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Wildlife in peril in KZN with Ezemvelo in critical financial state

By July 7, 2020Conservation
Duncan Guy, The Independent Online | July 4, 2020

Read the original story here.

DURBAN: Conservation in KwaZulu-Natal has taken a hammering under lockdown and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife will need state help to save it from court battles with a bevy of creditors.

So says Sthembiso Mshengu, chairperson of the KwaZulu-Natal legislature’s portfolio committee on Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (Edtea) which oversees it.

“Ezemvelo is too big an organisation to fail,” he said. “The government has to bail it out. Should we not get assistance, Ezemvelo may be taken to court by creditors.”

Mshengu said all eyes were on an adjusted budget to be presented by the Finance MEC, Ravi Pillay, in the next few weeks.

He also said many security positions could not be filled by the agency, which before lockdown was operating on limited budgets. The conservation agency, meanwhile, said it was still calculating losses from cancellation of bookings.

“In fact even these were poached in March but only discovered in April. The decline during the lockdown period could be attributed to the fact that the lockdown prevented the poachers from travelling.”

De Boer said: “There has been an inability to renovate tourist or staff accommodation in the flagship Hluhluwe-Mfolosi Park, and much-needed computers and IT infrastructure could not be purchased.”

Mshengu confirmed this but said finance was lacking. De Boer urged people to stand in solidarity with Ezemvelo as the custodians of our natural heritage. “A day visit or stay-over at one of the many destinations managed by Ezemvelo could help drag the entity away from the edge of the financial abyss,” he said.

“At this stage we have an estimated loss of approximately R2.2 million from cancellations of bookings,” said Ezemvelo spokesperson Musa Mntambo.

Belt-tightening has seen the reduction of contracts, including halving a helicopter contract from 90 hours to 45.

Mntambo added that guests who had paid up before lockdown were being refunded. “Covid-19 was not of their making,” he said.

“We are also not taking any new bookings as we do not know what the future holds.”

The DA has said that Ezemvelo was grappling with a R53m loss in revenue.

“The entity has been dealt a double blow during the lockdown, having to refund R2 million in accommodation fees, while it under-collected on gate fees, the sale of consumables, and fuel at provincial parks.

“And R5.2 million was cumulatively lost in wildlife sales and hunting package income,” said Heinz de Boer, the party’s Edtea spokesperson.

“The financial loss could have massive ramifications for the protection of critically endangered wildlife.

“Rhino poaching figures have already jumped by 3% in the fourth quarter of the financial year, as Ezemvelo renegotiates contracts with service providers. Among these are the helicopter services that assist in anti-poaching operations and wildlife monitoring and management.

“The vulture project in the Drakensberg is among the enterprises that have been left without airborne monitoring.”

Mntambo said that in March, Ezemvelo lost 16 rhinos to poaching and six in April.