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Reintroduction: A Moving Tale

  • Wednesday, October 1, 1997

MOVING WILD ANIMALS from one locale to another sounds like an easy way to redistribute species, replace depleted stock or introduce new stock. But as South Africa, a pioneer in wildlife "reintroduction," has learned, it is a complex business.

Take their experience with the lion. The lion has been hunted into extinction in parts of South Africa, but its status as a major tourist attraction remains undiminished. As the demand for lions grows, reintroducing them into parks has become important for conservation and the economy.

Pilanesberg National Park, opened in 1979 by the National Parks and Wildlife Management Board for the former Bophuthatswana homeland, better known as Bop Parks, recently reintroduced lions. M.L. (Rams) Rammutla, former director of Bop Parks and now director of marketing and communication for the National Parks Board, says that "harnessing the park as a tourist destination was the fundamental rationale" for bringing in lions. A 1993 development plan said flatly that "tourism companies believe that international travel agents will not promote or sell tours to African game reserves that do not have the Big Five."

Bop Parks also foresaw potential conservation benefits. The expected hike in revenues -- not only from tourist fees but from increased jobs and income to local industries -- would encourage wildlife protection.

Management consulted closely with the park's neighbors about the plan. While the ecological rationale was of some importance to them, they were primarily interested in the impact on their livelihoods and living conditions. (They expressed concern about potential safety issues, ultimately deciding the risk to human life from lions was less than the risk of the notoriously dangerous local taxi system, Rammutla says.)

HOW LIONS WOULD AFFECT animals already in the park was carefully evaluated. Disease-free buffalo, for example, were moved to a smaller park to protect them until they could reproduce to a level that could tolerate lion predation.

Since 20 lions purchased from Namibia's Etosha National Park were reintroduced in 1994, Pilanesberg's revenues have risen dramatically and continue to increase. The lions' progeny will be used to restock other parks. Reintroduction is likely to boost the well-being of wildlife and humans in Pilanesberg. But it may do even more. As one park neighbor says, "We want our children to hear the lion's roar."

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