Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Luxury Hotel in Kruger National Park Upsets Conservationists

An artist's impression of Kruger National Park's first luxury hotel

It has been recently announced that the Kruger National Park in South Africa is set to get its first luxury hotel, in an effort to attract the growing black middle class. However, the move made by South African National Parks (SANParks) had upset ardent nature lovers who argued that the establishment would demoralize the national park's ecology and environment. However, authorities insisted that the development is part of a plan to shed the park's image as a condescending destination for white South African people and foreigners looking for an escape. SANParks stated that white South African people are the largest group out of more than one million people visiting the park annually. The organization estimated that 26 percent of the total number of visitors are black, and only six percent of them stay overnight. It is said that the goal for the hotel is to have middle-class black people, who officials hope would help make South Africa's national parks more commercially feasible. The hotel is planned to be built on the southern part of Kruger National Park near the Malalane Gate, which is the most appropriate entrance from Johannesburg and an airport in the nearby town of Nelspruit. It is described to be a single-story complex with 119 rooms, overlooking the Crocodile River.
Impalas sparring in Kruger National Park

The guarantees made by SANParks saying that "the development would be line with our mandate to conserve nature" failed to convince conservationists, setting off a heated debate and even allegations of racism. SANParks had to answer to stereotypes, such as online comments and letters to local newspapers saying that black people would abuse the park's setting with loud music and luxury cars, rather than enjoy the serenity of the wild. One adversary of the hotel named Allan Eccles, a Johannesburg-based operator for Falcon Africa Safaris, who accused SANParks of commercializing the national park and "attempting to turn it into a Disneyland." In his own words, Mr. Eccles stated that the hotel "should have been built outside the park." He further added that "there has been no evidence suggesting that the black middle class wants the hotel there," and that the proposed building site is "environmentally sensitive." Another opponent to the hotel is Salomon Joubert, a retired park manager of Kruger National Park, who described the proposal as a "dramatic deviation from national park philosophy". He told one television news show called Carte Blanche that national parks are established mainly for "scientific, spiritual, and educational values." In contrast, another former Kruger park manager named Harold Braack voiced his support to the hotel saying that it would benefit the park and local communities.
A spotted hyena in Kruger National Park

I'm extremely shocked by what SANParks has proposed without any approval from conservationists or any conservation groups. The plan of establishing a luxury hotel resort in Kruger National Park being met with intense criticism clearly indicates how important it is to understand that certain areas are crucial for the survival and benefits of the wildlife. In addition to that, I'm also stupefied to learn that this proposal to build a luxury hotel has sparked accusations of racism, based on the statistics showing the number of visitors Kruger National Park receives every year. Just because there is a small fraction of black people visiting Kruger National Park does not mean that they do not like the place. Also, the fact that these people wanting to ruin the park's atmosphere with loud music and luxury cars is incredibly preposterous. That is like saying in India, national parks and such places should be open mainly to foreign tourists and not the local people because they might create some kind of a ruckus. In South Africa, any resident regardless of what skin color he or she is, can work in a facility designed to provide tourists with accommodations and visit any interesting place. When I visited Africa last summer, I did see a great deal of other foreign tourists in Tanzania's national parks. But that does not mean that only foreigners are supposed to visit Africa's national parks. The reason why I saw so many foreign tourists is mainly because Africa is known worldwide as a place famous for its wildlife, which everybody from different parts of the world want to see. Once in Lake Manyara National Park, I had seen a school bus with several local children inside. This concept goes to show that a tourist attraction, no matter where in the world, is established for both domestic and foreign tourism.
Landscape of Kruger National Park

Furthermore, national parks are created not just for tourism but also educational purposes. When people want to travel and visit such places, they want to capture those moments and cherish them. A national park is one of those places, but like many attractions, its purpose is also to educate people in addition to providing them a chance to see sights which they had never before. This is why it is important know that Africa's national parks provide tourists an opportunity to learn about what makes the continent famous for its wildlife, how do these animals play a crucial role in the ecosystem, and why it is important to preserve these wild places and protect them from the ongoing threats of poaching and habitat loss. In my opinion, South Africa's national parks are an ideal example of what makes a national park a place of learning and not pure entertainment. The nation has been suffering a loss of its rhino populations due to poaching in recent years, and with an establishment of a luxury hotel in Kruger National Park proposed it is like hindering South Africa's opportunity to helping its wildlife to flourish and survive. This is why I feel that SANParks should reconsider its proposal, and find a location somewhere outside the national park that seems relevant to put up this hotel. That way, South Africa can continue its crusade in saving its wildlife and maintain its tourism.

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