Picture: THE TIMES
Picture: THE TIMES

The operational budgets of state-run game reserves in KwaZulu-Natal are facing a 40% cut‚ which conservationists say will affect antipoaching efforts‚ biodiversity‚ tourism and the running of game parks.

Some game parks said they learnt of the cuts last week and were worried about running the parks‚ maintaining conservation efforts and fighting poaching as even petrol for patrol cars would be rationed.

The overall budget has not been cut but the operational aspect has been reduced‚ KwaZulu-Natal Ezemvelo spokesperson Musa Mntambo said. The cuts were leading to frozen posts at game reserves‚ in rural areas already short of employment opportunities.

KwaZulu-Natal Ezemvelo runs large parks such as Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park — the oldest reserve in Africa — Giants Castle in the Drakensberg‚ and Tembe Elephant Park‚ Mkuze Game Reserve and Ndumo Game Reserve‚ all in northern KwaZulu-Natal. It also runs the St Lucia and iSimangaliso Wetlands parks.

"In terms of operational expenditure‚ the entity faces a cut of R59m‚ a 39% decline on the prior year’s budget‚" he said.

He said there would not be retrenchments. He did not answer questions as to why the operational budget had been cut when the overall budget had risen by 15%.

Mntambo added: "We are concerned by the huge cut in our operating budget. However‚ the budget we have shall be able to pay for our limited operations."

The DA has criticised the province for failing to enact the strategy it had committed to in 2016.

DA spokesperson in KwaZulu-Natal Francois Rodgers said the commercialisation of hospitality sectors within the entity would allow Ezemvelo to focus on environmental management.

Sanparks‚ which manages the Kruger Park‚ gets 18% of its budget from the state and the rest of its money from using "concessions" in which private operators pay for land to run hotels or activities, such as Table Mountain’s cable car.

Chairperson of the Game Rangers’ Association of Africa Chris Galliers said: "The problem is that the percentage of the overall budget is to heavily weighted towards salaries with not enough remaining for operational expenses."

He said declining budgets "will also affect the morale of staff who are increasingly being constrained in their ability to carry out the job that they are trained and employed to do".

He said the cuts would affect tourism‚ the tourist experience and the scientific management of biodiversity in the parks.

Mark Gerrard‚ strategic manager at Wildlife Conservation Trust‚ said this meant private-public partnerships were essential. "It is for this reason that Project Rhino KZN was established‚ developing an effective partnership to support both state‚ private and community-owned reserves as they face increasing pressure."

Mntambo said antipoaching activities would not be affected.

"It must be noted that anti-poaching is of national interest and includes other agencies such as the South African Police Service‚ the South African National Defence Force and nongovernmental organisations that utilise their own funding."

TMG Digital

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