Latest News10 March 2014
Joint training in the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park
The /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park's management committee is always looking for innovative ideas to lure visitors to the park and the idea of kayak trails was mooted. The image of kayak trails in the arid barrenness of the transfrontier park may be difficult to visualise until one sees the mighty Orange River flowing through the desolate canyons. → read more…
The /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park spans some of the most spectacular arid and desert mountain scenery in southern Africa.
It is part of the Succulent Karoo biome, which has the richest succulent flora in the world, harbouring about one-third of the world’s approximately 10 000 succulent species. It is also one of only two entirely arid ecosystems to earn hotspot status, the other being the Horn of Africa. A biodiversity hotspot is a biogeographic region with a significant reservoir of biodiversity that is under threat from humans. Another outstanding feature of the Succulent Karoo is the high diversity of geophytes or bulblike plants. It is home to the tree-like succulent, the halfmens and 69% of its plants are endemic. Furthermore, it is a haven to many unique species of lizards, tortoises and scorpions.
The transfrontier park also features the Fish River Canyon, which is the second largest canyon in the world and the largest in Africa.The Orange River mouth is a Ramsar site and the 350 million year old and erosion-rich Orange River gorge abounds with history, folklore and grandeur. The Richtersveld is one of the last regions where the Nama people's traditional lifestyle based on nomadic pastoralism has been preserved.
On 1 August 2003 a new era for desert tourism and conservation of this unique succulent biodiversity dawned when the treaty on the establishment of the /Ai /Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park was signed by the presidents of Namibia and South Africa.
The heads of state of Namibia and South Africa signed a treaty establishing the transfrontier park on 1 August 2003. Since then then joint management, tourism and financial protocol plans have been completed. In 2007 the pontoon at Sendelingsdrift was refurbished and customs and immigration offices as well as staff housing were built on both sides of the Orange River. The pontoon opened at the same time as an entrance gate to Ai-Ais Hot Springs Game Park.
In August 2009, Namibia Wildlife Resorts reopened the newly refurbished Ai-Ais Hot Springs Resort for business. The spa complex is situated at the southern tip of the Fish River Canyon, one of the main tourist attractions of the transfrontier park. The Resort owes its name to the sulphurous Ai-Ais hot springs, which means ‘burning water' in the Nama language.
To better control access from the south to the Namibian section of the transfrontier park, an access control facility was opened at Gamkap. Offices in the mining town of Rosh Pinah now also provide a nearby base for the transfrontier park's administrative activities.
Joint activities between the Namibian and South African components of the transfrontier park got under way in 2010, including joint patrols by park managers and the introduction of a border permit that allows officials from both countries to easily cross the border while on official duty within the boundaries of the transfrontier park.
In April 2011, the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld joint management board approved the transfrontier park’s integrated development plan and joint operations strategy. The latter outlines joint activities at an operational level that include joint patrols for monitoring and law enforcement, management of joint assets like the pontoon at Sendelingsdrift, joint research and the identification and implementation of cross-border tourism products. The /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park management committee, comprising park managers supported by an intersectoral management and development task group, was also established. It has since successfully jointly managed daily operations, thereby allowing joint management board meetings to serve as strategic work sessions for decision making at policy level.
The /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park is a model for joint planning, operations, training and cross-border events. During the year, park management committee meetings were held regularly, thereby ensuring the successful functioning of the transfrontier park.
Owing to its unique characteristics, a comprehensive inventory of heritage resources in the park was compiled to prepare for a World Heritage Site application.
In an important event for visitors, the upgrade and extension of the Fish River bridge was completed. The bridge has already proved its worth with the March floods not resulting in any road closures.
In this arid and unforgivably rugged area, park staff have had to deal with numerous cases of tourists needing help, with the majority of incidents taking place in the world-famous Fish River Canyon. Despite a few staff members having only basic first-aid skills, staff have been dealing with rescue and casualty evacuation cases without formal training and professional rescue equipment. The park management committee therefore arranged for training of selected staff and, with assistance from South African National Parks (SANParks), secured professional trainers. At the end of July, nine staff members from the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld partner agencies, i.e. the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR) and SANParks, participated in intensive emergency medical aid and rescue training at the Ai-Ais Resort in Namibia. In October, staff members from these agencies were also trained in geology and bird and plant identification.
The popular annual Fish River Canyon hiking trail season is usually fully booked for the season. The uniqueness of the trail is that, once in the canyon, there is no way out – an injured hiker would have to be airlifted out in case of an emergency. Because of the inaccessibility of the terrain, hikers have the responsibility of carrying their trash with them until the end of the trail, which they unfortunately seldom do. The stakeholders in the transfrontier park, i.e. the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, NWR and SANParks, assisted by Gondwana Nature Reserve, therefore undertake annual campaigns to clean the canyon at the end of each hiking season. The 2012 clean-up saw 10 energetic participants from the stakeholder group and 25 schoolchildren under the auspices of the Hiking Organisation of Southern Africa take part in the event. They carried 55 kg of waste, collected along the 90 km walk, to the Ai-Ais Hot Springs Resort.
The 2012 Desert Knights Mountain Biking Tour took place from 28 October to 1 November. The event was a collaborative endeavour between the Namibian Ministry of Environment, NWR and SANParks, supported by the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, Boundless Southern Africa and Peace Parks Foundation. Thanks to extensive preparations, the event was a success and a good preparation for the larger event planned for October 2013, when the tour will serve as a precursor to the Adventure Travel World Summit to be hosted by Namibia.