Speech by Eastern Cape MEC Sakhumzi Somyo at 80th anniversary of Cape Moutain Zebra National Park

Speech delivered by MEC for the Department of Finance, Economic Development and Environmental Affairs and Tourism in the Eastern Cape, Mr Sakhumzi Somyo at the 80th anniversary of the mountain zebra national park, Eastern Cape, 31 July 2017


The Executive Mayor of Inxuba Yethemba Local Municipality, Clr. Zenzile Shweni,
Director General of the Department of Environmental Affairs,
CEO of SANParks, Mr Fundisile Mketeni,
Chairperson of the landowners association of the Mountain Zebra-Camdeboo Protected Environment, Mr Edgar Kingwill,
Community members,
Members of the media,

Good Morning

This is indeed an auspicious occasion – a day on which we celebrate the 80th anniversary of this wonderful protected area.  It is here that scientists and rangers work day and night to restore the South African population of the Cape Mountain Zebra (known in scientific circles as Equus zebra zebra). In essence this is one of our great conservation successes that we announced at the 17th Conference of the Parties to CITES that we hosted in Johannesburg last year.

We should celebrate more of these successes loudly, because they speak to South Africa’s longstanding reputation for species conservation. So once again to all those who have played an instrumental role in this regard, well done.

I must highlight that this region and in particular the town of Cradock has an illustrious, yet sad political history. It was here in this town of Cradock that leaders of our struggle for freedom and a just society, Matthew Goniwe and his friends and fellow activists, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkonto and Sicelo Mhlauli, were murdered by the security police in this Eastern Cape Town in June 1985. So when we come here we are both sad and happy because through their sacrifices we are now able to gather in this fashion in a democratic, none racial South Africa to celebrate this wonderful heritage that we have in this Mountain Zebra National Park. We are now a nation in peace united in our diversity.

As you would know our country adopted the National Development Plan in 2012.  It is a Vision that provides a framework for government, business, labor and ordinary citizens to grow our economy, and to resolve the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality and with the ultimate aim of creating additional 11 million jobs by 2030. This region of the Karoo, holds within it great potential to create thousands of jobs for our people that could contribute towards the 11 million jobs that we envisage by 2030. Despite grappling with pressures of poverty the people of this area are highly supportive of our conservation efforts and they understand the value of conservation to their own personal lives and to humanity.

For instance through the opening of the new accommodation units – the Rock Chalets --- earlier today, this park has increased its permanent employment by 20%, not to mention the increase in casual work opportunities and extra stimulation of the local economy that will follow.

The construction of these income-generating facilities was made possible by the government’s infrastructure development programme. This is one small example of how the Green Economy benefits our local economies that need it most. I had the privilege of being the first guest to sleep in one of these Chalets and I can tell you now they are top quality accommodation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Conservation has played an important role in the development of Karoo towns such as Cradock. In 1937, 1712 hectares of land was proclaimed as the Mountain Zebra National Park. Thanks to the conservation efforts of farmers in the area, a small herd of the endangered Cape Mountain Zebra survived in the area and these provided a founder population for the Park that we are celebrating today.

The Park at first expanded slowly over the years, but then received a boost with a joint public-private conservation initiative.   Nine surrounding farms were purchased through this process, enabling the Park to expand from 6 536 hectares to 28 386 hectares in size. Following this, black rhino, buffalo cheetah and, most recently, lion could be introduced to the Park.

One of the most important successes for SANParks and the Mountain Zebra National Park came in 2016 when South Africa hosted the 17th Conference of the Parties to the Convention of the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in Johannesburg.

It was a particularly proud moment when the Parties to CITES adopted South Africa’s proposal to transfer the Cape Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra zebra) from Appendix I to Appendix II. Through our intervention we highlighted that the Cape Mountain Zebra subspecies is endemic to South Africa and no longer met the biological criteria for an Appendix I listing.

The proposal was based on the remarkable recovery from just less than 100 individual animals in the 1990s to a number well over 5 000 in 2016, signifying South Africa’s success in the conservation of the subspecies.

The Cape Mountain Zebra is well protected in state-owned protected areas. The largest population in the country is right here in Mountain Zebra National Park and this population has done remarkably well, increasing from only 11 zebra to 1159 today. This population has been used to start and augment many new Cape mountain zebra populations in national parks, provincial reserves and privately-owned game reserves and farms across the Eastern and Western Cape.

In August 2015, the national population of Cape Mountain Zebra comprised a minimum of around 4 800 individuals in no less than 75 subpopulations that are well distributed over the historical range of the subspecies.  As a result, the Cape Mountain Zebra is no longer threatened with extinction, having recently been assessed as Least Concern in accordance with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Therefore the transfer of Cape Mountain Zebra National Park to Appendix II supports the management and conservation of this subspecies, and also opens up additional economic opportunities that can support the expansion of available habitat and better management of subpopulations on private land. Private ranchers play an important role in conserving almost a third of the national population and we must strengthen their involvement in the meta-population management of the Cape Mountain Zebra. In this regard an analyses and modelling is being done to determine conditions for adaptive management of Cape Mountain Zebra and the setting of offtake quotas.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Mountain Zebra National Park and Camdeboo National Park, outside the nearby town of Graaff-Reinet, are inextricably linked through the unique Karoo biome and important Karoo grasslands.   Consolidating and expanding the protected area by means of voluntary contractual agreements with private landowners was therefore a natural next step in the protection of this region’s natural heritage.

Our country works with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to support them in their endeavors to assist with the consolidation and expansion of the protected areas. I note the contribution of the UNDP South African office and the Global Environment Facility in supporting the implementation of the newly declared Protected Environments management plan.  The results achieved to date at the Mountain Zebra Camdeboo Protected environment show a marked improvement in management effectiveness measured from June 2016 to June 2017. We continue to work with other spheres of government to improve management effectiveness and expansion of the protected areas network in South Africa.

The Mountain Zebra - Camdeboo Protected Environment, declared in 2016, was first initiated in a Corridor Project, a joint partnership between SANParks and the Wilderness Foundation with funding from the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund.

The Protected Environment links Camdeboo National Park with Mountain Zebra National Park through vital ecological corridors, protecting a huge diversity of plant and animal species. This will assist in the conservation of the Cape mountain zebra as well as many other vulnerable species.

The Mountain Zebra-Camdeboo Protected Environment covers about 270 000 hectares between the two Parks, and greatly enhances the integrity and conservation outcomes of the region.

This area is managed by a Landowners Association.  To date, 67 landowners, have signed up to the Protected Environment. Phase Two of this development will see more willing landowners sign up to protect valuable resources. The recently approved first management plan for the Protected Environment was handed over to the Landowners Association today. It is up to you, Landowners, the signatories to the Protected Environment, to conserve the unique and valuable biodiversity on your land for current and future generations.

The Protected Environment has the potential to stimulate the development of both nature-based and sustainable agriculture tourism in the area.

Just over a week ago, we reported on the successes of the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros in South Africa, highlighting that although 529 rhino have been poached in South African between January and the end of June this year, this marks a drop in poaching in general.  There has been a 34% decrease in the Kruger National Park in particular.

However, the decline in the Kruger Park and Mpumalanga is not being experienced in the rest of the country.  Until the end of June KwaZulu-Natal had experienced an increase in poaching with 133 of these majestic animals being killed for their horns.  While no rhino have been poached here in the Mountain Zebra National Park, the Eastern Cape recorded a loss of 3 rhino in the first six months of 2017.

So as we mark World Ranger Day today, I can think of no better place to celebrate the work of the men and women who protect our natural environment than right here in the Mountain Zebra National Park.

Ladies and Gentlemen,   it is because of the dedication of rangers working alongside our police and soldiers that we are able to announce such successes.

Rangers working for SANParks and in our provincial reserves ensure the execution of plans. They are to be saluted for their efforts, not only in combating poaching, but also in their daily work to conserve our rich biodiversity – landscapes such as the one we are celebrating today.

These are the men and women on the frontline – the people who keep our precious natural resources safe.  They put their lives on the line every day to keep our flora and fauna safe and on behalf of all South Africans I want to thank each and every one of them for their dedication and passion for conservation.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me conclude by wishing a Happy 80th Birthday to the Mountain Zebra National Park.  May your successes be an example to all other conservation areas in our beautiful country.

I thank you.