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CONSERVATION CROSSROADS

Karingani’s location at the heart of a vast transfrontier conservation area adds greatly both to its importance and to its appeal.

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CONSERVATION CROSSROADS

Karingani’s location at the heart of a vast transfrontier conservation area adds greatly both to its importance and to its appeal.

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The resulting destruction of habitat and decline in wildlife numbers threatened to undo much of the important conservation work which had been done in South Africa and Zimbabwe, while Mozambique lagged still further behind. Depressing statistics led to dire predictions about the loss of all of Africa’s remaining wilderness areas, but with so much at stake, governments, private sector organisations and NGOs became increasingly involved in environmental education, anti-poaching work, and the creation of viable economic alternatives for local communities. Karingani represents an evolution and an extension of these efforts, and it is more vital that they succeed here than almost anywhere else in Africa. The Peace Parks initiative has conclusively proved the value and viability of vast, cross-border wildlife refuges, and by involving three countries, the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (GLTFCA) is one of the most ambitious and essential. Reduced poaching and lawlessness contributes to a more favourable investment environment, which in turns facilitate sustainable job creation and ecotourism operations, which directly attribute a value to live wildlife that far outweighs any revenue that can be earned from poaching. South Africa’s Kruger National Park is a protected area of continental significance, but its success depends on our ability to conserve not just Kruger, but also the surrounding territories which are not only part of the same ecosystem, but are also linked socially and economically. The establishment of the GLTFCA is a further indication of the acceptance of the science-based philosophy that isolated, protected wilderness areas are unlikely to succeed as they require a disproportionate expenditure of capital and effort to conserve areas that may be too small to be ecologically viable. Instead, the inclusion of privately-owned land (like Karingani) in larger protected areas serves a number of benefits. Not the least of these is the “jigsaw effect” whereby missing pieces are filled in, to help ensure the success of wildlife corridors. The more ecologically successful an area, the more likely it is to attract ecotourism investment. Tourists, after all, want to see wildlife in unspoiled wilderness. Ecotourism has been shown to be an excellent vehicle for skills transfer and job creation. However, on its own it is unable to generate sufficient revenue to pay for sustained conservation efforts. The Karingani investor- and donor-funded model promises a solution to this funding shortfall, and our innovative approach contributes to the true strategic importance of Karingani, as a test bed for a pioneering approach that has a high degree of replicability. After all, the true test of genius is the ease with which its ideas can be applied to new situations and locations.

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Climate

Climate

Karingani has a semi-arid climate, with a dry season from April to October (average minimum and maximum temperatures of 14.5°C and 28.5°C respectively) and a wet season from November to March (average minimum and maximum temperatures of 19.9°C and 38.2°C respectively). Mean annual rainfall (MAR) varies from 654 mm in the south-east to 486 mm near Massingir Dam in the north-west, with approximately 80% of precipitation falling during the wet season. MAR varies significantly between years, and drought is common.

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Relief and drainage

Relief and drainage

Topography is dominated by a relatively flat plain which slopes gently downwards in an easterly direction from the elevated Lebombo Range in the west. The plain is dissected in the north by a series of narrow valleys, which lead into Massingir Dam and in the south by a broad valley that connects with the Nuanetsi River basin. Altitude ranges from 407 m above sea level on the boundary with the Kruger National Park to 121m on the shoreline of Massingir Dam. The northern and southern regions are drained by the Olifants and Nuanetsi Rivers respectively, while the central zone is drained to the east by numerous shallow, linear valleys that are often channel-less. Although Karingani contains a number of rain-fed, semi-permanent pans and dams, only the Massingir Dam, and possibly the weir on the Nuanetsi River can be considered permanent during drought periods.

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Geology and soils

Geology and soils

Approximately 62 % of the surface is covered by a mantel of fine, mostly white, aeolian sand, which was laid down during the Quaternary. These sands are well drained, with a low nutrient status. Where the sand has been stripped off by erosion, calcareous gravel beds have been exposed (approximately 18 % of the surface). The soil in these areas has higher clay content than the sand, and is characterised by numerous unsorted well-rounded pebbles. It has a medium nutrient status. Where erosional processes have cut deeper (e.g. valley bottoms), a layer of mudstones have been exposed, which give rise to deeper soils with high clay content and nutrient status. The rhyolites and basalts of the Lebombo Range (19 % of the area), which manifests as an elevated spine along the western boundary with the Kruger National Park, were formed by volcanic activity during the Karoo period. These rocks give rise to shallow, clay soils with high nutrient status. A paleo-alluvial fan (1 % of the area), associated with an extinct drainage to the Nuanetsi River, is present in the extreme south. Soils are possibly deep and of high nutrient status.

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Flora

Flora

Approximately 31 % of vegetation cover is sandveld savanna (Figure 6), which varies in structure from closed woodland to open parkland. Common trees include Terminalia sericea, Guibourtia conjugata, Sclerocarya birrea, Pteleopsis myrtifolia, Balanites maughamii, Strychnos madagascariensis and Pterocarpus lucens. The herbaceous layer is dominated by Eragrostis pallens, with Digitaria eriantha, Urochloa mossambicensis, Brachiaria nigropedata, Panicum maximum, Eragrostis rigidior and Aristida spp. also being common. Deep red sands are characterised by tall (trees >5m) mopane woodlands (approximately 4 % of the area), which have a dense shrub layer dominated by Guibourtia conjugata. From a conservation perspective these vegetation types are important because they add an additional dimension to the Kruger ecosystem, where they have a very limited distribution. Where the sand mantle is shallow, growth of tall trees is hampered by the close proximity of gravel beds and a low sandveld thicket forms (approximately 14 % of the area). Woody plants (2 – 3 m tall) are very closely spaced, making access difficult. A cursory inspection revealed a diverse botanical composition, with Guibourtia conjugata, Ochna barbosae, Grewia bicolor, Hugonia orientalis, Hippocratea crenata, and Margaritaria discoidea being common woody species. Grass cover is very sparse or absent. Although this vegetation is unsuitable for game viewing, it has high conservation importance because of its limited distribution in southern Africa (possibly restricted to southern Mozambique). Lower lying areas within the sandveld (approximately 13 % of the area) are characterised by soils with slightly higher clay content, leading to elevated moisture and nutrient levels in the upper horizons. Characteristic trees of this open drainage line sandveld include Acacia welwitschii, Cleistanthus schlechteri, Terminalia sericea and Spirostachys africana. Pans, which are common, add additional interest to this vegetation type. Where calcareous gravel is exposed, short (3-5 m high) mopane woodland dominates (approximately 15 % of the area). Other common woody species in this vegetation type include Combretum apiculatum, Terminalia prunioides, Commiphora mollis, and Grewia bicolor. Herbaceous cover is reasonably well developed, with Eragrostis superba, Brachiaria deflexa, Enneapogon scoparius and Urochloa mossambicensis being common grass species. This vegetation type is best represented in the Massingir property. Heavy clay soils derived from basalt and mudstones support an open Acacia savanna (approximately 3 % of the area), with Acacia tortilis, Combretum hereoense, and Combretum imberbe being the dominant tree species. Common shrubs include Capparis sepiaria, Anisotes formosissimus and Slavadora persica. The herbaceous layer is reasonably well developed, with Urochloa mossambicensis and Panicum maximum being the most abundant grass species. This vegetation type appears to have had a long history of human use (cropping and grazing cattle), and is in various stages of recovery depending on the time since the last disturbance. On the Lebombo Range, shallow, rocky soils are characterised by open mixed Combretum woodland (approximately 9 % of the area), with Combretum apiculatum and Combretum hereoense being common woody species. Where the soils are deeper, the vegetation changes to tall Acacia nigrescens/ Kirkia acuminata woodland with dense a shrub layer (approximately 6 % of the area). Patches of well-developed Ironwood (Androstachys johnsonii) forest occur on the Lebombo rhyolites on the protected slopes leading into the Olifants and Nuanetsi River gorges. The paleo-alluvial fan on the Nuanetsi property appears to have had a long history of cropping, with the boundaries of old agricultural fields being easily recognisable from the air. This area was not visited on the ground, but disused fields appear to have recovered to a Dichrostachys cinerea/ Salvadora persica shrubland. Reasonably large patches of Acacia welwitschii/ Euphorbia confinalis/ Aloe marlothii thicket are also present. These may be remnants of the original vegetation on the fan. A thin strip of riverine forest occurs along the banks of the Nuanetsi River. Aerial surveys have established the presence of a great many species on Karingani, and also estimated that the area is currently below its carrying capacity. This suggests that as the threat of poaching continues to decline, wildlife will be naturally drawn to Karingani. Alternatively, there is scope (from an ecological point of view) to translocate wildlife of various species to increase populations in a more managed way. All five large predator species have been seen within Karingani, namely lion, leopard, cheetah, hyaena and wild dog. Organic growth of existing populations of all species may be boosted by recruitment from populations with Kruger.

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KARINGANI HAS A VITAL ROLE TO PLAY

in ensuring the ecological viability of this entire region.

Why Karingani must be saved

  • Karingani will place under conservation management, habitats (ecological communities) not represented in any other protected area in the sub-region.
  • Karingani will contribute to the viability and long-term survival of endemic and endangered species e.g. black rhino and wild dog in addition to many species of birds (particularly raptors), plants and invertebrates as yet unlisted for the area.
  • Karingani will extend the Kruger National Park system in an easterly direction, adding to the spatial diversity and the long-term viability of this system as a whole.
  • Karingani has great potential for the development of specialist low-density ecotourism ventures.
  • Karingani has the potential to make a significant contribution to the sustainability of the local economy as well as act as an attraction for investment regionally and nationally, in the national Economy of Mozambique.
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RECOGNISING LAND USE RIGHTS, REALISING RESOURCE POTENTIAL

Respecting the land rights held by our neighbouring communities has enabled Karingani to gain their trust, as well as create the legal framework which will secure our future – and theirs.