Kruger National park battles floods in tourist season

South Africa’s biggest national park has been drenched with heavy rains for more than a week, forcing it to evacuate guests and close some roads just as overseas tourists were returning after a three-year hiatus.

All dirt roads and some tarred roads in the southern part of the Kruger National Park have been closed and one of the main through ways washed away at three points, South African National Parks said in a statement on Thursday. Two bush camps, one overnight hut, two rest camps and one entrance gate have all been shut.

The Kruger, a reserve almost the size of Israel and on the border with Mozambique, is home to the big five animals — elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and buffalo — and gets about a million guests annually. After more than two years of lost tourism revenue due to Covid-19 restrictions, the park is trying its “level best” to open passages for visitors to the park during the rainy period, Managing Executive Oscar Mthimkhulu said.

South Africa has been experiencing the La Niňa weather phenomenon, which typically causes higher than usual rainfall. The government declared the floods a state of disaster this week, citing the impact of “above-normal rainfall in various parts of the country.” State-owned logistics company Transnet temporarily suspended some freight rail operations last weekend due to flooding in the Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces.

From a river ecosystems perspective, the flood conditions provide natural flushing for the rivers and boost groundwater so that, at this stage, there are no concerns from a conservation perspective, according to the statement.

While forecasts show further wet conditions in the next 10 days, the rain is expected to be intermittent and localised, with some areas starting to dry out, SANparks said. The Kruger’s staff will only be able to do a full assessment of the damage caused once the water has subsided in the next two weeks, it said.

© 2023 Bloomberg