with equal opportunities and in line with our vision of a world class system of sustainable national parks reconnecting and inspiring society, we want to inspire people to take pride in and to enjoy their national parks while spending time in nature,” acting chief executive Dumisani Dlamini said.
This week is also an opportunity to showcase the national parks as key and affordable local holiday destinations that offer unique experiences, he said.
“This is also an effort to reach out and allow all citizens a chance to freely access something they might not have been exposed to and to start to understand the importance of conservation,” Dlamini added.
The free access does not include accommodation or commercial activities. Kruger, Addo Elephant, Augrabies, Agulhas, Table Mountain and the Tsitsikamma section of Garden Route National Park will offer free access until Friday 26 November.
SANParks started the campaign in 2006 to encourage all South Africans, especially people living around the parks, to experience the country’s unique biodiversity and wildlife.
Tunicia Phillips is a climate and economic justice reporting fellow, funded by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa