River management under transformation: The emergence of strategic adaptive management of river systems in the Kruger National Park

Sharon Pollard, Derick du Toit, Harry Biggs
Koedoe | Vol 53, No 2 | a1011 | DOI: | © 2011 Sharon Pollard, Derick du Toit, Harry Biggs | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 22 June 2010 | Published: 11 May 2011

About the author(s)

Sharon Pollard, Association for Water and Rural Development, Acornhoek, South Africa
Derick du Toit, Association for Water and Rural Development, Acornhoek, South Africa
Harry Biggs, South African National Parks, Skukuza, South Africa


Protected areas such as the Kruger National Park (KNP) face many management challenges, of which ensuring a healthy flow of rivers into the park is one of the most important. Although previous management policies isolated the KNP from its neighbours, this position has changed as the KNP seeks to negotiate a respected ‘place’ for water and conservation in a competitive environment. A major catalyst for this re-orientation has been the response from the KNP to the growing water crisis where its position needed to be seen within the wider catchment and policy context in South Africa. This paper presents an overview of the transforming management practices of the KNP in a changing political, socio-economic and environmental context, through the lens of water resources. We show that the KNP management model moved beyond inward-looking, isolationist policies to adopt responsivity to major change factors. The new approach was applied first in the sphere of river management in the KNP after which it spread to other domains such as fire and game management. It explicitly incorporates an experimental–reflexive orientation and considers management as a process of learningby- doing. This paper strives to review the transformation since the onset of explicit adaptive management of these rivers. The development of a new stewardship, based on a stakeholdercentred vision and on learning-focused management, has been a main achievement for the KNP. A closer partnership between researchers, managers and field staff, supported with buyin and co-learning, has led to a management framework based on a clear vision informed by stakeholder involvement, an objectives hierarchy, a scoping of management options, a monitoring system and a reflective evaluation process with feedback loops. Although developed through a focus on rivers, the framework can be embraced for the management of ecosystems as a whole.

Conservation implications: The explicit adoption of strategic adaptive management for the rivers entering the KNP has had considerable implications not only with regard to management practice within the park, but also for the relationships with neighbours. This has also meant setting and implementing new goals and priorities with managers and staff.


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