Kruger mayhem goes beyond mobile apps
The increased disorder recently reported in the Kruger National Park cannot be solely blamed on mobile applications.
This is the view of the developers of the Latest Sightings App, a platform that allows visitors who are on a safari, be they rangers or tourists, to report the animals and events they are seeing in real-time.
Some visitors at the Kruger claim the park authorities are not doing enough to control visitors in the park but are now using mobile applications as a scapegoat for their mismanagement.
Earlier this month, South African National Parks (SANParks) said the introduction of mobile applications designed to share information on interesting animal sightings in the national park have become a major cause for concern.
It alleged the rise in the use of these applications had resulted in an increased rate of lawlessness in the parks, including speeding, congestion at sightings as well as road kills caused by guests rushing to and congregating around these sightings.
SANParks is now exploring a ban or restriction on these apps in Kruger National Park and other parks around the country.
Nadav Ossendryver, founder and CEO of LatestSightings.com, says there has been no data given to support the assertion that apps have played any role in the mayhem in the park, let alone the sole cause.
According to Ossendryver, SANParks' numbers show that since 1998, the day visitor quota, just in the southern section of the park, increased from 2 050 per day to 2 950 cars per day in 2012.
"So with around 850km of road in the southern section of Kruger, day visitors' cars have increased from two per kilometre to three per kilometre. So statistically, if there are more cars in the same amount of space, the amount of cars that there will be at a sighting, speeding or running over animals will be increased too."
He is of the view that if apps were causing issues, it could be a great idea for officials to use these apps to strategically place speed traps and make sure people don't speed. SANParks is also in a unique position in that it can collect fines prior to allowing people to exit the park, he adds.
"We deeply respect what SANParks does for wildlife and for South Africa. The tremendous benefits of sightings apps and social media to wildlife and tourism should not be discounted. If, in fact, there are unforeseen consequences of their use, we would like to work with SANParks to solve the problem. Attempting to ban wildlife apps and social media is tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater."
World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck says blaming mobile apps for lawlessness or congestion is like blaming cameras for congestion around sightings. "These are tools that enhance the very purpose of the park."
He points out it is commonly believed that most of the road kill in the parks happens as a result of the parks' own staff being allowed to drive at higher than the speed limit for visitors, and much of it happens while the park is closed to visitors but being used by staff.
"One needs only follow the discussions in the apps and in conversation groups to get a sense of how poorly policed this aspect of the parks has been of late.
"The most scurrilous aspect of placing the blame on apps is that SANParks is trying to distract attention from its own role in promoting congestion - it has upped the quota of cars allowed into the park, meaning there are significantly more cars per kilometre in the park today than a few years ago. This naturally leads to congestion, and SANParks must address the role of its own policy in this regard before looking for scapegoats. It would be quite stupid to ban the apps, as you would have to ban cellphones as well."
He points out that apps also play a highly positive role in reporting snares and bad behaviour.
"One has to ask who or what has motivated the call for regulating the apps, as it is clearly not in the interests of the parks or the visitors to the parks."
William Mabasa, acting head of communications at SANParks, says the authorities are doing their best to manage the situation.
"We have our traffic officers and protection services staff on the roads at all times, though we cannot put a security officer behind every tree of the park. We are also mindful of the fact that visitors come to the park to enjoy the ambiance of the place and not see people everywhere who will be policing transgressors."
At the moment, Mabasa says, SANParks is asking visitors to refrain from using these applications in the park, and if everybody cooperates, then there would be no need to take any further action.
"But if we do not get any positive response, we will ask our legal advisers if we have any recourse at law to compel the people concerned to stop using these apps," Mabasa says.
"We do not count the number of cars at our gates but individuals. Therefore, the statement that says we increased the number of cars is one of those things that people create and, unfortunately, those who have no idea about the operations of the Kruger National Park."