KwaZulu-Natal – KwaZulu-Natal’s wildlife agency, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, has been told it has to stand on its own feet financially, generating more revenue by attracting visitors to its parks. The agency has its back to the wall as poachers target its rhinos.
Ezemvelo, which receives an annual allocation of just over R500 million from the provincial government, was hauled before the KZN parliamentary committee on finance on Thursday to outline how it would achieve this self-sufficiency.
With other departments like health and education needing more resources to deliver services, the pressure is on the nature conservation agency to operate independently.
Ezemvelo board members, led by chairman Comfort Ngidi and CEO Bandile Mkhize, were bombarded with questions on how they would achieve this self-sufficiency and reduce costs. Ezemvelo employs more than 2 500 staff members.
On Thursday night, world-renowned conservationist Ian Player said he had never heard “such nonsense in all his life”.
“There is not a country in the world that I know of which has national parks that run without government funding.”
Ezemvelo not only benefited the province, but the whole country.
Player said the provincial government should ask itself whether it wanted to have national parks if it did not wish to fund them.
Parks did generate income from tourism, but this would not be enough to sustain such a big operation.
Andrew Venter, chief executive of the Wildlands Conservation Trust, said the financial issue was a major concern, as all conservation agencies fell under the state, and all would be affected by such a move.
He said Ezemvelo could not be self-sustaining as it would be forced to become a commercial operation, which was not in its mandate.
Last weekend, nine rhino were killed in its parks, and the agency’s leadership has been scrabbling to respond.
On Thursday, Mkhize told the finance committee that, as part of its move to self-sufficiency, the agency had set itself an objective of generating revenue of R193 million in 2012/13, compared with R177m generated in 2011/12.
But, he said, the agency had to use some of its resources for the fight to stop rhino poaching, a need that had not been budgeted for.
Mkhize said the agency’s core focus was to ensure that tourists were attracted to parks, which would generate more revenue.
“Our nature reserves have not been marketed aggressively to the public at large,” he said, adding that the emerging black middle class, as well as surrounding communities, were not visiting the facilities enough.
Venter said the government had conservation targets to be met, as well as global targets, and the agency would not be able to meet the targets without government support.
“To expect them to find those funds falls way outside their mandate,” he said.
“Forcing the park to sustain itself is setting them up for a certain unsustainable future.”
Venter also said a proportion of the public’s taxes went to the maintenance of the parks, and removing this would raise questions about whether the parks were being maintained.
In April, Ezemvelo was given six months to provide comprehensive details of its revenue generation and marketing strategies.
Ngidi indicated that some of its facilities, graded B and C, were not attracting enough revenue, while those graded A had a 66 percent occupancy rate, bringing in revenues that were subsidising non-performing facilities.
The biggest challenge, which needed a financial injection, was improving non-revenue-making facilities and road networks in game reserves.
Committee chairwoman Belinda Scott suggested that the agency should consider inviting the private sector to partner with Ezemvelo to improve its hospitality facilities.
The agency also reported that its assets were ageing, and that there were many that were obsolete, not working or in need of rehabilitation.
The agency was given six months to return to the legislature to report on its turnaround strategy.
“We will achieve this by generating revenue through accommodation, admissions, resale trade, trails, special events and the new SMS line.
“We will also focus on retaining customers through customer relationship management and encouraging repeat visits by offering loyalty and discounted rates,” said Mkhize. – The Mercury