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Hans Hoheisen research facility relaunched

5 December 2006

Settling of provincial boundaries helps stimulate research facility

It appears that the long-neglected Hans Hoheisen research facility near Open Gate to the Kruger National Park (KNP) will soon be able to fulfil its initial purpose of stimulating wildlife research in the lowveld.

After a promising start in the early 1980s, the facility fell into disuse in recent years. Last April the facility was re-launched as the International Centre of Excellence in Biodiversity, Research and Information in a joint venture between the Peace Parks Foundation and the Limpopo Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism (Ledet). However, plans to kick-start research from the facility through a Peace Parks initiative that looked into veterinary issues in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area did not progress as rapidly as initially intended.

Part of the reason for this was the change in the provincial boundaries, which wrenched the facility from the Limpopo Province and placed it in the political hands of Mpumalanga. Now that the boundary changes have been ratified, the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) has agreed to honour the memorandum of understanding that was signed betweenLedet and Peace Parks last year. The MTPA is likely to help in the upgrading of the facility when the necessary budget has been transferred to their province, and they are looking at in creasing their staff component in the area.

The Peace Parks initiative is aisc gaining momentum. According tc Prof Nick Kriek, who is heading up the Peace Parks transfrontier veterinary programme, their main focus will initially be on the various diseases that currently threaten wildlife populations. Their particular interest with these diseases lies in the interface between livestock and wild animals. Diseases of concern include foot and mouth, brucellosis, corridor disease and bovine tuberculosis.

A database is being created that will be able to take veterinary and animal health data from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique and integrate it into a single, unified database. They are also devising an electronic way of capturing new data, so that 'in 10 or 20 years we will have sufficient data to idenffiyhotspots' where the spread of diseases like foot and mouth occur. This will feed into ways of better managing the disease crossing points between domestic animals and wildlife, as well as informing policy matters. Vet Louis van Schalkwyk is already working from Hans Hoheisen to identify the current physical location of the interface between wildlife and livestock.

Veterinary staff and data managers will be located at Hans Hoheisen, and the expectation is that when the facility has been upgraded it will play host to a stream of international researchers who will investigate a wide spectrum of issues relating to veterinary matters. Prof Kriek says that an expected focal area of research will in improving techniques that can diagnose the various diseases.

The Peace Parks Foundation veterinary programme has already been liasing with various local and international universities about research opportunities at Hans Hoheisen.

Kruger Park Times - 22 November 2006