A fence is a fence, right? Not so when you are talking fences in southern African protected areas. A lot of thought, a tonne of expertise and endless maintenance comes with talking fences around sanctuaries within transfrontier conservation areas. The biggest challenge is making fences elephant-proof, as these animals can be quite ‘naughty’. A few bulls in the sanctuary in Zinave are notorious as being fence-breakers. They like to regularly visit other elephants and graze outside the sanctuary, so they regularly break the fences in their travels. This is normal elephant behaviour however, and not seen as problematic, so whole teams have been put together to work around this behaviour.
In Zinave the 60 km of fenceline is electrified to keep animals inside the protected area and allow them to settle in the well-proteced sanctuary. Every 4 km there is an energiser that supplies the power. This means that if there is a break only a small section of the fence is disabled, keeping the rest operational. A specialised team maintains the fenceline, patrolling every day to check for damage and performing repairs where needed.
When dealing with large, protected areas, the scale of repairing fences takes a lot of manpower, time and money, but it is essential to conservation goals. Luckily, there are constant innovations that help save time and effort. As Hannes, Aviation Manager for Peace Parks explains, in Limpopo National Park, the fences have a clever design allowing for elephant to move over them freely. When the elephants step on the poles the entire fence is pushed flat to the ground, allowing the elephant to move over it. The fence then springs back up once the elephant has moved on. The idea is to minimise the damage caused by these gentle giants and keep other, smaller animals from leaving the area. Fences are also a good indicator of park boundaries allowing people to know where they are free to move and where it’s best to steer clear.