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On-line version ISSN 2071-0771
Print version ISSN 0075-6458

Koedoe vol.61 n.1 Pretoria  2019 

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Anneli Douglas

Received: 25 Oct. 2018
Accepted: 12 June 2019
Published: 17 Sept. 2019

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Ecology of palustrine wetlands in Lesotho: Vegetation classification, description and environmental factors



Peter ChatangaI, II; Erwin J.J. SiebenI

ISchool of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville, Durban, South Africa
IIDepartment of Biology, Faculty of Science and Technology, National University of Lesotho, Roma, Lesotho





The description and classification of wetland vegetation is important for water resource management and biodiversity conservation as it provides an understanding of the wetland vegetation-environment relationships and information to interpret spatial variation in plant communities. This study discusses the vegetation of the palustrine wetlands of Lesotho based on a phytosociological approach. Data on vegetation and various environmental variables were collected using the Braun-Blanquet method and a standardised protocol developed for environmental information of wetlands in South Africa. The data were analysed mainly by clustering and ordination techniques. Twenty-two communities were found by the classification of the wetland vegetation. These communities were found to be diverse in terms of species richness. The ordination revealed that the wetland vegetation is mainly influenced by altitude, longitude, slope, soil parent material, landscape, inundation, potassium content, soil texture, total organic carbon, nitrogen, electrical conductivity and latitude. Regarding species composition and diversity, plant communities in the Highlands were more diverse and were distinctively different from those in the Lowlands. High-altitude communities were also found to be dominated mainly by C3 plants, while those at low altitudes exhibited the dominance of C4 species. Some communities were either restricted to the Highlands or Lowlands but others exhibited a wide ecological amplitude and occurred over an extensive altitudinal range. The diversity of most of the wetlands, coupled with their restricted habitat, distribution at high altitudes and their role in supplying ecosystem services that include water resources, highlights the high conservation value associated with these wetlands, particularly in the face of climate change and loss of biodiversity.
CONSERVATION IMPLICATIONS: The study can be invaluable to wetland scientists, managers, biodiversity conservationists, water resource managers and planners and vegetation ecologists in Southern Africa. About 70% of Lesotho falls in the Maloti-Drakensberg, accounting for about 60% of the region, and this makes the study important in biodiversity conservation planning, particularly in the Highlands. The wetlands in Lesotho face severe anthropogenic pressures that include overgrazing and economic development. Given that the Lesotho Highlands as a water catchment is not only important for Lesotho, but also for South Africa and Namibia, the conservation of the associated wetlands and this critical water resource is indispensable

Keywords: anthropogenic; biodiversity conservation; canonical ordination; climate change; Maloti-Drakensberg; plant community; palustrine wetlands; phytosociology; vegetation classification.




Palustrine wetlands, which cover about 6% of the earth's land surface, are among the most ecologically sensitive ecosystems and very important globally because of their unique role in biogeochemical cycles (Junk et al. 2013; Mitsch & Gosselink 2015). Because they support azonal vegetation that is distinct from the surrounding vegetation (Mucina & Rutherford 2006; Sieben et al. 2016), wetlands are ecological 'islands' within terrestrial environments in different landscapes across the globe. The distinction results from the prolonged water logging that causes oxygen deficiency (hypoxia) or its total absence (anoxia) in the wetland soil, with subsequent chemical changes in soil characteristics (Gopal 2015; Mitsch & Gosselink 2015). Mucina and Rutherford (2006) observed that the presence of water, whether seasonal or permanent, is the primary factor in creating wetland habitats and associated vegetation. Nonetheless, it is not wetness per se that primarily influences the geochemistry and morphology of wetland soils, but rather the anaerobic conditions that result from prolonged soil saturation or flooding (Collins 2005; Kotze et al. 1996).

Montane palustrine wetlands are a special sub-division of freshwater palustrine wetlands that are embedded within terrestrial ecosystems in mountain areas (Mucina & Rutherford 2006). These wetlands are often rich in endemics because many species remain isolated in high-altitude habitats (Junk et al. 2013). By providing a wide spectrum of ecosystem services, these ecosystems are of high ecological and socio-economic importance (Chatterjee et al. 2010). High-altitude wetlands provide essential ecosystem services which help to sustain human life, conserve biodiversity, preserve the hydrological regime and combat the impacts of climate change and are thereby key to water, food and ecological security (Singha 2011). Montane wetlands are located in the headwaters of major river basins, providing water for many trans-boundary rivers and play an important role in the ecology and hydrology of the local environment and downstream systems. They also play a fundamental role in the overall global and regional water cycles (Russi et al. 2013; Sieben, Mtshali & Janks 2014).

The montane wetlands of Lesotho are important for the supply of ecosystem services, including biodiversity conservation, water resources, livestock grazing, harvestable plant products and environmental regulation. Lesotho forms an important hydrological reservoir and watershed for several countries in Southern Africa (Nüsser & Grab 2002). For example, the montane wetlands in the country form part of the headwaters of one of the most important international watercourses in Southern Africa, the Senqu-Orange River (ORASECOM 2015), which is not only important for Lesotho, but also for South Africa and Namibia. Lesotho falls entirely within the catchment of this river system (ORASECOM 2015) and the country is drained by the river and its tributaries. Moreover, the high-altitude wetlands of Lesotho are critical in maintaining the water levels not only in dams supporting the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), which transfers water to South Africa (Grab & Deschamps 2004), but also in those supplying the local population. Directly and indirectly, wetlands in Lesotho are estimated to contribute about 22% of the country's gross domestic products (GDPs) and 30% of the total employment in the country (Department of Environment 2014). Furthermore, by providing freshwater that is transferred to the most densely populated and industrialised area of Gauteng, the wetlands in Lesotho also play a key role in the South African economy.

The most ubiquitous and conspicuous feature of the wetland environment, which also plays a critical role in wetland ecosystem functioning, is the vegetation (Cronk & Fennessy 2001; Gopal 2016). As a result, the description of wetland habitats based on vegetation and the associated classifications are useful in strategic planning for the conservation of wetlands (Mitsch & Gosselink 2015). Plants are such a critical component of wetlands that they are the most widely supported biotic indicator for assessing wetland condition (Collins 2005). Accordingly, vegetation is the most suitable feature to consider over a broad range of wetland habitats (Sieben et al. 2014). Within a single wetland, a large diversity of habitats may occur, and as a result, large differences in the types of vegetation may be observed in the same wetland (Mitsch & Gosselink 2000). Therefore, wetland habitats can be classified based on the plant communities in the system (Collins 2005; Sieben, Kotze & Morris 2010a).

Plant species occurring in a wetland can be used as indicators of environmental conditions and ecological changes taking place in the system (Mitsch & Gosselink 2015) because wetland vegetation is azonal (Brand, Du Preez & Brown 2013) and responds quickly to local environmental changes (Cronk & Fennessy 2001). Because the plant community gives a characterisation of habitat units within a wetland and also serves as habitat for associated animals, a detailed wetland vegetation description for a given wetland can be used as a proxy for the system's biodiversity in general, highlighting the conservation value of the wetland (Sieben et al. 2016). Accordingly, the determination of wetland plants that are useful as biological indicators has become increasingly important for use in monitoring the integrity of specific wetlands (Sieben et al. 2014). Wetland typology provides useful information for water resource management and biodiversity conservation (Sieben et al. 2014).

Given the importance of wetlands, recent studies (Moor et al. 2017; Sieben et al. 2016) have emphasised the need for more information about their species composition, ecology and distribution. Although many studies have been carried out in the wetlands of surrounding South Africa (e.g. Brand et al. 2013; Sieben et al. 2014, 2016), no recent detailed countrywide survey has been conducted on the wetland vegetation of Lesotho. The current study is the first to provide a characterisation of the wetland vegetation in detail, covering many wetlands in the country.

The aims of this study for the palustrine wetlands of Lesotho are:

· to produce a phytosociological classification and name the wetland plant communities

· to map the distribution of the vegetation of the palustrine wetlands using the phytosociological method

· to explore and describe the wetland vegetation-environment relationships.


Materials and methods

Study design

The vegetation of the palustrine wetlands of Lesotho was characterised using a phytosociological approach. The selection of wetlands for sampling was performed in such a way that as much wetland variation as possible in the country was captured with the available time and resources. An attempt was also made to include wetlands in protected areas such as national parks and nature reserves. Fieldwork was carried out during the wet (summer) season, which commenced in February 2017 and ended in March 2018. The study focused on accessible wetlands. In general, the method followed Sieben et al. (2014) to make the results compatible with the South African National Wetland Vegetation Database. Although many wetlands are showing signs of degradation, where wetland density was high and the systems showed little observable variation, large or near-pristine wetlands were selected for the assessment. Depending on the location, each wetland was classified as pristine, rural or urban (Table 1). A 3 × 3 m representative sample plot (quadrat) was then located randomly in each visually distinct and homogenous vegetation type of each selected wetland where different attributes of the vegetation and environment were measured and recorded. This plot size has been recommended for grassy wetlands in Southern Africa (Brown et al. 2013; Sieben et al. 2014). The same plot size has also been recommended for overgrazed grasslands (Brown et al. 2013), a situation that is common in some parts of Lesotho where wetland disturbance by livestock grazing and trampling is widespread. The number of plots per wetland was dependent on the number of observable distinct and homogenous vegetation units within the wetland.

Assessment of vegetation and environmental variables

In each plot, the Braun-Blanquet method, a protocol often used for collecting vegetation data in South Africa (Brown et al. 2013; Sieben et al. 2014), was used for vegetation assessment. Because this method has been applied in South Africa for several decades, it is possible to make comparisons between current and historical data (Brown et al. 2013), which allows for effective plant community comparisons. The method involves assessing wetland vegetation in a stratified manner where plots are placed randomly in each distinct plant community and the species composition is recorded by determining the species present, as well as estimating the cover for each species using a cover-abundance scale. Placing vegetation plots in a stratified manner ensures that as much variation as possible in the wetland is captured, including the different categories of indicators species - obligate wetland (OBL), facultative wetland (FACW), facultative (FAC), facultative upland (FACU) and obligate upland (UPL) (Mitsch & Gosselink 2015). Vegetation structure was described by making estimations of the proportion of the plot covered by vegetation and visually estimating the average height of the vegetation. In case of inundation, the average vegetation height was estimated from the soil surface (Sieben et al. 2014). During the survey, the plant species were identified with the help of botanical field guides (Pooley 2003; Van Oudtshoorn 2014) and those that could not be identified in the field were collected and later taken to the Roma Herbarium (ROML) at the National University of Lesotho for identification.

For each plot, in addition to the vegetation attributes, a standardised protocol developed for environmental information of wetlands in South Africa was also used to systematically measure or assess a number of environmental variables that have been recommended for wetlands (Sieben et al. 2014). In at least one plot per wetland, a soil sample was collected from the top 15 cm of the soil (vegetation rooting zone) using a soil auger. Both vegetation and environmental data were recorded in a wetland field data collection form (Online Appendix 5). Because of the limited funding for the study, soil sampling was limited to one plot per wetland. The plot chosen for soil sampling would be the one representing the most widespread distinct community in the wetland. The samples were packaged in airtight (zipped) plastic bags for further analysis as recommended by Stohlgren et al. (1998). The soil samples were air-dried for at least 48 h and later analysed for different variables (Table 1). The soil analyses were performed by the analytical laboratory service of the Institute for Commercial Forestry Research in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. The environmental and soil variables included in the study, as well as the methods used for their measurement or assessment, are briefly described (Table 1). While most variables were measured or assessed on site in all vegetation plots, additional soil variables (indicated with an asterisk in Table 1) were measured in the laboratory and only on those plots where soil samples were collected. After describing the plots in each wetland, as much of the wetland would be surveyed to record species occurring within the wetland system but were not encountered in the plots. This was in an attempt to ensure a species list that is as complete as possible for the wetland system for additional floristic analysis.

Data analysis

Both vegetation and environmental data were captured in Microsoft Excel spreadsheets from which they were imported into PC-Ord (Mjm Software Design, Gleneden Beach. OR, United States) and CANOCO (Microcomputer Power, Ithaca, NY, United States) programmes for analysis. Prior to importing into these programs for analysis, the Braun-Blanquet vegetation cover values were converted into percentage cover (Mueller-Dombois & Ellenberg 1974; Omar, Maroyi & Van Tol 2016; Van der Maarel 1979). ArcGIS version 10.2 was used to map the distribution range of the wetland vegetation plots in the study area and to determine the distribution range of the wetland plant communities in Lesotho.

Based on the recommendations by Brown et al. (2013), species richness, diversity and evenness were determined. For each plot, these were determined by calculating Shannon-Weiner index (H) and evenness index (E), as well as listing the species. The fraction of the plot that was occupied by species i was referred to as pi, and this value is an indication of the relative abundance of species i. The pi was used to calculate the H and E, which are surrogates of species diversity, by the following formulae (Ludwig & Reynolds 1988):

where pi is the proportion of species i and ln is the natural logarithm.

where s is the species richness (number of species).

To elucidate the ecological patterns in the vegetation of the palustrine wetlands of Lesotho, a number of multivariate statistical techniques were employed. For the data analyses of this multivariate ecological community, three main types of analyses were employed: (1) hierarchical cluster analysis (HCA), (2) indicator species analysis (ISA) and (3) canonical correspondence analysis (CCA). These were performed mainly following Sieben et al. (2014).

Classification and indicator species analysis

Cluster analysis was used to classify sites with respect to similarity or dissimilarity (Van Tongeren 1995). Classification makes the use of similarity between vegetation plots such that plots which are more similar in species composition are grouped together. Classification facilitates the description and ecological interpretation of plant communities from a large amount of vegetation data. Classification and description of vegetation not only provide an understanding of the vegetation-environment relationships, but also information to interpret the spatial variation between plant communities (Clegg & O'Connor 2012). Accordingly, to obtain vegetation typology of the palustrine wetlands of Lesotho, agglomerative HCA was performed on vegetation data to identify homogenous plant communities in the wetlands. This would enable vegetation plots that are similar in species composition to be grouped together, with emphasis on the relationships between them (McCune & Mefford 2011; Van Tongeren 1995).

The classification was performed by grouping vegetation plots based on species composition and abundance data. PC-Ord version 6.0 was used for the classification (McCune & Mefford 2011). Non-transformed percentage plant cover data were used for the clustering. The best interpretable classification was produced by the combination of the Sørenson's (Bray-Curtis) similarity index and Ward's linkage method. The Ward's method has been reported to have an advantage of producing clearly defined clusters (Pla et al. 2012). The plant communities obtained were named following the guidelines by Brown et al. (2013). However, in cases where there was no clear dominant, the name was derived from the description (structure and distribution) of the community.

Indicator species analysis was used as an objective criterion for determining the optimal number of clusters in the final dendrogram. This was achieved by repeating the clustering algorithm while varying the number of clusters (Dufrêne & Legendre 1997) and the number that gave the lowest average p-value of the indicator species was used in the final dendrogram (Peck 2010). The ISA was also used in characterising different wetland plant communities obtained from the final clusters. Indicator species with indicator values (IVs) greater than 20 and significant (p 0.05) in the Monte Carlo permutation test were considered real indicators (Sieben et al. 2016) and were therefore listed for each cluster. The ISA is often used to test the fidelity (faithfulness) of a species to a given community. The Monte Carlo permutation test (also available in PC-Ord) was also used to test for the statistical significance of the fidelity of the indicator species to the communities (Dufrêne & Legendre 1997). The ISA was also conducted in PC-Ord. For each community obtained from the classification, the median and range for species richness, diversity index, and evenness and means for vegetation height and cover were determined.


Another important feature of the analysis was the relationship between wetland plant communities and explanatory variables. Consequently, to examine the influence of environmental variables and gradients on wetland vegetation, the vegetation and environmental variable data and the plant communities obtained from the classification were subjected to canonical ordination (Ter Braak & Šmilauer 1998). This was performed twice: (1) constrained CCA on all vegetation plots using species abundance data and environmental variables and (2) constrained CCA only on those vegetation plots where soil samples had been taken, using species abundance data and more detailed explanatory data. Data of log-transformed percentage plant cover were used for the ordination. The choice for CCA for the ordination was based on the fact that the vegetation data were compositional and the gradient was greater than four units (Lepš & Šmilauer 2003). The canonical ordination was performed using CANOCO version 5.11 (Ter Braak & Šmilauer 1998). The statistical significance of the constrained ordination (relationship of communities with environmental variables) was tested using the unrestricted Monte Carlo permutation test available in CANOCO (Ter Braak 1995). The primary objective of canonical ordination is to detect the main pattern in the species-environment or community-environment relationships (Ter Braak 1995).

The CCA helps to detect patterns of variation in the species data that can be explained best by the supplied environmental variables (McGarigal, Cushman & Stafford 2000). In the ordination output, the total variation in the data set is the sum of all the eigenvalues of all axes. The proportion of this total variation that is explained by the supplied explanatory variables is described as the variation explained and is the sum of all canonical eigenvalues divided by the total variation (Ter Braak 1995). In the ordination diagram, each arrow points in the direction of the steepest increase in the explanatory variable with its length proportional to its importance in explaining the variation, while the angle between the arrows indicates the correlation between individual variables (Ter Braak & Šmilauer 1998).



Overall, 150 vegetation plots from 30 palustrine wetlands in Lesotho were analysed in this study (Figure 1). A total of 312 plant species belonging to 51 families occurred in the wetlands (Online Appendix 1 - Table 1-A1[a] and [b]). Of the 312 species, 276 were encountered in the 150 plots and the remaining 36 species occurred within the wetlands but outside the plots (Online Appendix 1 - Table 1-A1[a]; Online Appendix 2 - Table 1-A2). Five most dominant families, accounting for most of the species occurring in the wetlands, were Poaceae (20.19%), Asteraceae (19.23%), Cyperaceae (14.10%), Scrophulariaceae (4.17%) and Polygonaceae (3.85%) (Online Appendix 1 - Table 1-A1 [b]). From these results, it can be observed that three (Poaceae, Asteraceae and Cyperaceae) out of the 51 families account for 53.52% of all the species occurring in these wetlands. While the species richness of whole wetland units ranged between 10 and 53, the number of species per 3 × 3 m plot ranged from 1 (monospecific communities, e.g. community 19) to 27 (highly diverse communities, e.g. communities 3 and 4), with a median species richness of about 14. The highest median number of species for whole wetland units (41.5) was recorded in the Highlands and the lowest (26) in the Lowlands. The five most frequently occurring species in the wetlands all represent different families (Ranunculaceae, Leguminosae, Asteraceae, Poaceae and Cyperaceae) (Online Appendix 1 - Table 1-A1[a] and [b]). The type of metabolism (C3/C4) is also indicated in Online Appendix 1 - Table 1-A1[a] for some of the species. The species that were collected during fieldwork were deposited in the ROML at the National University of Lesotho.


Clustering of all the vegetation plots produced 22 distinct communities (Figure 2). The 22 communities are described in terms of their dominant species, indicator species and the associated IVs (Table 2). These communities were also grouped into five main clusters (wetland types), four highland wetland types (wetland types 1-4) and one lowland type (wetland type 5). While most of the high-altitude communities exhibited the dominance of C3 plants, most of the dominants in the low-altitude communities were C4 species. Exceptions are communities such as Schoenoplectus paludicola, Potamogeton thunbergii and Typha domingensis-Phragmites australis, which, although dominated by C3 plants, occurred at low altitudes. However, a mixture of C3 and C4 plants dominated the communities with a wide ecological amplitude (see Online Appendix 1 - Table 1-A1[a] for metabolic pathways of some of the species). The synoptic table for the classification of the wetland vegetation is provided in Online Appendix 2 - Table 1-A2.


The CCA ordination diagram for all vegetation plots is presented in Figure 3. In this ordination, the total variation is 25.483 and the environmental variables supplied account for 18.11% of this. The first axis of the ordination is positively correlated with altitude, longitude, soil parent material and peat but negatively associated with landscape, inundation and aspect. Communities located on the right side of the ordination diagram (i.e. communities 1, 3, 5, 7, 10 and 20) are associated with near-pristine and high-altitude areas that are underlain by basalt and located in the eastern part of the country. Communities on the left side of the diagram (i.e. communities 6, 15, 16, 17, 18, 21 and 22) are associated with more inundated wetlands in the western lowland and more urbanised areas of the country that are underlain by sandstone. These communities are also associated with a shallower water column. The second axis of the ordination is best explained by slope but wetness and soil depth are also important factors. However, some communities occur on a wide range of altitudinal gradient and these include communities 12, 13 and 14.

Thirty of the 150 vegetation plots had detailed soil data and this subset of the vegetation plots represents 15 of the 22 plant communities presented in Figure 2. Figure 4 presents the CCA ordination diagram for this subset of the vegetation plots. The total variation was 10.051 and 65.40% of this could be explained by the supplied explanatory variables. The first axis is positively correlated with potassium and percentage clay but is negatively correlated with altitude, longitude, total organic carbon, nitrogen, sulphur, percentage sand and sodium. While potassium and percentage clay have a strong positive correlation, total organic carbon, nitrogen, sulphur, percentage sand and longitude also have a strong positive correlation. The second axis is negatively correlated with latitude and positively associated with electrical conductivity, soil depth, magnesium and calcium content. Communities on the left side of the ordination diagram (i.e. communities 1, 3, 4, 8, 19 and 20) are in high-altitude areas and are associated with sand soils with high organic carbon, nitrogen, sulphur and sodium content and those on the right side (i.e. communities 9, 13, 17, 18, 21 and 22) are in the Lowlands and on soils with high potassium and clay levels. Those communities on the upper part of the ordination diagram, including communities 8, 9, 11, 12, 17, 19 and 20, are associated with high levels of electrical conductivity, calcium and magnesium, as well as deeper so

Description and distribution of wetland plant communities

The 22 plant communities were further described in terms of their most dominant species, structure, diversity and environmental conditions (Table 3). Species that are protected by law in the country are also highlighted in Table 3. Online Appendix 3 - Figure 5 presents some of these communities and Online Appendix 4 provides a further description of all the communities. The distribution range of the wetland vegetation in Lesotho is presented in Figure 1.



The earliest studies on the palustrine wetlands of Lesotho were carried out in the early 1960s and 1970s (Guillarmod 1962; Van Zinderen Bakker & Werger 1974). Since then, other studies conducted in the country (Du Preez & Brown 2011; Grab & Deschamps 2004; Meakins & Duckett 1993) were mainly carried out on small areas, focusing on specific or a few wetlands. The current study has provided the most recent and more comprehensive assessment of the palustrine wetlands in the country by providing a classification and description of the wetland vegetation. The wetland vegetation has been classified into 22 communities, which are influenced mainly by altitude, longitude, slope, soil parent material, landscape, inundation, peat, soil potassium, clay, total organic carbon, nitrogen, sulphur, electrical conductivity, calcium, soil depth, wetness, magnesium, aspect and latitude. The wetlands were found to be occurring mainly in those areas where topography allows wetland conditions to develop (mostly in flat areas); mainly on the summit plateau and in the Lowlands. Nonetheless, it is noteworthy that there may be more communities in the country than the number reported here because only 150 plots from 30 wetlands were analysed in this study, although this forms an important starting point for documenting and classifying the wetland vegetation for Lesotho.

Despite Lesotho being entirely Afromontane, the study found a clear distinction between wetlands that are found in the Highlands and those in the Lowlands, in terms of diversity, species making up the communities and structure of the communities (Table 3). While the highland wetlands (types 1-4) are mainly south-facing, those in the Lowlands (type 5) are mainly north-facing. Differences exist between the north- and south-facing slopes because of distinct solar radiation patterns. The resulting ecological differences that include snow cover duration and moisture conditions between the moister and colder south-facing slopes and the drier and warmer north-facing slopes contribute to the observed differences in vegetation types (Nüsser 2002). Indicators of wetland type 5 are typical lowland wetland plants. This wetland type is comparable to the most widespread and common type of wetlands in South Africa, the temperate grassy wetlands (Sieben et al. 2014). One of the highland wetland types (type 4) comprises wetlands that are found in the small high-altitude area underlain by sandstone and limited to the eastern edge of Lesotho (Sehlabathebe National Park). These wetlands are also located on very steep slopes. However, this wetland type was under-sampled in this study as it was represented by only two wetlands and nine vegetation plots. Despite the country's high altitude (1388-3482 m asl) and rugged terrain, qualifying it to be entirely Afromontane (Carbutt & Edwards 2015), some of the communities in the Lowlands also fit into the temperate grassy wetland vegetation of Sieben et al. (2017a) and the eastern temperate freshwater wetlands of Mucina and Rutherford (2006).

All the wetlands surveyed in the current study can broadly be classified as the freshwater wetland vegetation type of Mucina and Rutherford (2006), which is further divided into eastern temperate freshwater wetlands (AZf 3), Drakensberg wetlands (AZf 4) and Lesotho mires (AZf 5). The dominance of Poaceae, Asteraceae, Cyperaceae and Scrophulariaceae families observed in the current study has also been reported in the entire Maloti-Drakensberg region and the surrounding areas, although Asteraceae was the most dominant in the latter (Chatanga et al. 2019). The current study also concurs with Sieben, Glen and Muasya (2017b) who report that Poaceae is the most common plant family in the South African wetlands based on species richness. However, of the five most dominant plant families recorded in the current study, two (Asteraceae and Scrophulariaceae) have higher than average levels of endemism in the Maloti-Drakensberg region (Cowling & Hilton-Taylor 1994). High levels of endemism in the high-altitude environments such as the Maloti-Drakensberg are attributed to the many small-scale microhabitats and a wide range of edaphic conditions that develop as a result of slope and aspect (Brand, Scott-Shaw & O'Connor 2019).

The five most common species in the study all represent different families. This implies that the wetland vegetation in the country is phylogenetically diverse and this is unlike the situation in South Africa where the five most common wetland plant species are all grasses (Poaceae) (Sieben et al. 2014). The high altitude that characterises the greater part of Lesotho could account for this high diversity, and montane wetlands have been identified as some of the most species-rich in South Africa (Sieben et al. 2014). While the high-altitude montane wetland communities in Lesotho are more diverse and are virtually never a monoculture, the lowland wetland communities are generally less diverse and sometimes monospecific communities. In lowland wetlands, it is common for just one or two species to dominate the entire wetland plant community (Boutin & Keddy 1993; Sieben et al. 2010a). This trend, also exhibited in the current study, is contrary to the decline in species richness with altitude, which has widely been recognised as a general law of ecology (Rosenzweig 1995). However, the large number of species and communities recorded in this study generally reflects the high diversity of wetland habitats in the country, although the highest diversity is associated with higher altitudes. It is noteworthy that exceptions such as Kniphofia caulescens and Carex cognata communities usually exhibit lower diversity than other communities at such higher elevations. This suggests that the dominant species in these communities are so adapted to the harsh high-altitude conditions that they have developed a very large competitive effect on local resources and act as a habitat filter by excluding the less competitive species (Maire et al. 2012). It is also noteworthy that the Lowlands is the area subjected to more anthropogenic pressures that include cultivation, urbanisation and conversion to other forms of land use and this threatens the wetlands in this part of the country.

The higher species richness and diversity in the Highlands highlights that these wetland habitats are more diverse than those in the Lowlands. This could be attributable, in part, to the fact that most of the dominant species in the high-altitude montane wetlands of the country are non-clonal (Table 3). Clonal plants are species that can reproduce vegetatively by sprouting from stolons or rhizomes, forming stands of individuals of that species (Song & Dong 2002). Typical clonal plants include Phragmites and Typha spp. that form dense rhizome mats and outcompete other non-clonal species. These findings corroborate Sieben et al. (2010b, 2017b) who suggest that, unlike lowland wetlands, high-altitude wetlands are unusual in that they are richer in species and particularly non-clonal species. Moreover, because the usually dominant wetland plants cannot cope well with the low temperatures characterising high-altitude environments, they cannot be as dominant as usual, leaving many vacant niches that then become available for colonisation by other plants (Sieben et al. 2010b). Furthermore, in wetland environments, the abundance of clonal plants has been reported to be negatively associated with the overall plant species diversity, as well as with altitude (Song & Dong 2002). The high diversity can also be attributed to the steep gradients in the landscape and harsh climatic conditions that create unique habitats in the mountains of Lesotho (Pooley 2003). The high diversity can further be ascribed to the underlying basaltic parent material. Mucina and Rutherford (2006) observe that the seepage water in these high-altitude wetlands is eutrophic as the underlying basalt is rich in nutrients. This also influences the floristic composition and community structure of the wetlands. These results are consistent with observations by Sieben et al. (2010a) who acknowledge the significant number of wetland community types in the montane areas of Lesotho. The high floristic diversity observed in the current study is also consistent with findings from the high-altitude montane wetlands of Alborz Mountains, Iran (Kamrani et al. 2011; Naqinezhad et al. 2009).

The ordination of the vegetation data for all plots reveals that the explanatory environmental variables supplied could explain only about 18.11% of the total variation. This highlights that the remaining variation could be explained by the environmental factors which were not included in the analysis, such as precipitation (assessed only indirectly through longitude) and wetland water quality. It may also be that plants colonise wetland habitats by chance (Chesson 2000). However, the degree of variation explained in the ordination is comparable to similar studies in the wetlands of South Africa (Sieben et al. 2016, 2017a). Moreover, Brand et al. (2013) highlight that substrate and hydrogeological conditions play a bigger role in influencing the floristic composition, structure and dynamics in high-altitude montane wetlands than microclimate. The inclusion of soil variables in the analysis increased the proportion of the total variation explained by the supplied variables from 18.11% to 65.40%. Thus, the inclusion of soil data in the analysis significantly improves wetland vegetation-environment assessments. The degree of variation explained in the ordination with soil data is significantly higher than that reported for the South African wetlands (Sieben et al. 2016, 2017a). Nevertheless, the amount of variation explained after the inclusion of soil data could also have improved because the data set was smaller (30 vegetation plots).

While the second axis is positively associated with slope, it is negatively correlated with the wetness and soil depth. This implies that communities on the lower part of the ordination diagram are associated with wetter habitats with deeper soils, while those on the upper part are associated with steeper slopes. The former include communities such as C. cognata-Juncus effusus, while the latter include communities such as Merxmuellera macowanii, which are often associated with hillslope seepages. The correlation between wetness and soil depth, which are both negatively correlated with slope, could be attributed to the soil deposition and water accumulation that is often consistent with fairly flat habitats. Altitude, longitude, slope, wetness, soil parent material, landscape, peat, inundation, aspect, soil depth and wetness have been observed to be very important factors explaining the distribution and variation of the wetland vegetation in this study.

Abundance of peat is also strongly correlated with altitude and longitude. Because most of these Afromontane wetlands are often located on a slope at high altitudes, they are unique (Mucina & Rutherford 2006; Sieben et al. 2014). A temperature drop of 1 °C has been estimated for every 125 m gain in altitude in Lesotho and the Maloti-Drakensberg region (Pomela et al. 2000). Such steep environmental gradients over short distances (Körner, Paulsen & Spehn 2011) in Afromontane areas are associated with huge spatial variation in physical features and this results in remarkable variation in terms of species diversity and distribution (Kotze & O'Connor 2000). As a result, increasing altitude corresponds with a decrease in temperature and an increase in rainfall (Mucina & Rutherford 2006) and the greater part of Lesotho is generally much higher and colder than the surrounding areas (Sieben et al. 2014). The hypoxia or anoxia in the wetlands, coupled with the low temperature and pH, often associated with these high-altitude wetlands, reduces the rate of decomposition and favours the accumulation of organic matter and peat formation (Chatterjee et al. 2010; Gopal 2016). Therefore, lower temperatures, higher rainfall and other environmental conditions associated with high altitudes also create habitats that can harbour unique vegetation (Sieben et al. 2014).

Through its influence on temperature and rainfall, altitude is a suitable surrogate measure for climate in Lesotho and the Maloti-Drakensberg region, which represents an indirect gradient (Sieben et al. 2010a). The strong correlation between longitude and altitude can therefore be explained by the fact that altitude generally increases on moving from west to east in Lesotho and rainfall also increases with altitude and with increasing longitude (Cowling & Hilton-Taylor 1994; Mucina & Rutherford 2006). The high altitudes of Lesotho are mainly associated with abundant orographic rainfall, which results in many springs and seepage zones (Mucina & Rutherford 2006; Sieben et al. 2014). The influence of altitude and wetness on high-altitude wetland vegetation has also been reported in South Africa (Kotze & O'Connor 2000; Mucina & Rutherford 2006; Sieben et al. 2010a, 2010b), southern Brazil (Rolon & Maltchik 2006) and in Cumbria, UK (Jones, Li & Maberly 2003). The importance of both altitude and slope gradients on the floristic composition of high-altitude montane wetlands has also been reported in Bulgaria, south-eastern Europe (Hájková, Hájek & Apostolova 2006) and in the Alborz Mountains, India (Kamrani et al. 2011; Naqinezhad et al. 2009).

Although a negative correlation between altitude and wetness was observed in this study, altitude operates at a larger scale, whereas wetness operates on a local scale. It is nevertheless noteworthy that, while some communities are restricted to either the Highlands or Lowlands, others seem to have a wide ecological amplitude. These include Eragrostis plana-Pennisetum sphacelatum, Eleocharis dregeana and Eragrostis planiculmis communities. Furthermore, some species, such as Ranunculus meyeri Harv., have been reported to occur at low abundances at lower altitudes but achieve greater cover at higher altitudes as they gain a competitive advantage because of the lower temperatures that reduce the vigour of the usually more competitive species (Sieben et al. 2010b). Because some of the plant communities recorded in this study are restricted to the highest altitudes, occurring at the summit plateaus, they are likely to disappear in the face of climate change as they cannot migrate any further up (Bentley, Robertson & Barker 2019; Lee et al. 2015).

While high-altitude communities (e.g. Limosella grandiflora-Haplocarpha nervosa, Agrostis bergiana and Cotula paludosa- R. meyeri communities) were also associated with soils that are high in total organic carbon, nitrogen and sulphur, the habitat soils for the low-altitude communities (e.g. Cynodon incompletus, Eleocharis limosa, S. paludicola and E. dregeana communities) were high in potassium and clay percentage. However, the negative correlation of potassium with altitude is contrary to Mucina and Rutherford (2006) who report that the high-altitude areas are associated with high potassium levels. In the current study, communities such as C. cognata, Gunnera perpensa and E. plana-P. sphacelatum were also found to be associated with high soil magnesium, calcium and electrical conductivity. The importance of potassium, electrical conductivity and clay percentage in influencing high-altitude montane wetland vegetation is consistent with findings from a similar study on the wetlands of the Alborz Mountains, India (Kamrani et al. 2011). Because of the low temperature and basaltic parent material, the soils in the mountains of Lesotho are high in organic matter and generally nutrient-rich, with a high water-retention capacity (Mucina & Rutherford 2006). However, the soils found in the Lowlands are considered to be generally nutrient-poor (Maro 2011).

Conservation value and impacts of climate change

Some of the species encountered in this study are protected by law in Lesotho (Table 3), which highlights the fact that they are threatened. The wetlands of Lesotho contribute significantly not only to biodiversity, but also provide a wide spectrum of ecosystem services, particularly in terms of water resources and livestock grazing. They are the headwaters of the five major, economically important rivers in the country, namely the Maliba-matšo, Senqu-Orange, Mohokare (Caledon), Makhaleng and Senqunyane, which also feed the LHWP dams (Department of Environment 2014). They play a major role in sustaining the perennial flow of water and regulating the water quality of the rivers that flow into the Atlantic Ocean (Pooley 2003). However, all the mountain areas in the country are drained through the Senqu-Orange River and its tributaries (Backéus & Grab 1995), the most important and most developed shared river system in Southern Africa. For South Africa, the water is tapped mainly through the LHWP. In fact, the Lesotho Highlands water is of national importance to the South African population as a significant portion of the agriculture in the arid regions of the country is watered from the aqueducts from the dams on the Senqu-Orange River.

Because of their high carbon sequestration and storage capacity, the conservation of these wetlands can also play a role in mitigating global climate change. Peatlands are the second most important reservoir of carbon on earth after oceans (Russi et al. 2013). Climate change predictions highlight that much of Southern Africa will become drier (Mitchell 2013). Based on climate change modelling, by 2025, Namibia will probably experience problems of water quality and availability, Lesotho will be water-stressed and South Africa will be facing absolute water scarcity (SADC 2008). Accordingly, the conservation of these wetlands becomes indispensable.

The wetlands of Lesotho are a critical resource for livestock grazing, especially in summer when thousands of cattle, sheep and goats are seen grazing on these sensitive ecosystems (Du Preez & Brown 2011; Van Zinderen Bakker & Werger 1974). In fact, much of the grazing in the mountains of Lesotho takes place within wetlands because they harbour the most palatable vegetation (Grab & Deschamps 2004). The Basotho are now sometimes observed keeping their livestock in the mountains throughout the year. This is contrary to their tradition of mostly inhabiting the Lowlands and taking their herds of livestock to the mountains in summer and returning them to the Lowlands during winter (Meakins & Duckett 1993). Thus, the value of these wetlands as a grazing resource is increasingly becoming greater. The widespread degradation and loss of wetlands, mainly because of grazing and trampling by cattle, sheep and goats, has been reported quite extensively since the 1960s (e.g. Backéus & Grab 1995; Du Preez & Brown 2011; Guillarmod 1962; Van Zinderen Bakker & Werger 1974). Most of the communities described here are threatened by grazing and trampling except for the M. macowanii community, which is unpalatable. It is painfully unpleasant to walk through the community because of the sharp tips of the dominant M. macowanii (Stapf) Conert.

At least eight invasive alien species have been recorded in the wetlands and these include Paspalum dilatatum Poir., Cirsium vulgare (Savi) Ten., Cyperus esculentus L., Hypochaeris radicata L. and P. clandestinum Hochst. ex Chiov. While some of them occurred more frequently (e.g. P. dilatatum occurred in 16% of the plots and was the 11th most frequent species in the study), others occurred in relatively low frequencies (Online Appendix 1 - Table 1-A1[a]) but in large stands in a given wetland (e.g. C. vulgare). Paspalum dilatatum was found to be the fourth most dominant wetland species in South Africa, occurring in 9.1% of all the wetland vegetation plots in the country's database (Sieben et al. 2014). Invasive alien plants are not only among the major drivers of wetland degradation and loss in sub-Saharan Africa (Mitchell 2013), but also use wetlands as corridors to penetrate even terrestrial plant communities (Mucina & Rutherford 2006).

The wetlands are further threatened mainly by the economic development associated with damming, mining and infrastructure development. Therefore, the unsustainable utilisation of the water and other resources, as well as other anthropogenic activities, in the different catchments of the country, would have an adverse effect on the wetlands and concomitantly diminish their capacity to supply the water resources. Nevertheless, montane wetlands generally remain less impacted than those in the Lowlands where human pressure is higher (Lee et al. 2015), although wetlands in general are among the most threatened ecosystems globally (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005; Russi et al. 2013). Consequently, montane wetlands also serve as repositories and refugia for biodiversity and are regarded as biodiversity hot spots (Chatterjee et al. 2010).

These wetlands can also potentially be threatened by climate change, which has been predicted to significantly alter the availability of water for individual montane wetlands and give rise to substantial shifts in the distribution and composition of wetlands in montane landscapes (Lee et al. 2015). Widespread ecological transitions have been reported to be likely at higher elevations because montane regions exhibit greater sensitivity to climate change (Bentley et al. 2019; Ryan et al. 2014). This will concomitantly give rise to widespread changes in the functioning of these wetlands and their delivery of ecosystem services. Projections have also indicated that climate change will cause potentially severe threats on peat-forming wetlands (Essl et al. 2012; Lee et al. 2015). The Maloti-Drakensberg area has been reported to be highly vulnerable to climate change (Brand et al. 2019). In the Maloti-Drakensberg, environmental domains that are defined by climate variables are projected to change substantially as a result of climate change, particularly an increase in temperature and a concomitant decline in water availability (Brand et al. 2019). Most of the species in the Maloti-Drakensberg are already at the highest altitudes and cannot shift any higher (Bentley et al. 2019). Furthermore, the pattern of increasing dominance of C3 plants in communities with increasing altitude, which is evident in this study and consistent with the findings of Kotze and O'Connor (2000) in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, highlights a threat to the high-altitude communities because C3 will be replaced with C4 plants as the climate changes.



Given their important role in water resources, livestock grazing and harbouring rare and endemic species, as well as unique biodiversity, the wetlands described in the current study are of high conservation value in Southern Africa, particularly in the face of increased water scarcity, climate change and unprecedented loss of biodiversity. Accordingly, the wetlands of Lesotho play a critical role in providing ecosystem services at the local, national and regional scales. As a result, the government of Lesotho and the Orange-Senqu River Commission (ORASECOM) have a responsibility in terms of scaling-up the efforts towards the protection of these wetlands for the sustainable provision of the benefits obtained from them. Because the wetland vegetation of a particular wetland can be used as a proxy for biodiversity of the wetland, understanding the wetland vegetation-environment patterns is important for the successful conservation planning of these ecosystems. Therefore, the current study has provided baseline information, which can be useful for monitoring the wetland vegetation and concomitantly the wetlands, which are vital for the water resources of Lesotho, South Africa and Namibia.



The authors would like to thank Khotso Kobisi and Moretloa J. Polaki who helped in identifying some of the species. The authors also thank Tumelo Tjale who helped in collecting part of the data.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests that may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.

Authors' contributions

P.C. led the conceptualisation of the study and conducted fieldwork, laboratory analysis and data analysis and wrote the manuscript. E.J.J.S. helped in conceptualising the study, conducting fieldwork and manuscript writing.

Ethical considerations

This article followed all ethical standards for research without direct contact with human or animal subjects.

Funding information

The study was funded by the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the National University of Lesotho.

Data availability statement

Permission to conduct the study was obtained from the Lesotho Department of Environment.


The views expressed in this article are the authors' own and not an official position of their institutions or funders.



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Peter Chatanga

Received: 18 Apr. 2019
Accepted: 30 Aug. 2019
Published: 31 Oct. 2019

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The genetic status of the introduced giraffe population in Central South Africa



Marika E. van NiekerkI; Francois DeaconII; Paul J. GroblerI

IDepartment of Genetics, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa
IIDepartment of Animal, Wildlife and Grassland Sciences, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa





There has been no reliable historical evidence of giraffe occurring naturally in the Free State Province in Central South Africa (Dagg 1962; Deacon & Parker 2016; Sydney 1965). Although Lynch (1983) mentioned the possibility of the natural distribution of giraffe in the East and Western Free State, there is no concrete evidence that giraffe existed earlier than this in the Free State (Ansell 1968). According to Griesel (1961), Hirst (1966), Lambrechts (1974) and Terblanche and Kok (1995), translocations of the species into protected areas and private land in the Free State Province happened in any case, sometimes regardless of the natural habitat preferences of giraffe (Castley, Boshof & Kerley 2001; Deacon & Tutchings 2019). These authors also affirmed that giraffe had, however, occurred naturally westwards of the Free State, in the Northern Cape Province. The introduced status of the giraffe population in Central South Africa, and in particular the Free State Province, thus raises questions regarding the origin and the taxonomic status of these animals.

Although giraffe is an introduced species in the Free State Province, it is also a reality that extralimital populations of large mammals add value to ecotourism in self-financing private protected areas (Maciejewski & Kerley 2014) and are therefore kept on many properties. Extralimital animals can also still add conservation value by contributing to long-term population survival, while extralimital populations could in some cases nevertheless be a reservoir of valuable genetic resources. The newly created ownership in wildlife species not only contributes to diversity in wildlife species for ecotourism, but also assists to protect valuable and key resource areas and habitat for all fauna and flora.

Giraffe taxonomy and subspecies status have been the subject of much debate over the last century. It should also be noted that there have been only limited representation from South African populations in the reported studies. Bercovitch and Deacon (2015, 2017) stated that there are currently at least four different taxonomic classifications for giraffe with the current global acceptance of nine subspecies (Muller et al. 2016). Most recently, Fennessy et al. (2016) and Winter et al. (2018) suggested a new taxonomy for giraffe with four genetically distinct giraffe species instead of one, but this has not been accepted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) who requested more evidence and a larger sample size; and the status quo at least for now is one species with nine subspecies (Bercovitch et al. 2017). It should also be noted that the aforementioned genetic studies have only limited representation from South African populations. Irrespective of the exact classification system used (one or four species), all the current classification systems include recognition of a 'South African giraffe' (Giraffa camelopardalis giraffe/G. giraffa giraffa) and the 'Angolan giraffe' (Giraffa camelopardalis angolensis [G. c. angolensis]/Giraffa giraffa angolensis [G. g. angolensis]). Fennessy et al. (2016) suggested that South Africa harbours only the South African giraffe. However, Deacon and Parker (2016) state that the Angolan giraffe has been translocated from Namibia to countries such as Botswana and South Africa, and some game ranches might contain a mixture of subspecies, or even hybrid giraffe. The extent of historical natural migration of animals between regions is also not known. The available data on historical and current distribution ranges of South African giraffe are shown in Figure 1 (based on the IUCN Red List assessment of Muller et al. 2018).

In addition to taxonomic considerations, genetic diversity within giraffe populations in the region is also a potential cause for concern (Deacon & Tutchings 2019). In the Free State Province, giraffe are almost invariably found in small populations, for reasons of habitat availability or because they may not be utilised as intensively as some other wildlife species. The number of giraffe found on farms thus ranges from populations numbering 10-30 down to populations with single pairs of animals, with the potential risk of decreased genetic diversity and ultimately reduced fitness or adaptability. Management strategies to maintain diversity is needed, but, conversely, the necessary translocations needed to conserve genetic diversity could hold risks if the taxa involved are significantly different, in line with theory on the mixing of distinct taxonomic units (Crandall et al. 2000; Moritz 2002) and outbreeding depression (Edmands 2006).

With little being known about the effect of extralimital introductions and fragmentation in giraffe populations in Central South Africa, the aim of the current project was to determine the genetic structure of giraffe in Central South Africa relative to the wider southern African population, and also obtain an estimate of genetic diversity within and between individual giraffe populations.



Study sites and sample collection

We collected samples from three groups: (1) A total of 34 giraffe were sampled across 10 privately owned herds in the Free State Province (FS-Private). The census population size (N) of these groups ranged from 2 to 30+; and the ultimate origins of the animals in these populations are unknown other than the fact that founding involved several sources and that translocations among populations have occurred in recent times. (2) As representative of giraffe in public protected herds from the Province, nine giraffe were sampled from the Willem Pretorius Provincial Nature Reserve (N=21). Two groups of founders sourced from the Limpopo Province and one group from the KwaZulu-Natal Province were originally used to start this population (FS-Protected area). (3) Finally, four giraffe were sampled from a privately owned herd in the adjacent Northern Cape Province (N = 20). Eight individuals were translocated to this locality from Namibia in 1971, with another six individuals translocated from the then Transvaal Province in northern-eastern South Africa in 1973.

We used dung as the preferred sample type, to minimise stress on the individuals, as well as for cost purposes, ethical considerations and ease of access to populations. The procedure followed at each locality was as follows: once a giraffe was found, it was observed until defecation had occurred. The exact spot was noted; the giraffe was characterised using size, sex and patterns on its body to prevent duplicate sampling; and the sample retrieved. Samples were stored in 96% ethanol and at -20 °C as soon as possible after collection. A small number of skeletal muscle and blood samples available opportunistically for specific localities were also included.

Genetic analysis

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) was extracted using the Zymo Research ZR Fecal DNA MiniPrep kit used for dung samples, the Zymo Research Quick-DNA FFPE MiniPrep kit for tissue samples and the Roche High Pure PCR Template Preparation kit used for blood samples. A NanoDrop® ND-1000 Spectrophotometer was used to determine the quantity and quality of extracted DNA.

We sequenced sections of the cytochrome b (Cytb) and displacement loop (D-loop) mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) regions. The Cytb primers used were from a study done by Bock et al. (2014): forward - GTG GAA GGC GAA GAA TCG; reverse - GAA AAA CCA TCG TTG TCG T; with the sequences of primers used for the D-loop region sourced from a study done by Seymour (2001): forward - CCC AAA GCT GAA GTT CTA TT; reverse - CAA TAA CTG TAT GTA CTA TG-3. PCR reactions were based on the Kapa2G Robust HotStart ReadyMix PCR Kit for the Cytb region, with the Ampliqon TEMPase Hot Master Mix A Kit used for the D-loop region. Annealing temperatures were 62 °C and 50 °C, respectively. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) products were cleaned using the Biospin PCR Purification Kit (Bio-Rad), followed by sequencing (in both directions) using the ABI PRISM® BigDye® Terminator version 3.1 Cycle Sequencing Kit and standard conditions. Products were cleaned using the ZR DNA Sequencing Clean-up Kit, before running on either an ABI3130 or 3500 Genetic Analyser.

Data analysis

Geneious Pro version 4.7.4 software (Kearse et al. 2012) was used to view, assemble and align all sequences. Mega v7.0.26 software (Kumar, Stecher & Tamura 2016) was utilised to identify the best model of substitution for each mtDNA region separately. The haplotypes for Cytb and the D-loop region were then combined into a concatenated dataset for all subsequent analyses. Phylogenetic trees were constructed using a maximum likelihood (ML) approach, with 1000 bootstrap replications (in MEGA software). To complement the phylogenetic analysis, Network version software (Fluxus Engineering 2019, was used to construct haplotype networks, using a median-joining approach. Genetic divergence between populations was quantified as the average number of nucleotide differences between populations (Dxy), from DNA Sequence Polymorphism (DnaSP) version 5 (Rozas et al. 2003), and genetic diversity within each group using haplotype diversity (Hd) and nucleotide diversity (π) from DnaSP software.

As a reference database for G. c. giraffa and G. c. angolensis, the concatenated mtDNA D-loop and Cytb sequences used by Winter et al. (2018) were made available by these authors. The latter authors also provided sequences for G. c. peralta and G. c. tippelskilchi, to use as an out-group.

Ethical considerations

The methods employed during this study were approved by the Interfaculty Animal Ethics Committee of the University of the Free State (Numbers: UFS-AED2015/0050 and UFS-AED2015/0066). Collection of samples was sanctioned under permits issued by DESTEA (Permit number: 01/30305) and the Northern Cape Department of Environment and Nature Conservation (Permit number: FAUNA 0729/2017 and FAUNA 0730/2017). Section 20 veterinary approval for the collection, transport and storage of samples was obtained from the National Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), with approval number 12/11/1/4.



After alignment of sequences and trimming to equal length, a sequence length of 405 base pairs (bp) was used for further analysis of the Cytb gene, with 275 bp available for the D-loop region. The two Cytb haplotypes observed have been submitted to the GenBank database as MH033837 and MH033838, and the 10 haplotypes for the D-loop region as MH033839 to MH033848. Our concatenated sequences were aligned with the reference sequences (total 1556 bp and all sequences trimmed to the shared 680 bp.

The data for the two mtDNA regions were tested separately to determine the model of substitution, and both regions were best described by a Tamura 3-parameter model of substitution. A phylogenetic tree, based on the concatenated dataset and an ML approach, is presented in Figure 2a. All the G. c. giraffa reference sequences form a clade with 75% bootstrap support, separate from G. c. angolensis. This cluster also contains all the giraffe samples from the Free State protected area and 14 giraffe samples from private farms in the Free State Province. All other giraffe samples from the private farms in the Free State Province, comprising 21 individuals, cluster with G. c. angolensis, as do the four samples from the Northern Cape. The reference G. c. peralta and G. c. tippelskirchi haplotypes formed a distinct cluster with 100% bootstrap support. The trend from the ML tree is confirmed in the haplotype network presented in Figure 2b. Haplotypes of G. c. angolensis and G. c. giraffa form distinct clusters, with giraffe from a Free State protected area clustering with G. c. giraffa and with giraffe from private populations grouping with one or the other subspecies.

The average number of nucleotide differences between reference sample sets of G. c. giraffa and G. c. angolensis was Dxy = 0.033. This value was regarded as representative of the difference between pure populations of the two subspecies and was therefore used as a yardstick to gauge the relative magnitude of values obtained for pairwise comparisons between each of the studied populations and the two subspecies. The population from the Free State protected area showed comparatively low differentiation from G. c. giraffa, with Dxy = 0.014, but with Dxy = 0.020 when compared with G. c. angolensis. The Northern Cape population showed close identity with G. c. angolensis, with Dxy = 0.004, but Dxy between the Northern Cape group and G. c. giraffa was much higher at 0.034, thus equalling the distance between G. c. giraffa and G. c. angolensis. The Dxy value between the privately owned giraffes and G. c. giraffa and G. c. angolensis was 0.028 and 0.009, respectively.

Levels of genetic diversity within groups were as follows (with format - number of haplotypes/number of polymorphic sites/haplotype diversity [Hd] and nucleotide diversity [π]): FS-private populations - 10/19/0.814/0.011; FS-protected area - 2/1/0.389/0.001 and Northern Cape - 2/1/0.667/0.008. By comparison, values for the reference datasets were G. c. giraffa - 7/6/0.508/0.001 and G. c. angolensis - 7/6/0.844/π = 0.003.



Although we were not able to sequence the full length of mtDNA used by Winter et al. (2018), results from the current study provided valuable new data on the status of the giraffe population in Central South Africa. Based on the concatenated mtDNA Cytb and D-loop dataset used, a total of 23 individuals classified as G. c. giraffa. These animals originated from a Provincial Nature Reserve and six private game farms. This is in line with expectations that locally sampled individuals would have mtDNA lineages of what is currently regarded as the South African giraffe subspecies. Unexpectedly, 24 individuals from the present study classified as G. c. angolensis. This outcome suggests that a significant number of individuals with mtDNA lineages of the Angolan giraffe rather than the South African giraffe are present in the Central South African giraffe population. We note that those individuals displaying G. c. angolensis haplotypes may also be hybrids, either first generation or more advanced generations, resulting from initial crosses involving G. c. giraffa males and G. c. angolensis females. (Conversely, some of the individuals classified as G. c. giraffa may also be hybrids, with male G. c. angolensis individuals in their pedigrees.) Population-genetic analysis based on the average number of nucleotide differences between groups confirmed that the overall privately owned giraffe herds in Central South Africa show an unexpected identity with G. c. angolensis.

There are two possible scenarios to explain the observation of a G. c. angolensis lineage in South African populations, based on artificial translocations and unrecorded historical migrations. The giraffe is a popular game ranching species, and there has been substantial commercial movement of the animal around the sub-continent (Deacon & Parker 2016). The findings that some of the giraffe sampled in the Free State are potentially Angolan giraffe may exemplify how the subspecies has been given a more southern distribution to what was previously thought, through translocations. This can be partly explained by the close historical and current link between South Africa and Namibia, with substantial translocation of game animals between the two countries, and individuals of G. c. angolensis may have found their way into South Africa along this route. For example, the Kglagadi Transfrontier Park contains both introduced G. c. angolensis and G. c. giraffa (Deacon & Tutchings 2019). We note that game breeders may not be aware of the subspecies status of the giraffe on their properties because this is not currently a publicised conservation concern, and rather focus on maintaining viable populations through introductions from readily available sources.

In an alternative scenario, the current results may suggest that a re-evaluation of subspecies distribution in the region is necessary. In this scenario, G. c. angolensis detected in South Africa may in fact be part of a natural continuum of diversity of lineages existing within and between the two subspecies. Winter et al. (2018) discuss how the historically assumed distribution of the subspecies ranged, and that the current distribution of G. c. angolensis ranges over a wider span than what was previously thought. Bock et al. (2014) found several deviations from expected subspecies distribution. For example, two giraffe that had been assumed to be South African giraffe grouped with Angolan. A large number of giraffe sampled were from the Chobe National Park, Nxai Pans, Vumbura Concession and Moremi Game Reserve in northern Botswana, and Bwabwata National Park in northeastern Namibia. Namibian localities assumed to have G. c. angolensis grouped with G. c. giraffa from the Khamab Kalahari Reserve in South Africa. These authors state that the assignment of giraffe to the incorrect subspecies could be because of either natural migration or human-induced translocation. In their study, Bock et al. (2014) also found that the South African giraffe were also distributed further north than the previously assumed range. Furthermore, Winter et al. (2018) found that the Angolan giraffe had a more eastern distribution than the previously known distribution. There is thus a need for a finer grained study of natural populations, to determine the true borders of subspecies and lineages, and to better understand the spectrum of pure genotypes for both the South African and Angolan giraffe. Within the South African giraffe population, differences between historic origin populations (Kruger National Park) in comparison to translocated populations such as the individuals in Central South Africa should be investigated.

The observed levels of genetic diversity supported our conclusion on the taxonomic status of the groups studied. The population from a public protected area showed least diversity of all groups studied, despite being a sizeable population in the context of this study. However, this population also showed close identity with G. c. giraffa, which has lower diversity compared to G. c. angolensis. Conversely, a small sample of animals from the Northern Cape showed high diversity and also showed close identity to G. c. angolensis, which has higher diversity compared to G. c. giraffa. The highest level of genetic diversity recorded in this study - higher than values estimated for either pure G. c. giraffa or G. c. angolensis - was found in the pooled sample set for privately owned giraffe in the Free State Province. Grobler et al. (2018) showed that hybridisation may result in artificially elevated levels of genetic diversity. The high extant levels of diversity found in the privately owned herds may thus reflect a mix of haplotypes of both G. c. giraffa and G. c. angolensis.

In addition to providing new data on subspecies status, the results from the current study have significant implications for the conservation of genetic diversity in small giraffe populations in Central South Africa. Some of the individual populations sampled consisted of four or fewer giraffe, sometimes founded using animals bought from a single source population and with all animals bought at the same time. These, and many similar small giraffe populations in Central South Africa, cannot reasonably be expected to add significant numbers of additional giraffe to their populations because of the size of the areas and habitat availability (carrying capacity). Exchange of animals among populations may thus have significant advantages in inducing gene flow. However, this suggested management approach is based on the premise that uncontrolled exchanges are permissible from a taxonomic point of view, that is, that all extant animals classify to the same subspecies or another appropriate unit for conservation. The latter requirement is, however, clearly not met by the extant Free State giraffe populations, based on the trends reported in the preceding sections.

The data presented here provide evidence that both subspecies from southern Africa are present in populations sampled from Central South Africa. This could reflect either translocations or the fact that the borders of the subspecies' ranges are not clearly defined. For future study, we suggest that sampling and analysis be expanded to provide further data on subspecies' distribution and possible admixture. In this regard, museum samples could also be used to elucidate the range of each mtDNA haplotype, and microsatellite makers will provide more precise data on admixture, especially where male mtDNA is not detected in hybrids. Finally, the adaptive significance of genetic differences between subspecies should be investigated.



The authors thank all private landowners and the Free State Department of Economic, Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (DESTEA) for permission to sample populations. The authors thank two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments that improved the article.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationships that may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.

Authors' contributions

F.D. and P.J.G. conceptualised the study. M.E.v.N. conducted fieldwork and performed all laboratory analysis. P.J.G. and M.E.v.N. conducted statistical analysis. All the authors contributed to writing this article.

Funding information

The study was partly financed through the National Research Foundation incentive funding to P.J.G.

Data availability statement

Sequences generated for this study are available from GenBank.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors' own and not an official position of the institution or funder.



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Paul Grobler

Received: 22 Mar. 2019
Accepted: 05 June 2019
Published: 16 Sept. 2019

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The feasibility of national parks in South Africa endorsing a community development agenda: The case of Mokala National Park and two neighbouring rural communities



Hendri CoetzeeI; Werner NellII

IInstitutional Sustainability and Community Impact Office and Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management, North-West University, South Africa
IIOptentia Research Programme, North-West University, South Africa





This article explores the feasibility of South African National Parks (SANParks) endorsing a community development agenda, using Mokala National Park (MNP) and two neighbouring rural communities as case study. A three-phase sequential exploratory, mixed-methods approach was followed: an initial exploratory qualitative phase aimed at identifying the development needs of the two communities; a quantitative phase aimed at verifying and quantifying the identified needs; and a final qualitative phase (with a minor quantitative component) to determine what parks can reasonably achieve in terms of community development based on their available resources, capacity and expertise. Qualitative data were collected via semi-structured interviews (Phase 1: n = 22; Phase 3: n = 6), which were thematically analysed. Quantitative data were collected via a structured questionnaire (Phase 2: n = 484; Phase 3: n = 6) and analysed using SPSS 23. Findings revealed that the communities' most significant needs centred on employment opportunities; improved healthcare, service delivery and waste management; and education. Community members also expressed the need for improved community policing, safety and security; social services; agricultural support and training; general skills development and training; local leadership; recreational facilities; local economic development and conservation initiatives. Results from the third phase of the study suggest that parks such as MNP can realistically only address some of the identified community needs significantly; primarily job creation (via temporary employment), skills development, local economic development, support of local conservation (especially via environmental education) and, to a lesser extent, agricultural support and training and permanent job creation.
CONSERVATION IMPLICATIONS: The findings could be of practical use to SANParks to steer its community development initiatives towards attaining a more optimal balance between actual community needs and what the organisation can realistically offer, thus rendering SANParks' efforts more efficient and effective in supporting the establishment of equitable and sustainable rural communities




National parks can potentially play an important role in rural community development. This sentiment is shared by researchers from all over the world, including Africa (Newmark & Hough 2000; Petursson & Vedeld 2017), the Americas (Machlis & Field 2000; Nelson & Serafin 2013), Europe (Barrow 2015; Lundmark, Fredman & Sandell 2010), Asia (Kusters et al. 2006; Tisdell 1999) and Australia (Stolton & Dunley 2015). This notion is also supported by a recent report by the Global Environmental Fund's Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (Pullin 2014), which outlines the impacts that protected areas (e.g. national parks) can have on rural communities, especially with regard to environmental capital (e.g. resource use and access to land), economic and social capital, health and inequality.

The idea of national parks adopting a developmental agenda stems from a paradigm shift away from traditional forms of conservation (preservation) to more contemporary forms that encompass both conservation and development objectives (Anthony 2007). This led to what is widely known today as community-based conservation (CBC) (Berkes 2007). The underlying principle of this combined approach is that poor rural communities should benefit directly from conservation (Cock & Fig 2000).

Several variations of the approach developed over the years, including (1) that communities should develop their own traditional or cultural land into conservation areas (IUCN 2010; Stevens 2014); (2) that communities should support protected areas and, in return, that they ought to benefit from job creation, skills development and other types of development in their communities (Bennet 2014; Pelser, Redelinghuis & Velelo 2013); (3) that communities should be allowed to harvest grass, wood, medicinal plants and other natural resources from parks (Cock & Fig 2000; SANParks 2016); and (4) the use of 'trade-offs', where certain areas (and the biodiversity contained therein) are protected whilst other parts of the park are made available for development (Rights & Resource Initiative 2015). Mokala National Park (MNP), which serves as a case study in this article, is a good example of a trade-off approach being applied within a South African context, as it is basically a 'trade-off park'1 in the place of the former Vaalbos National Park that was handed back to a local community as part of a land restitution case (SANParks 2017).

Elements of these variations to CBC can also be found in the latest version of SANParks' 5-year strategic management plan (2015/2016-2019/2020) and, more specifically, in its strategic outcome-orientated Goal 3, in terms of which SANParks' goal is (SANParks 2016):

[t]o foster an efficient, effective and development oriented public service and an empowered, fair and inclusive citizenship that will enable the creation of decent employment through inclusive economic growth, vibrant, equitable and sustainable rural communities. (p. 28)

As outlined in the document, this plan is underpinned by the current national government's 'five key pillars', which include job creation, rural development, education and health, as well as a reduction in the levels of crime in society.

SANParks adopted a vision 'Connecting to Society' (SANParks 2012), created a Social Ecology Unit (Swemmer & Taljaard 2011), expanded the scope of its people and conservation programme and added several programmes aimed at promoting access and benefit-sharing, socio-economic development and improved living conditions for local communities adjacent to national parks. This encompasses the implementation of national government's expanded public works programmes (EPWP) (e.g. working for water, land, wetlands, the coast, fire, etc.), value-adding industries, wildlife economy, the development of small, medium and micro-sized enterprises (SMMEs) and a number of social investment programmes at almost all of the national parks (SANParks 2012).

It is not difficult to justify national parks in South Africa endorsing a development agenda. From a conservation perspective, an interdependence between biodiversity and sustainable rural development is needed (Faasen 2006), and much has been written about the threat of unsustainable land-use practices as well as the impact that resource-poor, hunger-stricken rural communities may have on biodiversity and wildlife (Vira & Kontoleon 2010). From a development perspective, this approach also makes sense as parks are scattered throughout South Africa, often in deep rural areas where government cannot always address all the needs in these communities, which are often resource-poor and desperate for help and support from others (Flora, Flora & Gasteyer 2015; Mohan 2009).

The benefits of a CBC approach, as well as the costs thereof and the challenges it poses, have been widely reported (Botha, Witkofski & Cock 2007; Murphee & Hulme 2001; Western, Wright & Strum 2013). Most authors seem to concur that CBC, at best, has only achieved mixed results (Berkes 2004; Conley & Moote 2003; Mansuri & Rao 2004). Many reasons for this have been given (Cox, Arnold & Villamayor-Tomas 2010), which centre mainly around the fact that community development objectives and conservation objectives are often incompatible and that the benefits derived from community-conservation partnerships are often one-sided, primarily benefitting a conservation rather than a community development agenda (Emerton 2001).

One possible strategy to investigate and address these concerns further is to assess the actual needs of communities adjacent to national parks empirically (Wells & McShane 2004) in light of existing literature as well as on the basis of a qualitative exploration pertaining to national parks' current and proposed community development strategies as well as their pool of available resources, skills et cetera. This would enable the feasibility of various development initiatives to be assessed in the light of empirical evidence about what specific communities identify as their particular needs, which, in turn, will allow for distinctions to be made in terms of the viability of specific strategies as outlined in existing SANParks documentation. Furthermore, this approach could potentially address the one-sidedness of the relationship between parks and communities by ensuring that the development side of CBC initiatives articulates self-identified community needs.

Although SANParks has already adopted a developmental approach, given limitations such as restrictions on specific development-related skills and expertise (Berkes 2007; Biggs et al. 2014; Pelser et al. 2013) that fall outside the typical skills required for park personnel, capacity and resources, the extent to which national parks can play a substantive role in community development needs to be investigated. To address these questions, a sequential exploratory, mixed-methods study was conducted in two rural communities (Ritchie and Ratanang) near MNP in order to explore what the typical developmental needs within communities situated near a national park are. This was followed by an additional qualitative study (with a minor quantitative component) aimed at exploring MNP's available capacity, skills and expertise and current CBC initiatives. Following this, the identified community needs were evaluated in the light of a theoretical and empirical investigation of SANParks' CBC initiatives as well as the organisation's capacity, resources and expertise with the intention to assess the feasibility of such needs being addressed by parks such as MNP.


Research method and design

Study area

Mokala National Park is situated in a semi-arid part of central South Africa near Kimberley in the Northern Cape Province (Figure 1). Ritchie, with a total estimated population size of 3504 (Stats-SA 2011), is situated on the Northern Cape side of the border near Modderrivier, an area that falls within the Frances Baard District Municipality and Sol Plaatjies Local Municipality, whilst Ratanang, with a total estimated population size of 4213 (Stats-SA 2011), borders Jacobsdal, which is located on the Free State side of the border and falls within the Xhariep District and Letsemeng Local Municipality (see Figure 1). The largest portion of the population in both areas classify themselves as mixed race and speak mostly Afrikaans (Stats-SA 2011). The two communities were selected as they are the communities closest to Mokala.




A mixed-methods approach, based on a pragmatic paradigm (Creswell & Plano Clark 2007; Johnson, Onwuegbuze & Turner 2007), was followed in the present study, which was executed in three sequential phases: an initial exploratory qualitative phase aimed at identifying the development needs in the two communities; a quantitative phase, where a structured survey was developed and administered to verify and quantify the needs that were identified during the first phase; and a final qualitative phase (with a minor quantitative component) to determine what parks can reasonably achieve based on their available resources, capacity and expertise. This type of approach is widely accepted as one of the most useful approaches to research, because it provides multiple perspectives on a given topic (Creswell 2003) and also affords researchers the opportunity to further explore and explain quantitative results, which, according to Tashakkori and Teddlie (2003), will add richness, depth and greater credibility to any study.


During the course of the study, three different groups of participants were recruited. A similar procedure was followed during the first (n = 22) and third (n = 6) qualitative phases of the study, where participants were purposively selected (Creswell 2013) based on their knowledge and experience relevant to the research aims. This approach was supplemented with a snowball sampling strategy, where initially selected participants were requested to refer the researchers to other potential participants who met the sampling criteria (Creswell 2013). The purposive sampling criteria that were set for the first phase required that participants had to be active participants in, or residents of, one of the two communities and had to occupy a central or leadership role in the community. The community leaders were identified via snowball sampling. The initial sample was comprised of two staff members from MNP, two staff members from SANParks, two ward councillors, a school principal, two local policemen, two nurses heading up community clinics and the two social workers appointed to work in these communities. An additional number of nine community members representing different stakeholder groups (e.g. youth, elderly, women, etc.) were recruited by means of typical instance sampling (Tracy 2013).

Four hundred and eighty-four participants participated in the second, quantitative phase of the study. Of these, 300 resided in Ritchie (the larger of the two communities) and 184 in Ratanang. A systematic sampling frame (Creswell 2003) was used in order to ensure that all areas of each community were surveyed. Using this approach, every nth household (determined by the total number of participants required for the study in relation to the number of households in each community) was surveyed in each community. The mean age of the participants was 35.97 years (SD = 14.18), with ages ranging from 18 to 86 years. Other relevant demographic information pertaining to the sample is presented in Table 1.



During the third phase, six participants were purposively selected (Tracy 2013) on the basis of having first-hand experience in what MNP or SANParks can realistically achieve in the development space. The participants consisted of a very experienced park manager who managed several national parks in South Africa, a People and Conservation officer who had also worked in multiple parks, the head of the park interface programme, a section ranger and two scientists from SANParks' regional office in Kimberley who worked in all the parks in the arid node.

Procedure and ethics

The first phase of the study took place in early 2016 after ethics clearance was obtained from the North-West University's Human Research Ethics Committee (NWU-00342-15-S1). Once entry into the community had been negotiated, semi-structured interviews were conducted with key participants by the authors and, based on the findings, a structured questionnaire was developed that was subsequently administered to residents of the two communities during the second phase of the study, which took place 1 year later. Eighteen fieldworkers (8 from Ritchie and 10 from Ratanang) were recruited from the respective communities and subsequently trained to administer the survey. Fieldworkers were compensated financially for their services. Informed consent was obtained from all participants. Data were collected over a period of 1 week. Privacy and confidentiality (which are also covered in the informed consent form) were protected by conducting the interviews in a place where the participants felt comfortable (e.g. their homestead) and by making sure that no one other than the researcher had access to the participant's identifiable characteristics linked to specific results. Furthermore, fieldworkers were required to sign confidentiality agreements. Completed questionnaires were inspected on receipt to ensure completeness and correctness and were subsequently taken to the North-West University's Statistical Consultation Services for data capturing and analysis.

During the third qualitative phase of the study, an interview guide and a structured questionnaire were developed based on the results of phases 1 and 2 and were subsequently utilised to gather data from six purposively selected senior members of MNP and SANParks.

In total, the project involved 4 full weeks of fieldwork, which spanned a period of 3 years.

Data gathering methods

During the first (qualitative) phase of the study, data were gathered by means of semi-structured interviews with purposively selected members of the two communities. An interview guide (Tracy 2013) was used to facilitate the interviews. In particular, all participants were asked what they believed to be the most pressing needs in their respective communities.

During the second (quantitative) phase of the study, a structured survey was developed on the basis of the themes that were identified from the first set of semi-structured interviews as outlined previously (see Table 2 for the complete list of items). This strategy was followed in order to ensure that the scale was contextually sensitive and that the items on the scale tapped into actual community needs, as well as to enable the qualitatively identified needs to be empirically quantified and verified. Specifically, participants were requested to rate each of the listed needs on a five-point Likert scale ranging from 1 ('no need') to 5 ('a very big need'). In addition, the survey was structured to gather biographical data pertaining to participants' gender, age, race and employment status.

During the third qualitative phase of the study, data were gathered by means of an interview schedule and structured questionnaire, which were developed on the basis of the findings that emerged from phases 1 and 2 of the study. Participants were requested to rate a list of community needs on a five-point Likert scale (ranging from 1 = 'not at all' to 5 = 'to a great extent') based on their professional view of the extent to which parks like MNP could potentially address each specific need. Participants were then requested to qualitatively elaborate on the reason for their ratings via semi-structured interviews or questionnaires.

Data analysis

Qualitative data derived from phases 1 and 3 of the study were analysed by means of thematic content analysis (Creswell 2003; Tracy 2013). The transcribed data were first read multiple times to ensure immersion in the data, after which data were inductively coded by assigning a brief descriptive label to each segment of text. Based on conceptual similarities, codes were grouped together into categories and overarching themes. These themes formed the basis for the development of the structured survey, which was used to gather data during the second round of the study.

Quantitative data were statistically analysed using SPSS 23 (Field 2005). Descriptive statistics (means and measures of central tendency) were calculated for all items.



Phase 1: Identified community needs

The framework developed by Sirgy et al. (2009) was used to cluster the 17 themes and subthemes that were identified via the thematic analysis of the semi-structured interviews (Phase 1) under the four categories: business services, government services and non-profit-related services, as well as community conditions. Table 2 summarises the main findings that emerged from the analysis and illustrates each with a relevant excerpt from the interviews.

Phase 2: Empirical verification and quantification of community needs

On the basis of the qualitative themes outlined in the previous section, a structured questionnaire was developed and subsequently administered during the second phase of the study. The survey results (see Table 3) confirmed that all the needs that were identified during the qualitative phase of the study are actual needs in the communities, whilst it also enabled the empirical quantification of the relative strength and prevalence of these needs.

According to the participants from both communities, the need for job opportunities was the most pressing (mean = 4.16, SD = 1.22). This was confirmed by the fact that 53.3% of adult participants surveyed were unemployed (see Table 1). The second biggest need was for improved healthcare services (mean = 4.1, SD = 1.14). This was followed by a number of government-related services such as the need for improved infrastructure (mean = 4.09; SD = 1.14), improved waste management (mean = 4.08; SD = 1.13), improved municipal service delivery (mean = 4.07; SD = 1.11), improved safety and security (mean = 4.03; SD = 1.30), improved community policing (mean = 4.00; SD = 1.24), skills development and training (mean = 3.96; SD = 1.27) and improved social services (mean = 3.96; SD = 1.11).

Residents of both communities also felt that there was a significant need for an improvement in public education in their communities, both in terms of the quality and quantity of available educational institutions (mean = 3.95, SD = 1.09).

The survey results also indicate that residents of Ritchie and Ratanang experienced the need for enhanced conservation of their local environments (mean = 3.91, SD = 1.2). A marked need for recreational and sporting facilities is evident not only from the survey results (mean = 3.9, SD = 1.2) but was particularly emphasised during the semi-structured interviews that were conducted with community members. Other needs such as improved local leadership, agricultural support and training and the need for local economic development also achieved an above-average score.

Phase 3: Extent to which Mokala National Park and South African National Parks can potentially address identified community development needs

During the third phase of the study, semi-structured qualitative interviews as well as structured and unstructured questionnaires were used to gather data from purposively selected staff members from MNP and SANParks as well as other experts in relation to the extent to which parks such as MNP can potentially address the development needs that were identified by the communities. Whilst the sample was small, given the expertise of the participants and the need to identify the relative feasibility of each need being addressed, it was deemed to be of value to quantitatively assess all participants' views on the feasibility of each need being addressed (which was done on a five-point scale ranging from 1 = 'not at all' to 5 = 'to a great extent'). This rating was used as the basis for a qualitative exploration of why the participant assigned the given score. Participants' responses to the survey are reflected in Table 4. Following on Table 4, the needs - in order of their ranked importance and based on the themes derived from the qualitative data - will be discussed in greater detail.



More temporary job and employment opportunities

According to the participants, the biggest direct impact that MNP and SANParks can potentially have is via temporary job or employment opportunities (mean = 4.00). As sketched by one of the participants:

'Mokala currently employs nine contractors and each contractor employs 10 or 11 people. This means that nearly 100 contract workers are currently working on one of the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP)/Biodiversity Social Project (BSP) activities in the park, for example infrastructure projects, working for ecosystems, working for water, environmental monitors, et cetera.' (Participant 22, male, park manager)

According to the same participant, these temporary job opportunities are creating employment in all national parks in South Africa. The participant also commented that these projects have a lot of potential to address needs related to employment, because the projects' lifecycle typically extends over a period of 2 to 3 years and are often repeated, based on the availability of funding and the need for such services.

The participants also indicated that another opportunity for job creation in parks is to offer concessions to private investors, for example, by outsourcing a park's restaurants, shops, et cetera. According to one of the participants, some of the larger parks such as the Kruger National Park (KNP) are already engaging in this practice, resulting in an increase in the availability of jobs for people from local communities. However, as pointed out by the same participant, this is currently not a feasible strategy at MNP because the park is very remote, its restaurant is not showing much of a profit and accommodation for staff is limited.

Local conservation initiatives

According to expert participants, the second biggest potential impact that MNP and SANParks could have is in the local conservation space, especially via environmental education (EE). Not only is this in line with SANParks' primary mandate, but SANParks already has dedicated staff who can attend to this (its People and Conservation staff) and has a whole array of educational material on hand. As one participant pointed out, 'SANParks also has a fully developed curriculum for environmental education and it has specific programmes aimed at stimulating local conservation initiatives such as its Kids in Park programme' (Participant 23, female, People and Conservation officer). According to the same participant, part of MNP's efforts to stimulate local conservation initiatives includes taking children from local communities to visit the park for up to 2 to 3 days to learn and to be exposed to natural environments and wildlife. This programme, according to another participant (Participant 25, male, head of the park interface programme), has been rolled out at all the local schools in the area.

Skills development and training

The third biggest potential impact that MNP and SANParks can have is via skills development and training. This is largely because of the government-funded BSP/EPWP programmes. According to the participants, training is specifically budgeted for in each of these projects because it is mandatory to train community members temporarily employed through BSP/EPWP in a variety of fields like health, safety and first aid. Furthermore, given that many of these projects are often infrastructure related, for example, building staff accommodation at and erecting a new entrance gate for MNP's Lilydale Camp, participants have the opportunity to acquire practical skills pertaining to the construction industry, which they can subsequently apply in their own communities in support of development (e.g. building various structures).

According to the participants, contractor development also formed an important part of skills development (business management, health and safety, etc.) in the past, the idea being that SANParks should help to empower contractors so that they can secure other job opportunities (contracts) once their contracts with SANParks have expired.

Local economic development

According to one of the participants, MNP spends a portion of its budget in the local economies of Jacobsdal and Modderrivier, but the majority of its budget is spent in Kimberley: 'We do buy local as far as possible. However, some of the foods are not locally available. We therefore have to get it from Kimberley' (Participant 22, male, park manager). However, according to the same participant, Mokala, like all other parks, spends a large portion of its budget on human resources. According to him, at least some of the staff reside in local communities, implying that they also spend a portion of their income at local shops in towns near parks. As such, parks likely have a significant indirect impact on local economic development by means of the disposable income their employees spend in these communities.

Another potential option, according to the same participant, is to focus on supply-chain development. He explained that MNP currently purchases all the meat it uses in its restaurant from a local butcher near the park. Most of the dry food is, however, bought in Kimberley. According to him, much more can be done to identify, source and register local suppliers. In fact, MNP recently undertook an exercise to meet and register local service providers. A potential obstacle that was identified in this process is that suppliers have to be registered on a government database. However, this process is reported to be fairly rapid and inexpensive and, as such, need not pose an undue obstacle to local community members registering their businesses as suppliers. In this regard, national parks like MNP can and have played a supportive role by assisting new service providers with the registration process.

Agricultural support and training

According to the participants, MNP and some of the other national parks are in the process of providing agricultural support and training to local communities. This is currently happening in the Salt Lake community near Mokala. Other parks, such as the Karoo National Park, also focused on this in the past with the help of external service providers. In this regard, the participants felt that the People and Conservation officers can make a huge contribution and that basic skills can be transferred to local communities near parks, which, in turn, can contribute to food security in these communities.

Another participant also indicated that yet another way in which SANParks currently supports agriculture is through its wildlife economy programme, an initiative whereby SANParks gives animals to upcoming farmers on loan to build up their own breeding stock for commercial purposes. MNP is also taking part in this initiative.

More permanent job and employment opportunities

The participants indicated that MNP and SANParks' capacity to provide permanent job opportunities is limited (mean = 2.33). This state of affairs was confirmed in the present study where only two individuals from the Ritchie community were reported to be employed by MNP and only one resident was employed by SANParks' regional office in Kimberley. This, according to the participants, can be ascribed to the fact that Mokala is still a developing park and small compared to other parks: 'There are some expectations, but Mokala is a small park compared to Kruger and can only contribute a small fraction' (Participant 23, female, People and Conservation officer).

According to another participant, the creation of job opportunities in parks will also depend on the staff turnover at the parks (via natural attrition, resignations and retirements). This, according to him, is relatively low at present, thus limiting the capacity of parks like MNP to address this need in a feasible manner.

Another limiting factor that has an influence on the creation of job opportunities, according to the participants, is that some of the higher (more specialised) post levels require some formal education (graduate or postgraduate qualification), which ordinary community members from local communities often do not have.

One of the participants also indicated that in her experience, local community members are not aware of the employment opportunities that exist in parks. As a result, MNP is in the process of implementing the Yes Programme, which is a programme by the national government that is aimed at creating awareness among the youth of the type of job opportunities that exist in parks and within other government institutions.

Improved quality and quantity of education

The participants agreed that they, as a park and as part of SANParks, will not be able to improve the quality of education offered by local primary and secondary schools, nor the quantity of those schools in the area. They did, however, concede that SANParks can support the curriculum by providing context and practical exposure to school children, especially via their EE programmes and initiatives.

Recreation facilities and activities

According to one of the participants, SANParks can play a supporting role in the development of municipalities' Integrated Development Plans, especially when it comes to providing inputs regarding the development of urban parks and open spaces.

A second option, according to the participants, is for communities to make use of the free-entrance week that is normally offered by all national parks in South Africa in the course of September.

Yet another alternative mentioned by Participant 22 is to make use of the honorary ranger's project that, among others, involves hosting an annual mountain bike race in MNP. This initiative, according to him, has a lot of potential to involve developmental groups from the local community.

Improved waste management

Although MNP, and parks in general, cannot take the responsibility for waste management outside the park or in local communities, the participants indicated that improved waste management is a need that they share with local communities.

One of the participants also indicated that MNP is in the process of developing a recycling plant at the park. According to him, this can potentially provide opportunities for local communities. However, given that there are no waste depots or landfill sites near the park, all waste will have to be transported to the town of Kimberley over a distance of 90 km, which is likely to affect the feasibility of this strategy adversely from a community development perspective.

Access to tertiary education

According to the participants, SANParks at present only offers bursaries to its own staff and their children, which implies that even though some of these employees do reside in local communities, the capacity to address this need is limited. However, SANParks also has a junior scientist programme that provides opportunities for upcoming scientists to obtain a master's degree or PhD. According to one of the participants, the programme started in KNP and will be expanded to other parks as well. In addition, SANParks is providing in-service training to graduates with a diploma or degree in conservation, and some of the beneficiaries have even been absorbed as section or field rangers or biotechnicians.

Improved infrastructure

The participants indicated that it would be difficult (if not impossible) for them as a park to address the larger infrastructural needs of their surrounding communities. However, according to them, SANParks does have a socio-economic development department that assists with some of the infrastructure needs in communities (e.g. at schools and with regards to libraries). These interventions are funded by a percentage of the conservation fees that are paid by tourists.

Improved leadership

Here, too, the participants agreed that SANParks cannot really make a significant direct contribution. However, according to one of the participants, SANParks is making an indirect contribution through its Kids in Parks programme, because this programme is aimed at instilling leadership ethics at an early age, especially with regards to the disciplines of conservation and biodiversity.

Improved municipal service delivery

The participants indicated that they, as a park and SANParks in general, will not be able to address needs related to service delivery in local communities outside the park. The participants were fairly unanimous that this is the responsibility of local municipalities.

Improved community safety, security and policing

Participants felt that the need for improved safety and security and better policing in communities cannot be feasibly addressed by SANParks to any significant extent. Nevertheless, given that parks do indeed take measures to ensure security both inside the park and along their boundaries, it stands to reason that their immediate neighbours must be benefitting from these measures to some degree.

Establishing more schools

The participants unanimously felt that MNP and SANParks will not be able to make a significant contribution towards the actual building of more schools.

Improved availability of and/or access to healthcare services (e.g. clinics)

Participants indicated that the need for improved availability of and/or access to healthcare is a need they share with local communities. According to them, some of their staff members have to travel all the way to Kimberley to get treatment and/or chronic medication. Because the park is quite a distance from Kimberley, this involves hours of travel and adversely affects productivity. Negotiations with the department of health to build a clinic nearby or in the park are currently underway. Nevertheless, participants indicated that SANParks' direct potential contribution to addressing this need is minimal.

Improved social services (e.g. social workers)

All the participants agreed that addressing the need for improved social services falls completely outside their mandate and capacity.



This study investigated the feasibility of national parks in South Africa endorsing a community development agenda, using MNP and two neighbouring communities as case study. A sequential mixed-methods approach was followed, comprising three phases that spanned a 3-year period.

In relation to the first two phases of the study, which aimed to investigate community needs both qualitatively and quantitatively, findings revealed that the communities' most significant needs centre around employment opportunities; improved healthcare, service delivery and waste management; an improvement in the quality of and access to primary and secondary education opportunities (i.e. schools); and more opportunities for local residents to afford and access tertiary education opportunities. Community members also expressed the need for improved community policing, safety and security; social services and agricultural support and training as well as general skills development and training, local leadership, recreational facilities, local economic development and conservation initiatives.

As will be outlined in the section to follow, the results from the third phase of the study suggest that MNP (and SANParks in general) could realistically only address some of the identified community needs to a significant degree.

The need for employment opportunities as well as the need for skills development and training ranked tops among those identified by the communities targeted in this study. Given that studies by Tepela and Omara-Ojungu (2012) in communities near KNP and by Pelser et al. (2013) near the Golden Gate Highlands National Park revealed similar results, it should come as no surprise that addressing the high unemployment rate in South Africa - identified as one of the 'five key pillars' of national government - has been adopted as a key element in SANParks' vision. In reaction to national government's call to address the unemployment rate, MNP/SANParks indicated that their biggest potential contribution would be in the form of temporary job creation, mainly via the EPWP/BSP programmes. In 2015-2016, three EPWP/BSPs were in operation at Mokala (Spies 2015). Since then, this number has increased to nine - which shows that there is still potential for growth.

Findings derived from the semi-structured interviews in this study confirmed that members of the Ritchie community did indeed benefit from the EPWP/BSP initiative and that over 100 local community members are currently benefitting from these programmes initiated by MNP, but the findings also revealed that several challenges are being experienced in as far as job allocation and the timely settlement of payments are concerned. From the park's perspective, Spies (2015) found the initiatives to be fairly successful, despite some challenges.

According to SANPark's 2015-2016 annual report, EPWP/BSP programmes are on offer in all 19 South African national parks, and 23  298 local community members are being employed on a semi-permanent basis (given that projects typically span 2 to 3 years and are often renewed).

These projects simultaneously also address the community need for skills development and training, as all temporary employees are being trained in a whole array of skills ranging from first aid to construction, some of which might increase their future employability and/or their ability to support local economic or infrastructure development in their own communities by, for example, making use of the skills they have acquired in the construction industry to erect structures in their own communities.

The creation of permanent jobs, though, seems to be a totally different matter that depends on the size of a particular park, its potential for expansion and the turnover of existing staff members. However, given that SANParks employs only around 4000 people countrywide (SANParks 2016) and that funds allocated to national parks are limited (SANParks 2016), the number of people that can be employed by the organisation on a permanent basis is clearly limited.

Two potential avenues for job creation that have probably hitherto been underutilised are to make private concessions available to private investors and to create more opportunities for self-employment. In case of the former, it is likely that private investors will have the capital to grow SANParks' facilities such as restaurants and accommodation and, in the process, to create more job opportunities.

Given that MNP and other parks are already engaging in the practice of sourcing supplies locally, another feasible strategy that could be investigated would be to establish and develop vetted local supply chains with communities adjoining national parks. Given that they are mostly rural (i.e. agricultural), residents could be afforded the opportunity to provide parks with an array of fresh vegetables, fruit and meat or an assortment of arts and crafts. Such a practice is also likely to make a meaningful contribution to local economic development.

The capacity to address the need for local conservation initiatives was ranked second highest. Given that environmental conservation is one of its core mandates, national parks can definitely play a significant role in this regard. Not only would such initiatives fall within SANParks' expertise, but the organisation also has the capacity to address these needs via its People and Conservation division (a programme by SANParks that is used to drive the dual agenda of conservation and development) and the various extension programmes it has on offer. Furthermore, SANParks can also play a role in the development of new conservation areas in traditional and cultural land via collaborative engagement with local communities.

A very pertinent need that was identified in the communities was for recreational facilities and activities. Whilst participants felt that direct involvement in the establishment of recreational facilities generally falls outside the scope of SANParks' mandate, the results of this study do suggest a couple of strategies that could be assessed for feasibility. These include sponsoring recreational facilities (e.g. participants in both communities expressed the need for a skateboard park), sponsoring local residents' participation in the annual park mountain bike race or promoting the park itself as recreational facility, perhaps via sponsoring occasional transport and entry into the park as is currently the case with the free-entrance week that usually occurs in September of each year. The latter strategy would represent a synergistic approach as it combines the park's core asset with a community need, which, as repeatedly revealed in the qualitative interviews, is likely to make a significant positive difference in the lives of residents of impoverished communities.

The findings suggest that MNP and other parks can play a significant role in agricultural support and training. In this regard, parks can partner with external service providers and provide wildlife to emerging farmers. Agricultural support and development is an international priority (linked to sustainable development goals) simply because it has a bearing on food security (FAO 2018). It also forms an integral part of South Africa's national development plan, given that it is part of government's efforts to stimulate integrated and inclusive rural economies in South Africa (The Conversation 2017).

A shared need that was identified by the communities and MNP was for improved waste management. Whilst direct involvement in refuse removal falls outside the auspices of SANParks' community development mandate and CBC initiatives, in this case, it could potentially play a role in terms of promoting environmental awareness and education. This would also be in the interest of national parks, given that refuse and pollution generated by local communities adjacent to national parks have the potential to impact the park and visitors' perceptions and experiences of the park adversely. In partnership with local authorities, the barriers that prevent people from keeping their communities clean can be identified and addressed. For example, MacAllister (2015) found that there were instances where managing farm waste as a health problem served as a means to help address this issue in communities and to prevent concomitant health issues.

Although MNP indicated that it cannot directly contribute to infrastructure development in local communities (e.g. roads, buildings, sanitation, etc.), it can play a role through its socio-economic development initiatives by supporting local supply-chain development and providing skills (such as construction skills) and opportunities to local community members. The beneficiaries of these initiatives can then, in turn, use the skills they have acquired to benefit their communities.

A huge need that was identified by the communities was to improve education. Whilst the findings clearly reveal that SANParks can only play a limited role in the context of formal education and cannot do much to increase the quantity and quality of schools in the region, it can nevertheless play a meaningful educational role by providing new learning opportunities and contexts for children. A number of parks already have some very good educational programmes and projects in place. Included among these are the heritage project Imbewu (developed to promote the transference of traditional cultural knowledge from older to younger people), the junior rangers programme (aimed at promoting civil service and volunteerism in parks), the Kids in Parks programme (aimed at exposing youngsters to parks and pristine natural environments) and the Koedoe Green Schools Programme (an EE programme focusing on, among others, climate change) (SANParks 2017). The potential value of projects such as these were underscored in the present study, where several participants reported that their children showed a marked change in their attitudes and enthusiasm towards the natural environment after a visit to MNP. Findings from the interviews revealed that whilst children would often kill animals such as snakes on sight, those who experienced a guided visit to MNP not only ceased this practice but actively encouraged others in the community to refrain from doing so.

Nevertheless, whilst valuable in itself, exposure to parks and EE will likely not promote the educational agenda necessary for people to matriculate with flying colours or to find gainful employment. This notion is supported by Van der Berg et al. (2011), who found that the level of education in rural communities bordering national parks is typically insufficient for learners to further their tertiary education at a university or college. Limited access to tertiary educational institutions (which was also found in the survey to be a significant community concern and need) and lack of funding, as well as lack of awareness of funding opportunities, conspire to exacerbate this problem. Even though both government and universities are currently doing a lot to assist communities in this regard (DHET 2017), national parks could also potentially play a significant role by, for example, offering bursaries to communities for those who wish to study science or conservation. In the long run, this will enhance the probability that residents originating from these communities may well end up finding permanent employment within a park structure.

Finally, the results indicate that there is very little that MNP and SANParks can feasibly do to directly address needs related to healthcare services (even though they share the need), community safety and security, community policing, social services (e.g. social workers), local leadership and the establishment and erection of more schools, as these needs generally fall outside the auspices and capacity of national parks in South Africa.

Elsewhere, Naughton-Treves, Buck Holland and Brando (2005) came to the same conclusion, whilst Andam et al. (2010) also questioned the actual impact national parks could have on poverty.

In light of the above, it seems necessary to rethink and possibly reconceptualise the developmental agenda that national parks are expected to drive so that these aims are more in line with (1) what parks can reasonably achieve based on resources, capacity and expertise and (2) what communities surrounding national parks need according to their own articulation. Failure to do so could invite the risk of creating unrealistic expectations among communities, resulting in an increased likelihood of general resentment and negative attitudes towards conservation among communities when such expectations are not fulfilled (Anthony 2007). Furthermore, though well-intentioned, community development initiatives that are not aligned with community needs or the capacity, resources and expertise of national parks are likely to either result in costly failures or might fail to truly have a meaningful impact on communities.

It is hoped that the findings of this study will be of use in informing SANParks' community development initiatives and ensuring that those initiatives are optimally aligned with actual community needs.



Using a sequential mixed-methods design, this study set out to investigate the feasibility of national parks in South Africa endorsing a community development agenda based on an exploration of community needs using MNP and two neighbouring rural communities as a case study. Based on the results, the feasibility of national parks substantively addressing all community needs is questioned as many of these needs fall outside the scope, capacity, skills and resource capability of the organisation.

Nevertheless, as was revealed in this study, national parks have the ability to directly or indirectly support several pressing community needs by creating jobs (especially by means of temporary projects and, to a far lesser extent, by means of direct employment) and by enabling those who partake in such employment opportunities to be trained and to develop specific skills. Furthermore, initiatives aimed at promoting awareness and education around waste management and local environmental conservation, supporting local economic development, sponsoring recreational facilities and/or access to parks as well as offering agricultural support and training have been identified as means whereby Mokala can respond to the needs experienced by its surrounding communities. Such initiatives would not only articulate with genuine community needs but could be feasibly pursued based on SANParks' expertise, resources and core mandate and thus hold the promise of truly achieving a positive impact on community development.



Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationship that may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.

Authors' contributions

Both authors contributed equally to conceptualising the study as well as towards collecting and analysing the data and writing the manuscript.

Funding information

This study was funded through a strategic research grant of the Unit of Environmental Sciences and Management, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, North-West University.



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Hendri Coetzee

Received: 04 Apr. 2017
Accepted: 19 Sept. 2018
Published: 28 Feb. 2019



1 . A 'trade-off park' is where one park (normally an existing park) is de-proclaimed so that it can be used for reasons other than conservation (normally development), and in its place another park is proclaimed.

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Measuring Kruger visitors' place attachment to specific camps



Anneli DouglasI; Jan-Albert WesselsII; Jenny PopeIII, IV, V; Angus Morrison-SaundersIII, IV; Mike HughesVI

IDivision of Tourism Management, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
IIDepartment of Environmental Sciences, School of Ecological and Human Sustainability, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa
IIISchool of Science, Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, Australia
IVResearch Unit for Environmental Science and Management, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa
VIntegral Sustainability, South Fremantle, Australia
VIEnvironmental and Conservation Sciences, Murdoch University, Perth, Australia





Tourists become emotionally, physically and socially attached to national parks as they become familiar with the park's settings and endow it with value. Researchers have pointed out that place attachment leads to environmentally responsible behaviour and higher levels of visitor satisfaction. Therefore, increasing the level of attachment that visitors feel is vital for park and camp managers, and to do so a greater understanding of the various dimensions of it is needed. While attachment to parks has been evaluated previously, attachment to specific camps in parks has not been done. The main purpose of this research study was to measure the extent to which visitors to the Tamboti and Satara camps in the Kruger National Park feel attached to these camps. We also determined whether differences exist between visitors in terms of the level of attachment that they experience towards these camps. Finally, we established the variables that influence place attachment. A self-administered paper-based questionnaire was distributed to visitors to the Tamboti and Satara camps, with 201 questionnaires completed. The results show that visitors generally have a neutral feeling towards the camps. Furthermore, the differences in visitors' levels of attachment could be attributed to their nationality, wild card membership and frequency of visits. Various managerial implications are drawn and recommendations made on how to increase place attachment to these camps.
CONSERVATION IMPLICATIONS: This results indicate that visitors do not show particularly strong attachment towards Tamboti and Satara. Recommendations are given for camp managers to increase place attachment to the camps. If camp managers can succeed in fostering stronger levels of attachment to these camps, visitors are more likely to display environmentally responsible behaviour in the camps, with positive conservation implications

Keywords: place attachment; Kruger National Park; camps; South Africa; South African national parks.




National Parks hold varied and often distinctive features (Reimann, Lamp & Palang 2011) and provide the ideal setting for social and psychological exchanges to take place between people and the environment (Ramkissoon, Weiler & Smith 2012). When these exchanges tie an individual to a park, they become attached to the park, as they familiarise themselves with the park's settings and place a value on it (Kyle, Graefe & Manning 2005). Research into place attachment in the context of South African National Parks remains scant, even though South Africa is home to some of the most well-known national parks globally.

Place attachment helps us understand visitor behaviour (Kyle et al. 2004). Klenosky et al. (2007) state that negative place attachment occurs when specific elements of a location are in conflict with an individual's self-identity or do not satisfy an individual's needs. Negative place attachment will likely prevent an individual from visiting a location, whereas positive place attachment will encourage visitation to a location. Walker and Chapman (2003) show that positive place attachment may influence an individual's willingness to take part in protecting a place, while Vaske and Kobrin (2001) speculate that positive attachment may significantly influence environmentally beneficial behaviours (e.g. picking up litter, conserving water and recycling), especially in a nature-based context such as a national park. Previous studies have shown that tourists who are highly attached to a place will even persuade others to adopt behaviours that benefit the environment (Ramkissoon, Smith & Weiler 2013a). To assist parks in fostering place attachment, a greater understanding of it is needed (Ramkissoon & Mavondo 2014). Consequently, various calls have been made for more investigation into place attachment (Dredge 2010; Tsai 2012; Yuksel, Yuksel & Bilim 2010).

To date, place attachment to specific national parks has been measured (Hwang, Lee & Chen 2005; Ramkissoon et al. 2013a), but not to specific accommodation settings in these parks. The purpose of this article was thus to measure place attachment to specific camps, and not to the park in general, as this has been done before. In South African National Parks, facilities are provided at camps within parks, with these camps owned and run by the Park. It would thus make sense that visitors could become attached to a specific camp setting and that this level of attachment should be measured, rather than place attachment to the park in general. The main purpose of this study was thus to measure the extent to which visitors are attached to the Tamboti and Satara camps in the Kruger National Park. In addition, we assess whether visitors' levels of place attachment differ across age groups, nationalities, gender, level of education and others. Finally, we establish whether certain variables have a stronger influence on levels of place attachment than other variables.

The remainder of the article is structured as follows: firstly, we discuss the concepts of place, sense of place (SoP) and place attachment, after which place attachment and the dimensions thereof are clarified. Next we explain the methodology used whereafter we discuss the results. Finally, conclusions are drawn and managerial recommendations are given.


Place, sense of place and place attachment

'Place', as a concept, has both tangible and intangible dimensions; place is more than simply the location of a site. According to Halpenny (2010), the value and meaning of place are given by individuals and society, and presented in groups, cultures and individuals. Researchers are increasingly acknowledging the value of the less quantifiable and less tangible advantages that individuals get from nature and places such as protected areas (Barendse et al. 2016), for example the recreational, spiritual, experiential and educational exchanges with nature that add to the well-being of a human (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005). More importantly, the extent to which one appreciates such benefits is often dependent on one's ability to engage with or form an association with the natural environment (Hinds & Sparks 2008). Ramkissoon, Smith and Weiler (2013b) noted the overabundance of terms in the literature explaining the association between people and spatial settings, including connectedness to nature (Gosling & Williams 2010), community attachment (Perkins & Long 2002), place attachment (Altman & Low 1992), SoP (Jorgensen & Stedman 2001) and neighbourhood attachment (Lewicka 2010), among others. Authors such as Yuksel et al. (2010) opine that SoP, place identify and place dependence are forms of place attachment, whereas others such as Kyle et al. (2004b) propose that SoP is the extensive term and place attachment is a subdimension.

Chen, Dwyer and Firth (2014) explain the difference between SoP and place attachment as follows: SoP is made up of two components: relationship to place, which entails all of the various ways that people relate to places, or the kinds of ties individuals can form with a setting, and place attachment, which entails the depth and sorts of attachments to one specific place (Cross in Chen et al., 2014). Relationship to place reveals the individual-place connection in relation to how this connection is made. For example, an individual is connected to a place if he or she was born there. The relationship to place fluctuates according to the nature of the relationship rather than for psychological reasons. On the other hand, the level of attachment between a person and a place differs and may be impacted by other aspects such as memorable events, level of satisfaction and length of residence. Place attachment can reveal a person's psychological change in their connection with a specific place, and is a vital question to ask if we want to understand tourists after holidaying at a destination (Chen et al. 2014). Consequently, this study focused on the variable component of SoP: place attachment.

Place attachment

Place attachment originates from attachment theory (Bowlby 1969) and is drawing substantial attention from tourism researchers (McLeod & Busser 2012; Ramkissoon et al. 2013b) who utilise it to discover recreationists' or tourists' attachment behaviour and feelings (Hwang et al. 2005). Williams et al. (1992) define place attachment as the emotional bond that is formed between an individual and a specific setting. Jorgensen and Stedman (2001) go further by explaining place attachment as not only an emotional bond, but also a cognitive and functional bond with a location. In recreation and leisure, Hidalgo and Hernandez (2001) are of the opinion that place attachment is personified in the feelings and emotions linked to a recreational setting. Some authors claim that when tourists become attached to tourism destinations, they display affective identification and dependence (Schultz 2000) and grow an inseparable connection with the location (Kals, Schumacher & Montada 1999). Moore and Graefe (1994) further state that while place attachment links people with their natural environment, it also induces identification, gratification and concern for a distinctive area (Harris, Brown & Werner 1996). Gosling and Williams (2010) have found that when people grow attached to a specific location (place), they demonstrate care and concern for the protection of the environment, and become more aware of current matters affecting the environment (Lee 2011). This then increases their commitment to the growth and conservation of natural resources (Scannell & Gifford 2010), while at the same time leading them to exhibit environmentally responsible behaviours, such as willingly picking up litter (Halpenny 2006), recycling as well as conserving water (Vaske & Kobrin 2001) and preventing environmental damage (Stedman 2002).

Cheng, Wu and Huang (2013) assert that most leisure tourism researchers assess place attachment with two constructs: place dependence, which is linked to the usefulness of a location for a leisure pastime, and place identification, which is a symbolic or emotional connection to a location (Kyle Absher & Graefe 2003). Ramkissoon et al. (2013a) conversely see place attachment as a multidimensional construct including place affect (Kals & Maes 2002), place dependence (Stokols & Shumacker 1981), place social bonding (Scannell & Gifford 2010) and place identity (Prohansky 1978), with each construct significantly different from the other (Kyle et al. 2005; Ramkissoon et al. 2012). In our study, we also view place attachment as a multidimensional construct as Ramkissoon et al. (2013a) and Devine-Wright and Clayton (2010) found that construing place attachment, as a singular concept, is rather deceptive. They emphasised the need for future research to see place attachment as a multidimensional construct, as this would aid in developing research questions that stay true to vital theoretical concepts (Stedman 2002).

These four subconstructs of place attachment - place dependence, place identity, place affect and place social bonding - are defined next.

Place dependence

According to Ramkissoon et al. (2012), national parks are theoretically the perfect setting to foster place dependence. Place dependence can be defined as 'how well a setting serves goal achievement given an existing range of alternatives' (Jorgensen & Stedman 2001:234). Individuals and groups measure the functionality of places, that is, the degree to which they assist the accomplishment of specific actions. The physical characteristics of the area or destination (Williams & Vaske 2003) personify this functional attachment and are significantly linked to the distinctive qualities that the setting is perceived to have (Williams et al. 1992). Place dependence also points to the location's relative quality when compared to other locations (Halpenny 2010). Scannell and Gifford (2010) opine that the more someone associates with the physical characteristics of a setting, the less enthusiastic he or she will be to substitute the setting for another. According to Hammitt, Backlund and Bixler (2006), place dependence is also a form of bonding, where places that gratify numerous needs generally result in a more entrenched, profound and all-encompassing place dependence, than places where fewer needs are satisfied (Stokols & Shumaker 1981). Moore and Graefe (1994) opine that extensive interaction with a place because of place dependence may produce place identity.

Place identity

Research studies have shown that experiences with nature create place identity (Clayton & Opotow 2003; Prohansky 1978). Place identity is defined as 'an individual's cognitions, beliefs, perceptions or thoughts that the self is invested in a particular spatial setting' (Jorgensen & Stedman 2001:238). Place identity describes the symbolic link between a person's self-identity and his or her physical environment (Prohansky 1978:155; Stedman 2002). People usually create a sense of identity with a setting (Budruk, Thomas & Tyrrell 2009; Halpenny 2010) because of its distinctiveness or uniqueness from other settings (Twigger-Ross & Uzzell 1996), resulting in a psychological investment with the place as time passes (Williams & Patterson 1999).

Place affect

Place affect mainly depends on emotions, allowing individuals to develop their feelings towards a place and giving significance to it (Tuan 1977). In the past, place affect used to be combined with place identity measures, but more recently, researchers such as Halpenny (2010) and Ramkissoon et al. (2013b) have started to regard it as a separate subdimension of place attachment. Ramkissoon et al. (2013b) show that it is likely for natural environments, such as national parks, to create feelings of psychological well-being for visitors, thus further stimulating positive emotions in visitors (Hartig et al. 1996), leading to increased levels of emotional attachment (Hinds & Sparks 2008). Natural environments are likely to increase positive emotions (Hartig et al. 1996), leading to stronger affective connections with those environments (Hinds & Sparks 2008; Ramkissoon et al. 2013a). Furthermore, Vining (1992) linked place affect with nature protective behaviours.

Place social bonding

Places form an essential part of social relationships. Socially based place bonds refer to the experiences individuals get from social exchanges at a specific site (Scannell & Gifford 2010). Consequently, 'social bonding' has been developed as a dimension of place attachment, to better express the emotional and social parts of place attachment (Ramkissoon et al. 2012). As places form an essential part of social relationships, social bonding comes from the exchanges between friends and family that are reliant on a specific site (Hidalgo & Hernandez 2001; Ramkissoon et al. 2012). According to Tonge et al. (2015), we attach meaning to a place because of the recollection of experiences in the places that we shared with our loved ones (Kyle et al. 2005), which often results in a feeling of group belonging (Low & Altman 1992). In their assessment of social and physical place attachment, Hidalgo and Hernandez (2001) determined that the social attachments were stronger than setting attachments.


How attachment levels differ based on demographics

Research can help us in predicting the behaviour of groups and individuals in agreement with the meanings, values and feelings that they attach to a place (Cass & Walker 2009). People's connection with nature is always a function of their value systems (Chan, Satterfield & Goldstein 2012), which are particular to their context and constantly changing with time. Place attachment can vary according to certain demographical variables (Rollero & De Piccoli 2010). According to Ednie, Daigle and Leahy (2010), the addition of sociodemographic variables is vital for research directed towards establishing management implications as it is easier to gear actions towards members of a specific sociographic group than towards those with high levels of place attachment. When considering gender, results differ. In a number of studies, men and women demonstrate similar levels of place attachment (Brown, Perkins & Brown 2003; Ednie et al. 2010; Lewicka 2005), while in others women show stronger connections to places (Hidalgo & Hernandez 2001; Rollero & De Piccolli 2010). In the study of Kyle, Graefe and Manning (2004), there were significant differences between men and women, with men showing a greater place attachment than women.

Age also plays a vital role in place attachment (Ng, Kam & Pong 2005; Pretty, Chipuer & Bramston 2003). Ng et al. (2005) reported a positive influence of older age on the place belonging dimension of place attachment. In their study, Kyle et al. (2004a) also found older respondents' level of attachment higher than younger respondents. Similarly, Lewicka (2008) found higher levels of attachment in older generations. This was confirmed by Ednie et al. (2010), who found a significant difference in terms of age where respondents in their low-attachment cluster were significantly younger than respondents in their high-attachment cluster. The role of level of education in place attachment has not been studied sufficiently. Lewicka (2005) and Rollero and De Piccoli (2010) established that the level of education was a negative forecaster of place attachment, explaining that people with higher levels of education are more geographically moveable and thus less reliant on a specific place. Kyle et al. (2004), on the other hand, found no significant difference in terms of education, while Ednie et al. (2010) also reported no significant differences in levels of education. Furthermore, Lewicka (2008) is of the opinion that education is of less importance in predicting place attachment. In terms of travel parties, Ednie et al. (2010) reported that respondents with high place attachments were more probable to be travelling as part of a group with family and/or friends and less probable to be part of a guided group or organisation. Also, Moore and Scott (2003) found a relationship between frequency of use and positive attachment.

From the above discussion, it is clear that place attachment is made up of different dimensions, and that individuals differ in terms of their levels of attachment to a specific place. The same seems to be true in the context of South African National Parks, and Barendse et al. (2016) raised specific questions that still remain unanswered in terms of place attachment (sense of place) experiences in South African National Parks, for example, how place attachment experiences vary across groups of visitors. For this reason, we hypothesise that:

H1: Groups of visitors differ in the levels of attachment that they experience towards specific camps in the Kruger.

Another question that remains unanswered is the extent to which certain variables influence the level of place attachment that visitors experience towards specific camps. It is thus hypothesised that:

H2: Variables such as age, wild card membership, camp visited, travelling party, number of visits and gender influence the level of place attachment that visitors experience towards specific camps in the Kruger.

The methodology used to test these hypotheses is explained next.


Research methods and design

Study site

The Kruger National Park (KNP) is the flagship conservation and tourism product offering within the South African National Parks system. Hausmann et al. (2017) found that visitors gave high ratings (between 4 = perceived and 5 = highly perceived) to the SoP dimensions in three parks, namely, KNP, iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Table Mountain National Park. Even so, research into place attachment in the context of specific camps within this park remains scarce. Some studies have been conducted in terms of SoP, with the results suggesting that although SoP is accounted for in national parks and environmental management, it remains an underdeveloped concept denoting a substantial void in the way that we understand the link between park management and visitor experiences (Ament et al. 2017; Barendse et al. 2016; Hausmann et al. 2017). To measure place attachment to camps, the selected camps had to comply with specific criteria. Firstly, the selected camps should have the capacity to accommodate enough visitors so that comparisons between camps could be drawn. Secondly, camps in the Southern Kruger were preferred because this would allow for the collection of more data (both the capacity and occupancy levels of camps in the southern part of the Kruger are higher than camps in the northern part of the Kruger). Thirdly, we wanted to use contrasting camps to assess if place attachment differed between the camps (the camps chosen should not only be different in name, but also in all other aspects). If similar camps were chosen, we would not have been able to attribute the differences to anything. Fourthly, we wanted to include one main camp and one satellite camp. Lastly, attachment to the camp should not be obvious. For example, given the Lower Sabie's popularity, one would assume high levels of place attachment, and thus no need to measure it. The camps that met all these criteria were Tamboti and Satara. Satara can be described as an older, more established (in the traditional KNP style) camp with permanent chalets, and ample infrastructure and facilities. On the other hand, Tamboti is a newer (more modern) camp, with rustic, semi-structured eco-tents and limited infrastructure and facilities. Satara is open to day visitors, whereas Tamboti does not allow day visitors. Interestingly, in terms of overnight guests' overall satisfaction scores with these camps (for the period May to June 2017), we see that Satara's overall satisfaction score is slightly lower than the average satisfaction score of visitors to all camps in the Marula region of the Kruger. In contrast, the overall satisfaction score of visitors to Tamboti is higher than the average satisfaction score of visitors to all camps in the Marula region (SANParks 2019).

Questionnaire development, sampling, data collection and analysis

A paper-based questionnaire was distributed to a convenience sample drawn from both day and overnight visitors, domestic and international, to Satara and Tamboti camps in the Kruger National Park. The questionnaires were distributed from 23 to 28 July 2017. The first section of the questionnaire asked some demographic questions, including age, gender, education level, nationality, travelling party, wild card membership and frequency of visits. The next section measured place attachment (adapted from Ramkissoon et al. 2013b). For the place attachment construct, four dimensions were included in this study: place dependence (three items), place identity (three items), place affect (three items) and place social bonding (three items). Each item was measured on a five-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree). Tourists were approached in both the accommodation areas as well as the public areas of the two camps. Fieldworkers were instructed to attempt to vary the age, gender and nationality of respondents. A total of 201 responses were obtained (day visitors collected at Satara = 34; overnight in Satara = 124; overnight in Tamboti = 43).

In order to meet the purpose of the study satisfactorily, diverse techniques for data analysis were used. The descriptive methods contributed in describing the data in terms of age groups, gender representations and levels of education, while inferential methods permitted us to draw certain deductions about the larger population of travellers and their place attachment to two specific camps in the Kruger. Because of modifications necessary to customise Ramkissoon et al.'s (2013b) scale to our context, the place attachment scale was subjected to an exploratory factor analysis (EFA). T-tests and analyses of variance (ANOVAs) were used to determine how groups of visitors differ in terms of their place attachment. Lastly, multivariate analysis of variance was used to explore the effect of the key identified variables (age, camp visited, nationality, gender, wild card membership, level of education, travelling party and number of visits) as well as their possible interaction effects in explaining the variance in the two factors of place attachment. Multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) is a technique that is used to test for the difference in two or more vectors of means. The multivariate tests (Pillai' trace, Wilks' lambda, Hotelling's trace and Roy's largest root) all test the MANOVA null hypothesis, namely, that the mean on the composite variable is the same across groups. The test thus determines the equality of a composite of the means (optimised to yield the maximum possible F-ratio) across groups. The focus of the identification of meaningful effects will be in using Wilks' lambda in conjunction with the partial eta squared value. Although the Pillai-Bartlett criterion is considered the most robust and powerful test statistic, the Wilks' lambda is used as it provides an indication of the variance not accounted for by the combined dependent variables with (1 - λ) the variance that is accounted for by the best linear combination of dependent variables, which enables the explorative understanding of key effects.

Table 1 provides the demographic profile of the respondents. From the table, it is clear that almost an equal number of men (48%) and women (52%) completed the questionnaire. Almost two-thirds of respondents indicated that they are wild card members (a loyalty card that entitles members to reduced entrance fees at all national parks in South Africa). The biggest age group responding to the questionnaire were the 31-50 year-olds. Forty-five percent of respondents indicated that they hold a postgraduate degree. Nearly two-thirds of respondents visited the park with family and 60% of respondents have visited the park more than three times. Official SANParks data on the gender of visitors were not available; however, in a large sample survey (n = 4369), conducted by the agency in 2018 on overnight visitors to the KNP, the gender split of respondents was 59% men and 41% women. According to SANParks, however, this is not necessarily an indication of actual visitation, because the online survey that they use to collect it is sent to the email address of the person making the booking, which is dominated by men. Our sample is similar to the sample of Kruger, Viljoen and Saayman (2017). The biggest age group (35%) in their sample was between the ages of 45 and 59 years. Again, according to Kruger et al. (2017), visitors to Kruger generally hold a degree or diploma, and in our sample this was the same. In terms of frequency of visits, SANParks survey data show that 61% of their visitors have been to the Kruger for one to three times in the preceding 3 years, and 23% between four and nine times. This is similar to our sample.



Ethical considerations

Ethical approval for undertaking the research was obtained from the University of Pretoria, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences Ethics Committee (protocol no. EMS014/17). The research was also conducted under the consent and approval of Tourism Development and Marketing Division of South African National Parks. All the participants in the study took part voluntarily after they were informed of the objectives of the study and the completion of an informed consent agreement. All participants were entitled to withdraw from the study at any point. The completed questionnaires were also completed anonymously and confidentially.



Descriptive statistics

Visitors were asked to indicate the extent to which they agreed with a number of statements regarding the specific camps at which they were surveyed. Place attachment was measured on a five-point scale (1 = strongly agree and 5 = strongly disagree). Results are shown in Table 2. It is interesting to note that visitors to the two camps did not have a particularly strong place attachment to the specific camps, even though some preferred the particular camps for their specific settings and facilities. Of the four dimensions measuring place attachment, respondents seemed to agree the strongest with the place dependence dimension, followed by place identity and place affect. Place social bonding scored the lowest mean. When compared, day visitors to Satara felt a consistent stronger attachment to the camp than overnight visitors to Satara and Tamboti. A plausible explanation could be that day visitors could include repeat visitors who come to the camp because they are attached to it, for example, people living near the KNP. Only in terms of place dependence did Tamboti visitors score higher agreement means than day and overnight visitors to Satara. The low agreement mean given to place social bonding is also interesting, especially given the fact that 95% of respondents indicated that they visit the park with friends and family. The most probable explanation could perhaps be that social bonding does not adequately explain a visitor's attachment to Tamboti and Satara.

Exploratory factor analysis

Because of the modifications necessary to customise Ramkissoon et al.'s (2013b) scale to our context (Ramkissoon et al. 2013b) measured place attachment in the context of national parks, whereas our study measured place attachment in the context of camps in the parks), the place attachment scale was subjected to an exploratory factor analysis (EFA) using maximum likelihood extraction and direct oblimin rotation (a confirmatory factor analysis was conducted first; however, model fit indicated an inadequate fit, and therefore an EFA was conducted to determine the underlying dimensional structure). The purpose of the EFA was to ensure unidimensionality and internal consistency of this construct in the present context. The Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin measure of sampling adequacy (0.908) and the Bartlett's test of sphericity which was significant (p = 0.000) both indicate that a factor analysis is appropriate. The EFA was conducted using a sample of 201 respondents who were intercepted at different locations in the two camps. No items were eliminated from the scale, with the number of items remaining at 12. These 12 items used to measure the place attachment construct were loaded onto two factors (see Table 2). Based on the items, which showed that respondents would continue their attachment to specific camps, factor 1 was labelled 'continued attachment', while factor 2 was labelled 'interrupted attachment', because respondents indicated that if their visitation to the camp would stop, they would disappoint or lose contact with their friends and family, and hence interrupt their attachment to the specific camp. These two factors thus become composites of specific variables and include specific items that are a facet of the broader place attachment dimension (Hair et al. 2014). Internal consistency was evaluated using Cronbach's alpha and both factors showed a measurement greater than 0.9, indicating strong levels of internal consistency (Nunnally 1978). Together, these two factors explain 75.42% of the variance.

T-tests and analyses of variance

Differences in levels of attachment between groups were measured in terms of age, the camp visited, nationality, gender, wild card membership, level of education, travelling party and number of visits. Only those where significant differences were shown in at least one of the factors are given in Table 3. From the table it is clear that South Africans have a higher level of continued attachment than international visitors have, confirming the results of Hausmann et al. (2017), who found that more experienced national tourists have a higher SoP perception. As expected, wild card members showed a stronger attachment than non-wild card members, for both factors of place attachment. Those visitors with only a matric or high school qualification had the highest levels of place attachment, followed by those with a postgraduate degree. Visitors with a matric or high school qualification felt a stronger continued attachment than visitors with a degree, while visitors with a postgraduate qualification showed a stronger continued attachment than visitors with a degree. This contradicts the results of Kyle et al. (2004) and Ednie et al. (2010) who reported no significant differences between levels of education. In terms of number of visits, those who have visited most frequently showed a stronger continued attachment than those who have only visited 1-3 times. At the same time, those who have visited most frequently also had a stronger attachment than those who have visited between 4 and 20 times. Interestingly, day visitors to Satara were more attached to the camp than overnight visitors to Satara. At the same time, overnight visitors to Tamboti showed a stronger continued attachment than overnight visitors to Satara. Furthermore, day visitors to Satara felt a stronger interrupted attachment to the camp than overnight visitors to Tamboti. The results thus support hypothesis 1 in that groups of visitors differ in the levels of attachment that they experience towards specific camps in the Kruger.



Multivariate analysis of variance

Multivariate analysis of variance was used to explore the effect of the key identified variables, namely, age, the camp visited, nationality, gender, wild card membership, level of education, travelling party and number of visits as well as their possible interaction effects in explaining the variance in the two factors of place attachment, namely, continued attachment and interrupted attachment. Multivariate analysis of variance has greater power to identify an effect because it can identify whether groups are different along a combination of variables, whereas ANOVA can identify only if groups are different along a single variable field. The MANOVA measures whether or not the independent grouping variable simultaneously explains a statistically significant amount of variance in the dependent variable (continued attachment and interrupted attachment). Unfortunately, the MANOVA cannot predict which groups are significantly different from each other, it only tells us that at least two groups are different and that the independent variables influence some patterning of response on the dependent variable.

The set of two dependent variables considered were not highly correlated (> 0.7); thus, multi-collinearity was not present and thus were adequate for the purposes of the MANOVA analysis. The analysis revealed the following key statistical significant multivariate main and interaction effects:

· Wild card membership: Wilks' λ = 0.839, F = 4.211, p <. 0.021, partial eta squared = 0.161. Power to detect the effect was 1.

· Camp visited: Wilks' λ = 0.797, F = 2.639, p <.0.039, partial eta squared = 0.107. Power to detect the effect was 1.

· Wild card membership, age and gender: Wilks' λ = 0.870, F = 3.288, p < 0.047, partial eta squared = 0.130. Power to detect the effect was 1.

From the above it is evident that a number of key variables influence the set of attachment factors, with the wild card membership, camp visited and the interaction between wild card membership, age and gender being the most influential. The fact that wild card membership explains the variance in the two factors of place attachment is not surprising, as one would expect members to have different levels of attachment than non-members. The factor camp visited also influences some patterning of the response on the dependent variable, again providing support for hypothesis 1, that visitors differ in the levels of attachment they feel towards specific camps. Even though alone age and gender do not influence the variance in the two factors, it is interesting that the interaction between wild card membership, age and gender simultaneously explains a statistically significant amount of variance in the two attachment factors. The results from the MANOVA thus support the second hypothesis that certain variables influence the level of place attachment that visitors experience towards specific camps in the Kruger. The fact that wild card membership showed significant differences in place attachment in both the ANOVA and MANOVA results should encourage SANParks to find ways of boosting their membership sales. Yet, visitors will only become loyal to a park (and camp) if they are satisfied with the overall experience, which should provide more motivation for camp and park management to scrutinise the overall satisfaction levels of visitors, and create strategies to improve the scores of items with which visitors are not particularly happy.



Bearing in mind that place attachment leads to more environmentally responsible visitors and increases visitor satisfaction, determining how to increase levels of place attachment has to be an important topic for Kruger National Park management. For this reason, the main purpose of this research study was to measure the extent to which visitors to the Tamboti and Satara camps in the Kruger National Park feel attached to these camps, while also determining whether differences exist between groups in terms of the level of attachment that they experience towards these camps. Finally, we established whether certain variables have a stronger influence on place attachment than other variables.

The results show that respondents did not have a particularly strong place attachment to Tamboti and Satara, even though some preferred the particular camps for their specific settings and facilities. It is expected that place attachment to the park in general will be higher as Hausmann et al. (2017) found in their study. Thus, attachment to the camps does not equate to attachment to the park, and visitors could be attached to the park in general, but not to specific camps. The Kruger National Park provides a variety of camps that may fulfil visitors' needs and some visitors might be attached to one camp, whereas others might be attached to another camp.

Our results offer possible answers to the questions raised by Barendse et al. (2016) in a previous article. In answer to their question on the link between individual and shared experiences in fostering place attachment, social bonding (shared experiences) scored the lowest mean of all four attachment dimensions in our results, contradicting the results of Hidalgo and Hernandez (2001) who determined that social attachments are stronger than setting attachments. In response to their (Barendse et al. 2016) question relating to how attachment (SoP) experiences vary across nationalities of tourists, our results showed that South Africans have a higher level of continued attachment than international visitors.

As expected, wild card members showed a stronger place attachment than non-wild card members because it is obvious that loyal park visitors will be more attached to the camps. This confirms previous research studies showing that frequency of use is a significant predictor of place attachment (Lewicka 2005; Moore & Scott 2003). Interestingly, those visitors with only a matric or high school qualification had the highest levels of place attachment, confirming the results of Lewicka (2005) and Rollera and De Piccoli (2010). The MANOVA tests showed a number of key variables influencing the set of attachment factors, with wild card membership, the camp visited and the interaction between wild card membership, age and gender being the most influential. This confirms the research of Poira, Reichel and Biran (2006) who found that the same place might have diverse meanings for diverse individuals.

A number of suggestions are made to increase visitors' attachment to Tamboti and Satara. Firstly, place attachment should be developed through long-term, frequent and positive experiences with the camps. Camp managers should ensure that visitors are satisfied when they depart from the camp to ensure future visitation. The more frequent the visits, the more likely visitors are to become attached (Lewicka 2005; Williams & Patterson 1999). When taking the overall customer satisfaction scores for Tamboti and Satara into account, it is evident that two of the items with which visitors experienced the lowest satisfaction were 'nature experience' and 'caravan, camping and accommodation' at the camps. Camp management should thus show concerted efforts in trying to increase satisfaction with these items (SANParks 2019). Engagements with other people also affect place attachment (Eisenhauer, Krannich & Blahna 2000). This is of particular importance given the low rating to place social bonding in our results. Camp management should encourage participation and social interaction in touristic activities in these camps to produce increased levels of attachment (Prayag & Ryan 2012). In terms of place dependence, high scores imply that visitors are dependent on the resources of the camp to enjoy their specific tourist activities (Kyle et al. 2004). In our study, place dependence scored higher than the other three dimensions, even though the score was still neutral. Camp managers should thus endeavour to fulfil and meet tourists' real needs and services so that they can develop a sense of dependence on the camp (Cheng et al. 2013). Efforts should thus be made to improve tourist experiences by ensuring that visitors are satisfied with the infrastructure provided and intangible qualities (exoticness and reputation) (Prayag & Ryan 2012).

Various authors have shown that place attachment leads to more environmentally responsible behaviour. At the same time, the higher visitors perceive the value of the camp experience, the more environmentally responsible they become. When tourists feel that they benefit from the experience, they are more likely to identify more strongly with the environment. This, in turn, will stimulate their sensitivity towards and concern for the environment, which will shape their environmentally responsible behaviour. It is thus suggested that camp management should increase the satisfaction with the camp experience in order to promote environmentally responsible behaviour in the camp, decreasing the damage to the environment (Chiu, Lee & Chen 2014). This could be attained by ensuring that the camp shows proof of good management, support for biodiversity and reinforcement of sustainable and responsible consumption, which are likely to be valued by visitors (Ramkissoon & Mavondo 2014). If the tourists see the camp's commitment to conservation, it is likely to encourage them to show environmentally responsible behaviour (Lee 2011).

The theoretical contribution of this article lies in the fact that it adds to the debate on whether place attachment should be seen as a multidimensional or bi-dimensional construct. As opposed to previous studies indicating four dimensions (Devine-Wright & Clayton 2010; Ramkissoon et al. 2013), our results only showed two, with the one dimension, labelled interrupted attachment, showing very low levels of attachment.

This article is not without limitations. The results of this study cannot be generalised to all Kruger visitors as the sample was non-random. Future research should look at how place attachment experiences differ for each camp and each national park (based on feedback from visitors) and whether place attachment experiences should be taken into account in the design, establishment and management of protected areas (Barendse et al. 2016). Furthermore, Hausmann et al. (2017) mentioned the lack of understanding about how biodiversity, and experiences related to biodiversity, influence tourists' place attachment when visiting protected areas. Future research should look into this.



The purpose of this study was to measure the extent to which visitors are attached to the Tamboti and Satara camps in the Kruger National Park. In addition, we assessed whether visitors' levels of place attachment differ. Finally, we established whether certain variables have a stronger influence on levels of place attachment than other variables. The research identifies two factors of place attachment, confirming the research of Cheng et al. (2013) and contradicting the results of Ramkissoon et al. (2013a). The research also finds that visitors to Tamboti and Satara have neutral levels of attachment to the camps. Furthermore, ANOVA results show that levels of attachment between visitors differ in terms of nationality, wild card membership, level of education, number of visits and the camp visited. The MANOVA results indicate that the main variables that have an influence on place attachment are wild card membership, the camp visited and the interaction between wild card membership, age and gender.

Our results confirm the results of Hausmann et al. (2017) showing differences between nationalities. The results also confirm the results of Moore and Scott (2003), who showed differences in place attachment in terms of frequency of visits. Contrary to research by Ednie et al. (2010), our research did not show differences in levels of place attachment in terms of the group that the respondents travel with. Also, Kyle et al. (2004) found no significant difference in terms of level of education, whereas our results show significant differences.

This article contributes to the current literature regarding place attachment, and specifically place attachment in the context of camps in the Kruger National Park. This is the first time that place attachment is measured in the context of camps within parks. In doing so, sensible management conclusions have been reached.

In conclusion, place attachment (sense of place) is a vital feature of conservation from both legal and conceptual viewpoints (Barendse et al. 2016). As such, results such as ours could be used to inform park management plans and conservation action. The study responds to a call from Barendse et al. (2016) who suggested that place attachment should be accounted for from both social and natural lenses to enable debates of the 'desired future conditions' of conservation areas from both social and ecological viewpoints (Williams & Stewart 1998). Our results provide the social lens and viewpoints and thus stimulate communication and interdisciplinary learning not only between natural and social scientists but also between management, science and all stakeholders (Chapin III & Knapp 2015).



The authors would like to thank the Tourism Development and Marketing Division of South African National Parks for their support of the project.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Authors' contributions

A.D. was the lead author of this article. The remainder of the authors all contributed in reviewing the article, developing the measurement instrument and collecting the data.

Funding information

This work is based on the research supported in part by the National Research Foundation of South Africa (Grant Number 114916).

Data availability statement

Data are available upon request from the corresponding author.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any affiliated agency of the authors.



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Anneli Douglas

Received: 25 Oct. 2018
Accepted: 12 June 2019
Published: 17 Sept. 2019

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