South African wind turbine projects worry private wildlife reserves
Credit: By Mathilde Boussion (Makhanda (South Africa), special correspondent) | Published 10 May 2023 | lemonde.fr ~~
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Already beset by poacher attacks, private reserves in the Eastern Cape Province are now facing another problem: The rise of wind farm projects covering some 100 square kilometers and their potentially damaging impact on ecotourism.
One morning in March, Chris Hutton received the call he had been dreading. His men reported a breach in the reserve’s fence. Poachers, to be sure. 45 minutes later, the team discovered three rhinos collapsed on the ground, a mother and her two calves. Dead. Their skins had been pierced with large caliber rounds, their faces ripped off, their horns stolen. “See this ankle collar? It was covered in blood,” said a disgusted ranger, pointing to a tracker. “It was brutal. They chopped off the skull with an axe,” added Hutton from the kitchen that serves as his headquarters.
The 36-year-old head of the anti-poaching unit of South Africa’s Lalibela Private Game Reserve faces a daunting task: Protecting over 20,000 hectares of wilderness on the new front lines in the country’s “rhino war.” After decimating the rhino population of the iconic northern Kruger National Park by the thousands, poachers are now attacking private reserves in the south.
In the Eastern Cape, 16 rhinos have been killed since the beginning of the year, something that had never happened here. Fighting this experienced and over-equipped enemy is expensive: over €200,000 per year in Lalibela, financed by ecotourism. But the reserve and its neighbors fear these revenues could collapse because of another growing threat: The 20 or so wind farms planned to arrive on their doorsteps. Six have already been built.
Working together within the organization Indalo, created in 2018, a dozen private reserves in this corner of what is the country’s poorest province and was until then primarily dedicated to wildlife tourism, have condemned it as an assault on biodiversity. These projects are spread over a hundred square kilometers. The most symbolic one, led by French multinational utility company Engie, is located within 5 kilometers of one of the country’s largest natural parks.
Serious energy crisis
“We’re not opposed to wind turbines. We’re just fighting to make sure they’re not built in the wrong place,” said Joe Cloete. As director of the Shamwari reserve, he is one of the founding members of the Indalo collective. Situated an hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth, South Africa’s fifth largest city, Shamwari is the most luxurious reserve in the region: Up to €800 per night per person to experience an idyllic safari featuring a game drive and meal with a view on the giraffes.
Its founders invested over €15 million to reintroduce the country’s most iconic wildlife species to a land that had long been dedicated to farming. 30 years later, the project is considered one of South Africa’s greatest conservation success stories. “Our customers come from France, the Netherlands, the UK. Why would they come here to see wind turbines when they can go to Botswana?” worried Cloete, who pointed out that “Without tourists, no reserves, no rhinos, no vultures.”
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