PUBLICATION STORE SUBSCRIBE
Kosi Bay is a wilderness preservation area nestled up against the border of South Africa and Mozambique. Instead of disinheriting the local Enkovukeni community of their homelands they have been incorporated into the Reserve.
Following on the heels of programs like Chitwan National Park in Nepal that has made an effort to promote local citizens and employees and to allow them to continue traditional practices, Kosi Bay has come a long way towards a peaceful co-existence between park employees and tribal peoples.
This appears to be a good response to concerned tourists who feel uncomfortable visiting game parks whose creation has produced internally displaced refugees.
Ilsa, a Swedish tourist, has visited the Kosi Reserve bi-annually since its inception in the 1980s.”Talking to people in this area is very different from other places I have visited in East Africa. Here, there appears to be little resentment towards the conservation authorities. When I visit Kosi Bay I feel good that my holiday is contributing to the development of the local community.”
The Kosi Bay system is a huge area comprised of six large lakes, two smaller lakes and an estuary that lies alongside the Indian Ocean. During the early years of African conquest. the threat of malaria and fly-born stock diseases dissuaded early British and Dutch settlers from developing the area. Consequently, the local inhabitants lived relatively undisturbed for a hundred years or more. When the area was initially made into a reserve there was a lot of conflict between conservation officials and local inhabitants.
In 1982, driven partially by a mutual concern over the declining numbers of mussels along the reserves coast, conservation officials and park inhabitants began to seek a common ground and found it in this: the park inhabitants agreed to follow conservation guidelines for fishing and shellfish collection; in return, 25% of the parks gross revenue would go to the local Tribal Authority. This agreement, plus a 1998 legislation that allows subsistence fishing. has eased tensions greatly.
Today the activities of the locals setting their fish traps has become as much a tourist attraction as snorkeling over the reefs, bird watching and the interactive activities at the Turtle Research Station across the dunes at Banganek.
Miriam helps to ferry the harvest of fish through waist deep water and greets a group of interested visitors. “It is nice to see different people interested in us”, she says shyly. “It is good for my family to have the tourists in the area. Once my sons would have been just fishermen like me, but now they are both employed. One is a waiter at a lodge and the other drives a boat for the Parks deparment.”
Miriam’s husband Enoch agrees and claims that the introduction of income from the park has changed their perspective. “Over there,” he says, gesturing towards the Mozambique border with a bloody fish gutting knife, “are people who come here to fish the reefs and cut down out forest trees. Once, we would not have worried about it, but these days we want to protect what is ours. Who is going to come here if our resources are all stolen?”
Constant dialogue must be maintained between the tribe, conservation officials and developers. Until recently Kosi Bay has been a relatively unknown park, but the 1999 incorporation of the park into the new Greater St.Lucia Wetland World Heritage Site has resulted in the construction of additional roads, an airstrip and a large resort which will probably change that.
Growth and development in the area is part of the conservation authorities’ policy. The KZN Wildlife Department has stated that it “recognizes that Nature Conservation can play an important role in the development of sustainable livelihoods.”
Indeed, the Conservation Board, non-governmental departments, local communities and other interested parties have input regarding the future. As Jeff Gaisford, at that time in the KwaZulu Conservation Media Division pointed out, “Part of the new KZN conservation act involves the creation of local conservation boards designed to give local interest a greater say in the management of our protected areas. We have a few up and running already, but they now include representatives from local rural communities and local businesses, as well as affected NGOs – so these are not purely community run. Our aim is to have all our parks with a local board and where it is not possible to have one board per park, we aim at board managing a group of smaller parks. This is in addition to the KNZ Nature Conservation Board that is the governing board of the entire organisation and is the “Big Brother” so to speak.”
Park development has already changed the local landscape. Many locals who would normally have moved away from the area now opt to stay. Already, there is evidence along the roadside of enterprising locals catering to the tourist trade. Utilizing local resources on a controlled and sustainable basis, craft shops have been set up.
However, cracks in the system of actually policing the private developers are becoming evident. Stalls selling firewood, cut from the fragile sand forest in the area, line the road for miles.
In a December 2002 press release, the KZN wildlife staff in the Kosi Bay area reported “a significant increase in the number of young animals and birds being offered for sale on roadsides.” This could be an indicator that locals are turning away from subsistence fishing and are becoming absorbed into a consumer society.
The close border with Mozambique is causing some concern. In 2006, fifteen Mozambique nationals were arrested five nautical miles off Kosi Bay. Their vessel, the Twanano was apprehended by the Marine and Coastal Management maritime protection services.
Placing a value of wildlife conservation is vital to the survival of conservation in Africa. Educating tribal landowners has helped to limit land degradation and even financially benefitted displaced tribes. In a landmark court decision handed out in July 2002, a portion of the nearby Ndumo Game Reserve was handed back to the descendants of the original tribal people. They opted to allow the KNZ Wildlife Department to continue to manage the land.
However, this beggars the question: If the conservation of biodiversity is to become commercial in order to pay out all interested parties, will the focus move away from conservation and lean towards the “Pack the Tourists In” syndrome?
In the summer edition of the KZN Wildlife Magazine, editor David Muirhead indicated the trend may already be happening. He pointed out that conservation must be “made to pay for its keep” and the only way to do this is to “maximize” income from tourists. Over a ten year period accommodation within the Kosi Reserve grew from ten simple campsites to include luxury lodges which now sleep in excess of 180 people per night.
With the additional tourists, an increase in population on reserve fringes and pressure from developers, it may be more difficult for the hard-won co-operation to continue. Until then Kosi Bay seems to be an unusual example of sustainable tourism that works.