The Savanna biome is characterized by large expanses of grasslands with sporadic patches of trees and shrubs. It can be considered a transitional ecosystem which is found between forest and desert, or true grasslands such as the steppes of central Asia or prairies of North America. Most often the term is used to refer to the transition between tropical forest and desert as found in Africa. This biome covers such sites as the Serengeti Plains of Kenya and Tanzania and covers areas such as the Safari Corridor (see Chapter 10 for a description of this region). It is also found in Australia, India and South America.
The biome is maintained naturally through a combination of fire cycles and grazing by large herds of mammals such as zebra, giraffe, buffalo, wildebeest and gazelle. The grasslands have a better humus layer in the soil than the surrounding biomes and are well-drained. This makes these regions particularly attractive for agriculture which is expanding into many savanna regions especially in Africa. There are many links you can find to describe the savanna biome. “Biomes of the World” and “Blue Planet” provide good overviews.
The video that accompanies this module provides you with a virtual safari of the animals and parks of South Africa. South Africa represents a success story in comparison to Kenya, where the animal populations have rebounded with protection and management. This video has been produced to provide an overview of the issues, as addressed in this module, but more specifically to provide the viewer with an introduction to the species of the mammals and parks found in South Africa. As you watch the video keep in mind its intent. This may not be your typical issues-type video that is usually used in classrooms. The producers focus on presenting travelogues of various regions as well as introduce some of the local issues. I felt that not only would the video provide you with an introduction to African species of the savanna but also the potential and direction of video productions that are presenting informational and market material for ecotourism. The following questions will help guide you through the video material. It covers both travels through the main parks of South Africa and then concludes with a greater focus on urban centres. For the most part you will be concerned with the first 50 minutes of the video although the rest is also interesting if you plan to travel to this region.
South African Safari video
What’s Your Perspective (1A)
South African Safari — Video Questions
- When viewing the video, take note of the various attractions that are available in the parks for the ecotourist. Our focus in this module is on large animals but there is a great variety of activities that would attract the tourist.
- From what you see in the video, are these parks focusing on the soft or hard-tourist – or a combination of both?
- When planning an ecotourist trip to this region what are some considerations you would need to make to have a successful excursion to see wildlife or floral displays?
- What is the significance of the Kalahari-Gemsbok park in northern South Africa?
- Briefly discuss the food chains or interrelationships of food sources in the savanna region (you can strengthen this by checking some savanna websites)
We now return to our case study on the African savanna. We will finish this lesson with a consideration of the conflict occurring in African savanna regions between the protection of animals within park boundaries and the impact of multiple land use surrounding the protected areas. This is briefly covered in the text. Pages 86-87 provide a brief introduction.
What’s Your Perspective (1B)
First we will return to the video ‘South African Safari’ to consider the relationships between parks and private game lodges.
- Discuss the importance of Kruger National Park . What are the attractions in this park?
- Describe some of the management issues in this park (you can supplement your notes by checking out the park’s web page).
- The video describes several private reserves surrounding the park. How has the management of the region changed and what are the implications for wildlife management?
- Discuss some of the differences between private game reserves and public parks. Consider the activities available at the Tshududu Game Lodge
- We will come back to this theme later in the course, but briefly comment on the success of the video. Did it capture a broad audience and age group? Could it be improved for an ecotourist market?
Read through the following articles by
Shahnawaz (2002) from Mountain Research and Development volume 22 (4) pp 324-327 titled Alternative Economic Opportunities for Mitigating Conflicts over Natural Resources in Himalayan Valleys
and from the same journal
Nepal (2002) from Mountain Research and Development volume 22 (2) pp 104-109 titled Mountain Ecotourism and Sustainable Development
Shining Mountains video
What’s Your Perspective (2)
From these articles and the video I would like you to discuss the following questions:
- What are they referring to in the paper by Shahnawaz, when they use the term Tragedy of the Commons’?
- Briefly compare between the issues expressed in these articles regarding mountain systems in developing regions (South) such as the Himalayas and from the video which focused on issues in the Rockies of North America, or the developed regions or the North how do they differ?
- Do you think establishing ecotourism in the Himalayas will have the same effect and consequences as in North America? Is it a solution?
What’s Your Perspective (1A)
Ecotourism in South Africa seems to have influenced the conservation of natural habitats to give the rich diversity of wildlife present in the national parks. Locations such as Kruger National Park are hosts of big animals, including the big five; lions, elephants, rhino, leopard, and buffalo, a well as other exotic mammals. The savanna vegetation hosts exotic trees and plants that support the survival of ecosystems consisting mainly of big mammals, rodents such as hares, and some reptiles such as lizards and snakes. Kruger National Park is among a few international destinations in South Africa, attracting a significant flow of tourists (Unwin, 2003). The secret could be in the many different outdoor activities such as game drives, tours, and safaris. Biking along the slopes of Sabie Valley as well as river rafting in the Sabie River are perhaps the two most exciting outdoor activities that I could identify. However, most intriguing is the effort to conserve the natural habitats and allow a scenic experience for myriads of tourists while keeping the environment healthy and accommodating for holiday activities.
There are many options for tourists visiting the national parks in South Africa. There are various forms of tourist experiences such as drives, trails, and some outdoor activities such as mountain biking, boarding, zip lines, and quad biking that is available for both hard and soft tourists. In addition to the activity options, there is a wide range of hotel and lodge accommodations in locations near the park (Unwin, 2003). Tourists can access the convenience of high-quality accommodation and a short drive to the parks and recreation. As such, evident in the video, I think that the tourist attraction sites in South Africa are attractive for a wide range of tourist types, including children and families.
The right way of planning an excursion to the South African national parks should involve a review of the various destinations and what experiences they offer. For example, if one is to go for an activity-packed experience, they may choose a destination that includes several outdoor activities and an interactive tour plan such as traveling in groups. Furthermore, the tourist should have a chance of getting the most out of the natural habitats and wild game or floral wealth of the habitats. The best way is to identify or allocate the best time of the year, hoping that it coincides with the coldest or rainy season of your locality. Finding the best time for travel makes tourism a habit and a good outcome for both the visitor and the community where they visit.
Among the various international parks and destinations attracting visitors at a global scale, Kalahari-Gemsbok stands out as the first international destination in South Africa. Apart from standing out as the first destination meant for tourists globally, the national park is also significant for standing firm against poaching (Unwin, 2003). Poaching refers to the killing of wild game for financial or domestic ends or exploiting wild plants, forested regions, and other exotic environments and species. In the Kalahari, the game park was meant mainly to protect the region from the hunting of endangered Gemsbok species from as early as 1931. The tourist destination, therefore, stood out as the destination for the conservation of the natural wild connecting with Botswana’s Gemsbok National Park.
The two parks from the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, where they allow for the protection of migrating populations of wild animals that occupy the parks across the national border. The biodiversity of the park is also remarkable and worth the effort to conserve and protect (Shorrocks & Bates, 2015). Plantlife in the stretching savanna and shrub involves the reddish dunes and a series of Acacia trees growing next to riverbeds. Other plant life includes Gemsbok cucumber, Drie Doring shrubs as well as raisin bush that offers nourishment and forages to the Gemsbok (an Oryx-like species), wildebeest, springbok and red hartebeest (Shorrocks & Bates, 2015). The park also hosts other types of game, including lions, smaller cat family, animals such as caracals, wild cats and servals, wild dogs, black-backed jackals, ostriches, and other birds. The park protects over 200 bird species, with only 75 as resident species.
The warm temperate African savannah support growth of vast grasslands and quick grass growth is typical during the high-level rainfall seasons during the summers. Due to long rains, the vegetation does not support the formation of canopies, and trees are mostly deciduous, and arid type spaced out, leaving vast fields of grass and shrub. Despite the limited rainfall, the savannah can still support complex food webs and a wide range of adapting plants and animals (Shorrocks & Bates, 2015). Food chains can help to depict the feeding relationships along with the various trophic levels of feeding. Grasses and wild plants are the primary producers of food with rodents and grazing animals next in any food chain relationship.
While a food chain only showcases a single feeding chain involving single species in every trophic level, food webs can link several food chains and give a glimpse of feeding relationships in the habitat. Grasses are the leading food producers like plants, and the herbivores include zebras, giraffe, impalas, cattle, or other plant feeders. Scavengers such as hyenas and vultures follow closely after carnivores such as lions, cheetahs, and leopard to feed on dead decaying meat. Decomposers, which include microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi, help to decompose the dead material into minerals and soil matter.
Shorrocks, B., & Bates, W. (2015). The biology of African savannahs. Oxford University Press, USA.
Unwin, M. (2003). Southern African wildlife: a visitor’s guide. Bradt Travel Guides.