Govt announces paleontological tourism plans

Plans have been announced to explore paleontological tourism in a bid to attract markets to heritage sites.

FILE: Job Kibii with Lee Berger at the Malapa Cave site. Picture: Maropeng.

JOHANNESBURG - The Gauteng Provincial Government has announced plans to explore paleontological tourism as a niche offering, in a bid to attract a high-end market to the province's heritage sites.

The government, in partnership with Wits University, launched a protective structure around the Maropeng site on Thursday where fossils as old as 2 million years have been discovered.

The cave, which is thousands of years old, is being preserved for further scientific research and tourism development.

Wits Professor Lee Berger, who discovered the Sediba fossils at the Malapa Fossil Site in 2008, says it still holds precious fossil material and that's why it had to be protected.

"Right on the edge of Johannesburg is a critical wilderness area with some of the most important fossil discoveries on the planet. We had to build a structure that does justice to that. Part of making it magnificent when you enter it, is to do justice to the finds that it protects."

Gauteng Tourism CEO Dawn Robertson says there are also plans to install CCTV cameras around the excavation site, to enable tourists to watch live as fossils are recovered.

"That's a world first and that virtual laboratory is going to be built at Maropeng. And we'll have people working there, continuously, around the clock, and this will be beamed into places around the world. For example we already have a partnership with the new Shanghai Museum of Natural Science."