THE STORY OF THE MARAKELE
Paul Van Vlissengen has a long and personal history with the Marakele National Park. When he came upon the reserve it was stagnating. No access to funding meant no hope of achieving the expansion of highveld areas needed for animals’ feeding ranges, for building or maintaining fences, and for investing in a strategy of biodiversity. Access was difficult, game species and population levels were dwindling and an absence of facilities, such as tent camps, meant there were practically no visitors.
Many years ago, after being introduced to then president Nelson Mandela, his eyes were opened to the need for public-private partnership of Africa’s national parks to ensure their protection and expansion. This was supported by Mavuso Msimang (CEO of South African National Parks) and Vali Moosa (Minister of the Environment).
A broader strategy involving public-private partnership meant that the state would provide the land and legislative framework, while the private sector would provide funding (after economic analysis and under strict budgetary constraints within a clear accounting framework). Management expertise would also allow for a culture of swift decision making, to introduce a sense of purpose and a strategy for success.
Based on a 30 year business contract, South African National Parks (SANP) agreed to delegate the management and development of the northern area of the Marakele to a joint management team. Despite challenges that were expected with this unique approach, the scheme was set up and implemented with the incredible support of those within SANParks who appreciated the importance of making Marakele National Park a successful model of nature conservation. Paul and other Dutch investors brought together a dedicated group of South Africans to activate the project. In two years, they purchased over a dozen farms, negotiated fence removal with neighbours, relocated tented camps, developed caravan, barbeque and day use facilities, built and operated new entrances, constructed over 150kms of new game fencing, removed 7000kms of barbed wire and built a small village for the local community (whose members now own houses and land in their names). Schools were adopted, their roofs repaired, toilets rebuilt, and uniforms, books and teaching aids supplied. Bicycles were also supplied for children living a long way away. Beds were provided for a hostel and a scholarship set up for the best pupil to continue to higher education.
BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR
- Cape Vulture – the park hosts one of the world’s largest breeding colonies of this endangered species. While birds may be seen in the air catching thermals anywhere in the park, the drive up to the Sentech Towers is nearest to the colony and close encounters with these enormous birds will leave visitors breathless.
- African Elephant – while some elephant had been previously reintroduced into the park, it was the release of the Tuli elephants in 1999 that captured the public’s and media’s imagination.
- Predators – Large predators such as brown hyena, leopard and now also lion, occur in the park.
- Kudu – as browsers these antelope are in their element at Marakele. Look out for the bulls with their magnificent spiral horns.
- The not-so-often-seen-elsewhere antelope species such as reedbuck, mountain reedbuck, eland and tsessebe can be found here.
NATURAL AND CULTURAL HISTORY
- The park was first known as the Kransberg National Park when it was first proclaimed in 1994.
- Ramolefe Boy Moatshe has lived in the area all his life. On 4 August 1981 he survived a 15 minute bare handed fight with a leopard (that he had surprised) after taking a calf from the herd he was tending. Ten hours after the attack he made it to hospital. He spent 2 months in rehabilitation in the hospital.
- The park also has an abundance of iron-age sites that will be made accessible to visitors in the future.