Desert Classic Riverbed Cycle Challenge in KTFP, a letter from Isaac Jocum

Further to my post on Sporting events in National Parks, here is a letter from Isaac Jocum, a registered professional Natural Scientist, reproduced here with his kind permission. Please take the time to read it.

Desert Classic Riverbed Cycle Challenge in KTFP

The primary goal in establishing a national park is to protect and conserve those unique natural assets for the whole nation and for the generations to come. The park officials, rangers and honorary rangers have been entrusted with this responsibility and have been appointed as custodians of these assets on our behalf.
Existing in South Africa today are numerous parks each with their own unique mix of natural resources and characteristics to be protected, hence the different locations of the parks distributed throughout the country.
Now KTFP is no different. Its uniqueness stems from its unique combination of resources and characteristics. Its rainfall is very erratic and unreliable averaging between 200 – 350mm of rain annually, not to forget the minimums it often only receives. It is situated on a huge expanse of sand, covered in sand dunes and no natural perennial surface water. Its temperatures range from plus 40˚C to -11˚C. All these intrinsic characteristics inherently classify this park to be semi-arid to desert, like the title of the race boastfully displays. Due to its inherent combination of natural attributes, needless to say its resources are very scarce and limited in many respects. It only has four public roads, borehole water and vegetation totally reliant on the rainfall to mention a few.
In eco-managerial terminology, this area is very brittle, fragile and sensitive to any external disturbance both naturally and unnaturally. All the unique living organisms from the
micro-organisms in the soils, the dune rats in their burrows to the plants and the largest mammals have evolved and survive in a unique but very narrow and sensitive equilibrium in this  desert environment.
It is significant to note that already in this northern section, the camel thorn trees in the riverbed are dying in numbers, far higher relative to the rest of the park. This indicates a probable water balance problem already acting itself out. No risks can afford to be taken to upset this equilibrium in any small way.
To stage a cycle race in a fragile riverbed in this desert wilderness and sensitive area goes against all common sense. (They say common sense is not so common!)
Needless to say according to the park rules if an ordinary paying guest gets caught driving in the same riverbed he will be fined and can be expelled from the park not to mention the penalty of alighting from your vehicle in undesignated areas.
Now, how does the organizers, the honorary rangers and park officials (custodians of our natural heritage) reconcile these known facts cited above with sanctioning this race?
Furthermore this park is suffering from serious infrastructural problems, especially non maintainable roads and serious water supply problems to mention the most visible and serious.

Secondly where is the ethical and moral obligation SANPARKS has to the paying guests  during the proposed cycle race and after. Not only have they come from far and wide, but many only annually and some once off to be faced with a cycle tour for ± six days (including preparations). Especially tourists that will be “trapped” in the three northern camps on the only road and nowhere to go. This is not Kruger where the cycle tour can be “hidden” from most guests on the many back roads in the park. Not forgetting the prime reason for your paying guest is to experience the peace and tranquility amongst other personal objectives in this wilderness. They do not want to be faced with 50 cyclists and array of backup crews occupying this northern section for ± six days, which for many could be the duration of their entire safari.

Thirdly where are all the cyclists and crew going to be bedded down every night along the route? What about the logistics of cooking, feeding and washing? Let alone the toilet facilities and water? What are the after effects going to be on the environment after they depart? What animal behavior will be encountered by tourists after the tour has departed?

Fourthly it is an oxymoron to claim the money raised is for conservation. This cycle tour in this very fragile and sensitive ecosystem is going to harm, endanger and even damage that what is  supposed to be conserved in the first place by the very custodians, the honorary rangers.
We would like to see the financial outcome after all the expenses are deducted including to restore and repair the environment as well as infrastructure. Don’t exclude the cost of the bad publicity.

When all these facts and many other valid ones raised by others are taken into consideration this type of race is in the wrong place and should be a non starter.

The CEO of SANPARKS has categorically claimed the ills of the past must not be perpetuated into the future and especially the perception that the parks are reserved mostly for the rich must cease. Now how does this new vision and mission get reconciled with this race. It appears gauging from these type of actions the national parks are still being managed to be the amusement parks of the rich (R4 000 per cyclist) and the playground of the officials. If this is not true, why wasn’t this race initially marketed to all. For example “for the first 50 people on anything reliable with two wheels, entrance fee R200.” This would draw a positive response from especially the surrounding communities who in the new vision must not only benefit but also become positively orientated??

This whole tour needs closer scrutiny for amongst other reasons hidden agendas. How can honorary rangers and park officials not be aware of all the above, both the natural and unnatural principles under consideration and implications and still go ahead with the race. This is in spite of the glaring contradictions in their principles they are tasked to uphold and their actions.

If the goal is to bring awareness to the public of this magical park then consider this alternative. Stage the race between Askam or Molopo Lodge and Twee Riveren along the extended riverbed of the Nossob, along the existing roads, dirt and tar. This entire area has already been disturbed by humans. Thereafter those amongst the cyclists, backup crew, camera crews and organizers that are true wildlife enthusiasts can be given a discounted rate to enter the park. They will then join the rest of the paying guests and enjoy the wonders this park has to offer, in the appropriate and respectful manner that is required from all of us.

In conclusion, one of the most worrying recent trends deduced from all the recent actions of SANPARKS in various parks is that conservation and protection of natural assets is steadily slipping from top priority. Instead it is fast being replaced by exploitation, commercialization and may be not too far in the future be reclassified as “holiday resorts”, or amusement parks  or something like that, with conservation occupying the bottom rung? The parks are steadily becoming geared and adapted for the needs, wants and desires of humans and increasing less for the needs of the all natural assets in sore need of protection.

David

Outdoor adventure enthusiast living on the Garden Route.

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