Park of natural abundance
Sunday, 17 June 2012 00:00   

Park of natural abundance

Before breakfast, I had scuba-dived on coral reefs with turtles, dolphins and thousands of dazzling fish. By lunch time, I was photographing white rhino in the wild, and in the evening a hyena scavenged for a braai chop outside my tent.

Such is the diversity of life at iSimangaliso Wetland Park on the north-east coast of SA. The third-largest nature reserve in the country hosts the most animal species in Africa – more than Kruger National Park or the Okavango Delta.

The word iSimangaliso means “miracle” in Zulu, and was chosen to replace the name Greater St Lucia Wetland Park. How apt, because the mere existence of this 332 000-hectare wonderland is miraculous.

In the early 1990s, mining companies wanted to dredge the beaches and forested dunes for the mineral ilmenite. Processed into titanium, this black sand is used in a variety of industrial and consumer products.

Concerned citizens and organisations fought back, and the government appointed the Leon Commission to investigate the best future for what was traditionally known as Thongaland. The message came back loud and clear: “This unique combination of socio-political history, environmental and biological diversity makes this area a very special asset to the nation. There is no substitute.”

No substitute indeed. Mining was banned, and more than 3 000 animal species could carry on thriving in peace.

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