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The present is better than the past at Imfolozi Game Reserve

By Scott Ramsay | Book Accommodation

White Rhino

Imfolozi Game Reserve has many stories to tell.

While I was exploring the western part of the reserve today, I thought how concerned conservationists created it to save the last remaining white rhinos in the world. Hunters had wiped out thousands of these charismatic animals, and in 1897, there were only a few left. Today, there are more than one thousand in the reserve, and it’s easy to believe, because today I came across close to 50 of them at different times! They seem to be everywhere, and it’s wonderful. Thanks to the conservationists of that era, who had the foresight and wisdom to fight for the protection of wild animals and the natural landscapes.

It wasn’t only the colonial hunters who sought out the wild animals. Imfolozi was considered one of King Shaka’s prime hunting areas, and during his rule from 1818 to 1828, the charismatic leader conducted hunts near the confluence of the White and Black Mfolozi rivers. Today, visitors can still see the huge pits that were dug to trap the wild animals, after they had been chased into them by the Zulu hunters.

Then there’s the sad story of the Nagana campaign. Close to 100 000 wild animals in the Imfolozi area were methodically slaughtered between 1929 and 1950, in an attempt to rid the area of Tsetse flies, which were transmitting a lethal disease to the farmers’ livestock (although the parasite which caused the death in cattle and goats had no effect on wild animals).  Even this mass murdering did not eliminate the tsetse fly, and between 1947 and 1951 the whole area was regularly sprayed with the chemicals DDT and BHC. This eventually got rid of the fly, yet the impact of the culling and spraying on wild animals and their environment was obviously very damaging. Clearly, being a wild animal in Africa is not very easy at times.

Red Billed Ox Pecker

Red-billed Oxpecker

But then there’s the lovely, hopeful story of Imfolozi’s lions, and it comes from TV Bulpin’s “Discovering Southern Africa”. At the time of the reserve’s proclamation, hunting was rampant, and it took several decades for a conservation ethic to be established. By that stage, however, the trigger-happy hunting fraternity had eliminated lions from the area. So it was with great surprise that in 1958, a single, lone male lion made his way from Mozambique, covering more than 300 kilometres, arriving in Imfolozi having dodged the efforts of several hunting parties. The game rangers at the time were delighted of course, even more so when a few years later, several females came to give the male lion some much needed company. Today, the lions in Mfolozi are the descendants of these pioneer predators, and I really hope that I get to see some when I do the Imfolozi Wilderness Trail later this week.

Cape Buffalo

Cape Buffalo

There’s definitely a real sense of ‘wildness’ at Imfolozi, something that was missing from some of the game reserves which I visited further south in South Africa. In fact, Imfolozi and the adjacent Hluhluwe Game Reserve are really the beginning of the traditional African wildlife landscape. From here, all the way north to Kenya, wild animals are more common, and – for me at least – there’s a greater sense of adventure. And it’s amazing to think that Imfolozi is only a three-hour drive from Durban, South Africa’s third-largest city. I hope that wild animals forever continue to roam free in such close proximity to the cities of our country.

Vervet Monkey

Vervet Monkey