Pilanesberg – added to the poster range

Situated in the North-West province of South Africa, Pilanesberg Game Reserve was founded in 1977 at a time when the government of the day set up a number of so-called ‘independent homelands’ which had the irrational objective of excluding black people from the country’s political system. Bophuthatswana was the homeland in which Pilanesberg was established and although the apartheid system was rightfully admonished, the Bophuthatswana Parks Board (set up to run Pilanesberg and other conservation areas) attracted a hugely-competant range of future-orientated personnel who not only accomplished the largest relocation of large mammals into a newly created wildlife reserve (over 6,000 animals were moved in), but also constructed and operated the first environmental education centre inside a protected area, the first proper community-engagement as well as environmental outreach projects in the region. In these ways, ‘Bop Parks’ was way ahead of its time, outperforming the ultra-conservative National Parks Board of South Africa (now SANPARKS) in so many ways.

Set within the the crater of a long-extinct volcano, that is thought to have erupted 1,200 million years ago, Pilanesberg covers an area of 572 square kilometres; the rare rock types and distinctive hill formations are noteworthy. There are several camps serving the park from the outside, such as Bakgatla and Manyane and some lodges situated within the park itself. In the center of the park, there is an artificially constructed lake, the ‘Mankwe Dam’, which is pictured behind the rhinos in this design.

The vegetation at Pilanesberg is primarily broad-leaved combretum woodland on the hills, and thorn savanna on the flatlands. All of the large mammals known to have been present historically have been reintroduced into what was formerly marginal cattle grazing country. I have chosen the White Rhinoceros as the emblematic species on my poster design because it was here that the first significant population of the species was established outside of Zululand (where it had recovered from the brink of extinction); it was here too that I first approached this rhino on foot. Black Rhino are also present at Pilanesberg, as well as other endangered species such as African Wild Dog. Ecologically speaking, the reserve lies in the transition zone of Kalahari and Northern Bushveld with a very diverse range of bird species; typical Kalahari species such as Crimson-breasted Shrike and Southern Pied Babbler occurring alongside Grey-headed Bushshrike and Arrow-marked Babbler. The Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill pictured in the design occurs alongside African Grey and Southern Red-billed Hornbills.

I have a long personal history with Pilanesberg, exploring much of it when I was living not too far away in Fourways, north of Johannesburg. In the early 80s, I was very fortunate to work with Pilanesberg’s ecologist and interpretive officer Pete Hancock, illustrating and gathering data for species checklists and educational materials in the Tswana language for local teachers and school children. It was here too that the Vulture Study Group (of which I was then part-time manager) helped established a vulture restaurant with an observation hide for tourists. Later, I worked as publication designer (then co-editor with Michael Smith) of the Bop Parks magazine ‘Bushcall’ (initiated by Roger Collinson and Steve Johnson) which was closed down in 1994 when Bophuthatswana was incorporated back into the newly democratic South Africa.

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