Game Reserves in Eastern CapeMountain Zebra Wilderness Corridor
Where?Between the Mountain Zebra National Park & Camdeboo National Park
The valuable grasslands between the Mountain Zebra National Park and the Camdeboo National Park are now formally protected by a partnership between the Wilderness Foundation and SANParks. Known as the Mountain Zebra Wilderness Corridor, the aim is to increase the biodiversity of this area.
In travel terms the two national parks are about three hours' drive apart on either the N9 (R61) - one of the best free game drives available – or the R63 (R337). Both routes circumnavigate the Sneeuberg Mountains - the highest peaks of which range from 2278 and 2504 metres above sea level.
But as the crow flies the 530 000 hectare area between the parks is awash with mountains and grasslands of the central Karoo. The Sneeuberg mountain complex has some of the most prominent sections of the Great Escarpment in southern Africa, but up until recently we knew very little about it botanically.
A collecting programme and a large-scale literature review later, and suddenly the Sneeuberg is something to sit up about. Scientists credit it with a total flora of 1195 species. 9 percent of these are alien species, whilst 2.8 percent are endemic and 1.1 percent near-endemic.
Over and above this, some 23 significant range extensions, eight new species and a number of rediscoveries mean the Sneeuberg has been recognised as a new centre of endemism (a localised area where a lot of endemics occur; another example is the Cape Floristic Region or the Hantam-Roggeveld Centre)along the Great Escarpment.
The corridor crosses four biomes – grassland, Nama Karoo, thicket and savanna – includes six vegetation types, and is home to more than one rare animal – aardvark, African wild cats, honey badgers and black-footed cats.
It is also an IBA, or Important Bird Area, with several Karoo specials in evidence like Stanley's bustard, lesser flamingos, martial eagles, ground woodpeckers and the blackheaded canary.
All of Mountain Zebra Wilderness Corridor is privately owned – a mix of livestock farms, game farms and private nature reserves. Surprisingly, despite some seven generations of farming, most of the veld remains in good condition – a tribute to the farmers who have managed to retain the biodiversity of the area.
Despite their initial wariness and scepticism (fear that this was merely a formality before they lost their farms to the reserves), farmers have embraced the corridor concept. For them it means that critical water catchment areas are protected, and they are protected from any threats of fracking or shale gas exploration.
By February 2014, 66 farms and 269 000 hectares were signed up to the corridor for the first phase of the project. Surprisingly, no fences are dropped. No plains herds will wander from one national park to the other. But for those animals for whom fences are not a deterrent – baboons, insects, birds, those buck that can jump, and plants – the corridor is a reality.
And the views, from one side to the other, will remain unhampered by development.
The corridor venture does not end there. Projects to improve tourism and development in and around the corridor will include food gardens, sustainable harvesting projects and hospitality training – aimed at improving the lives of locals.