On the Garden Route we were struck by humanity's capacity to produce conservationists like Joan Berning, who work tirelessly for nature, and those driven by greed, poverty or ego, who, whether consciously or not, destroy nature through unsustainable development.
On the Garden Route we were struck by humanity's capacity to produce conservationists like Joan Berning, who work tirelessly for nature, and those driven by greed, poverty or ego, who, whether consciously or not, destroy nature through unsustainable development. Two hundred years ago the Garden Route was still impenetrable. Before Thomas Bain constructed his ambitious passes, this 100 mile stretch of dense forests, deep river gorges, lagoons, lakes and giant dunes remained home to elephants, massive trees and hunter-gatherers.
Bain did not bother to survey, he simply built his passes on the elephant tracks, which perfectly navigated the perilous ravines. These tracks betrayed the elephants, and the wonderful nature in which they lived. Endless development has followed and there remain -at most- a dozen elephants fearfully hidden in the most remote parts.
Commercial forestry, a gold rush, farming, towns and tourism have reduced this titan of nature to a fragile citadel, its last glories protected by a band of conservationists. Right now it is in the grip of a long-term drought. Our friends on a farm are down to the last few inches of rainwater in their tanks. But the irrigation of polo fields continues, and conservationists are threatened with murder -literally- if they dare oppose new golf developments, shopping malls or super-luxury homes, like the one planned in a pristine area with seven swimming pools, one of them Olympic size.
The playgrounds of the very wealthy also draw the poor. Shanty towns have spread where, just a few years ago, there were forests alive with the calls of Louries and Oriels.
We had dinner with Joan Berning, one leading conservationist. A large map in her office shows 3 floral 'mega areas' within 400 kilometers: The Garden Route, Bavianskloof and Addo. This short distance features enormous geographical variety and is home to five different floral biomes.
Joan has succeeded in persuading land owners to designate parts of their land for indigenous flora. These link up as 'corridors' between existing reserves, and will re-establish biodiversity and insect/animal/bird migrations.. perhaps ultimately even those of the elephants.
To promote the corridor there are now annual walks from the Garden Route to Addo via Bavianskloof, known as Eden to Addo. It is an amazing story, that Joan has such vision, and has drawn so many owners to dedicate land for conservation. Her efforts show the best we can do for nature, and are in sharp contrast to so much that has happened along the Garden Route.
Author: Roddy Bray
Published Date: 18 Jan 2010
Location: Southern Africa | South Africa
Themes: natural world, travel | conservation, parks and trails