Hundreds of Kruger National Park Game Rangers Fired

PRETORIA, South Africa, May 28, 2001 (ENS) - Operation Prevail, the code name for the South African government's financial restructuring plan for the country's national parks, has now moved to the Kruger National Park, the crown jewel in South Africa's park system.

Under the plan to resolve the park system's tight financial situation, some 663 positions are being made "redundant," at Kruger, Park Director David Mabunda told employees May 18. This will result in a 26 percent reduction in the park's payroll.

The authorities claim that the park is strapped for cash, because tourism to the park has declined. At the same time, people who have been visiting the park regularly for 20 years or more, have been complaining about the declining standard of service in the park, so they visit less and less frequently.

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Lions in Kruger National Park (Photos courtesy South Africa National Parks)
The Operation Prevail plan reorganizes Kruger Park into four regions - Far North, North, Central and Southern. Each region will be headed by a regional manager who will be responsible for all conservation and tourism activities as well as social ecology.

The game ranger management areas have been reduced from 22 to 12. Critics say that some of the bravest and most experienced game rangers are the ones who are being cut.

The scientific research section has been "streamlined," Mabunda said. Emphasis will be put on procuring external research and academic services from universities, technical facilities and research institutions rather than providing these services in-house as has been done in the past.

Tourist facilities will now be handled by a professional hospitality service for the restcamps in the four regions. "Professional front office management, duty management, visitor services, and efficient and effective housekeeping systems will be introduced," Mabunda said.

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Hyena near Skukuza Camp in Kruger National Park (Photo by Arden Skelton)
Operational Prevail was initiated at the South Africa National Parks Headquarters and Regional Offices in Pretoria and Cape Town in March and has resulted in 23 positions at those offices being eliminated.

In Kruger, Operational Prevail started with consultations with staff in supervisory positions, senior managers and the unions. It culminated in a comprehensive restructuring plan that was submitted to the South Africa National Parks Headquarters Chief Executive and Directorate for approval in March.

Established in 1898 to protect the wildlife of the South African Lowveld, this national park of nearly two million hectares (7720 square miles) is home to 336 species of trees, 49 fish, 34 amphibians, 114 reptiles, 507 birds and 147 mammals.

Groups exploring in vehicles have been accompanied by experienced rangers. Trained officials take visitors to sections of the park which are usually inaccessible to tourists.

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Hikers encounter an elephant in Kruger National Park
Wilderness trails have allowed adventurous visitors to traverse large areas of roadless wilderness on foot, under the guidance of armed and experienced trail rangers. Endangered white rhinos and black rhino, elephants, lions and buffalo can be found in the Napi Trail area of the park, while the Olifants River area is home to crocodile, hippo and many bird species.

The Sweni grassy plains are frequented by herds of zebra and wildebeest and tall giraffes. A pride of lions, black and white rhinos are also found here.

Tourists and animals alike will have fewer rangers to assist them under Operation Prevail.

Notices of redundancies have been delivered to the staff members affected, and negotiations under the Labour Relations Act are underway.

The game rangers who have been declared "redundant" have been told that they can apply for jobs by June 8, but what the rank, nature of the jobs and salaries are, nobody can say at this stage. Criticism is not welcome, and employees who complain ruin their chances of being considered for whatever jobs remain. Operation Prevail is expected to conclude by the end of June.