Game Rangers Must Protect Ecotourists as Well as Wildlife

KRUGER NATIONAL PARK, South Africa, September 15, 2000 (ENS) - South Africa's $6 million international ecotourism marketing program, announced earlier this year to establish the country as a premier destination, was damaged by the actions of hijackers this week.

A honeymoon couple from New York and their guide were travelling in a tour company's van on the borders of Kruger National Park when their vehicle was forced off the road and they were robbed at gunpoint by eight men. The microbus and all of the tourists' possessions were stolen and they were left alongside the road. The three were rescued by a group of French tourists who had watched the events from a distance.

They filed a complaint with police, the American Embassy replaced their clothes and they flew back to New York on Tuesday. They will not recommend South Africa as an ecotourist destination to their friends.

Meeting all this week at Kruger National Park, 313 game rangers from 58 countries attending the International Ranger Federation World Congress tried to address the challenges of simultaneously protecting wildlife, protecting the people who come to view it and protecting the communities living near parks.

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Tourist encounter wild monkeys in Kruger National Park (Photos courtesy Lycos Tripod)
Often they must operate in countries where people are poor and the crime rate is high, or where civil wars are tearing nations apart.

Political uncertainty, to diminishing financial and other resources, increasing pressures on protected areas from people, and global climate change are the most serious challenges they face, the rangers said in a statement today.

Inadequate resources, including limited finances and other resources such as skilled personnel bedevil efforts at ensuring area integrity, the rangers said. "Threats to biodiversity pose a further distinct challenge to area integrity. These include global warming, the effects of alien invasive species, fire, and a wide array of human activities and impacts."

The delegates have stated a series of clear resolutions which are designed to feed directly into high level policy making forums such as the World Council for Protected Areas, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the Worldwide Fund for Nature.

To ensure that an effective partnership is developed between rangers, local communities and other stakeholders, the game rangers resolved to channel donor funds to park-community projects that are sustainable.

They will establish a global fund to finance alternatives to conflicting uses of protected areas. The rangers intend to develop and implement a training programme that promotes ranger-community partnerships, with a specific focus on cultural sensitivity, as well as community needs and interests.

They intend to develop and disseminate standards and guidelines for community involvement exchange ideas on the best practices to encourage community involvement in wildlife protection, and they will establish an inter-cultural relations support committee.

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Zebras graze in Kruger National Park
To encourage sustainable ecotourism and business in protected areas, the rangers resolved to communicate the internationally accepted definition of sustainable ecotourism and promote park-community-business partnerships.

They will encourage the private sector to invest in ecotourism, and set standards and guidelines to direct ecotourism and business activities.

The rangers intend to write and publicize a code of conduct for visitors to protected areas.

Still, South Africa's crime rate is one of the the highest in the world.

The armed robbery Saturday near Kruger National Park is just one of a number of similar crimes this season. Three youths were arrested on Friday in connection with the highjacking incidents on the Hazyview/Numbi gate road in June and July.

Kruger National Park and the Hazyview Police are working together in an attempt to solve the safety problem being experienced in the area. But as police began regular patrols, they say the hijackers have simply moved to other areas.

All of the rangers' initiatives will protect wildlife if they are funded. But if South Africa and other countries where rare wildlife survives in parks are not made safe for tourists, few will come, and tourist dollars provide crucial funding for wildlife protection programs.