Valerie Boje, The Independent Online | November 8, 2020
PRETORIA: It is important for South Africans to appreciate the rich biodiversity and culture protected in its national parks, yet many South Africans have never had the opportunity to visit even one of the country’s 19 national parks.
For this reason SANParks, the custodian of national parks, holds annually a National Parks Week during which entry to the parks is waived for local citizens to facilitate access.
In addition to this the Kruger National Park, the country’s largest and best known national park, is involved in an effort to ensure disability is not a barrier to enjoying the park.
Ahead of National Parks Week which runs from November 16 to 20, a group of local residents were taken on a tour at Berg-en-Dal in the south-western corner of the Kruger to experience facilities designed to enhance the visit to the park of the visually impaired, those with hearing difficulties or mobility challenges.
Their visit started with a Braille Trail which has been set up along the trail which runs adjacent to the rest camp fence. Here the visually impaired are guided by a rope and can stop at benches along the way to enjoy the sounds of birds and animals in close but safe proximity.
Braille descriptions of the animals of the Kruger Park have been added to information boards available to all visitors, and rangers offer the horns of various antelope and buffalo for a touching experience.
Inside the Rhino Hall, visitors can learn more about rhino and the dangers they face. There is a touch experience to give a sense of the size and feel of rhino and their horns.
During the tour, those with hearing difficulties were assisted by a sign language interpreter before a game drive on a modified vehicle which includes a wheelchair lift.
For many in the party it was their first time in the park. Wheelchair-bound Ruth Dlamini could not contain her excitement at her first sighting of many animals in the wild, especially zebra and giraffe, elephant and buffalo.
She welcomed the initiative by the camp, and was keen to return to the park soon so she could see the rest of the big five.
Berg-en-Dal camp manager Johann Mdluli said the camp staff wanted to ensure a special product for people with disabilities who may not have realised they could also enjoy the Kruger National Park.
SANParks week, usually held in September as part of Tourism Month, was postponed this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The organisation has taken extra care to ensure that all relevant health and safety regulations are met.
SA National Parks Week, with the theme, ‘Know Your National Parks’, will be launched at the West Coast National Park on Sunday.
The free access to parks does not include free accommodation and other tourist activities, and excludes the Namaqua National Park and Boulders section of Table Mountain National Park.