Ubuntu Wildlife Trust works in Maputaland (formerly Tongaland) in the northern parts of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. It is sometimes erroneously referred to as part of Zululand but is a region on its own further north of Zululand. It is an area of incredible natural beauty, species richness in both fauna and flora, and has huge conservation importance on a global scale. This series of blogs by our team of ecologists on-the-ground highlights some of the reasons why we have chosen to work in this region:
Government and Private reserves
In KwaZulu-Natal the government authority in charge of all biodiversity is called Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (a merger of the Natal Parks Board and KwaZulu Directorate of Nature Conservation). All biodiversity work must go through this body, but they also manage and oversee many reserves which are open to the public and are referred to as government reserves.
Private reserves in contrast are privately owned and managed, and many of them have been legally declared Protected Areas under the government system.
Wildlife is considered an asset in South African law and can be privately owned and are extremely valuable. This has led to the formation of a multibillion-dollar industry.
The region Ubuntu Wildlife Trust focuses on has a mix of world-famous government and private reserves. Together these types of reserves form the majority of secure habitat for South Africa’s wildlife.
Habitat is crucial for biodiversity but is also prime land for farming, and in our region, especially pineapple farming. This has led to a sort of competition between the farmers and conservationists for land – but it has also created opportunity for old farmlands to be purchased and converted back to conservation. We need farmers to grow food and supply an ever-growing population, but we also need to conserve these biodiverse unique habitats to ensure ecosystem services and for the survival of the human population, and finding that balance remains an important achievement.
The Ubuntu Wildlife Trust team is based on the Greater Ukuwela Nature Reserve (GUNR), a reserve recently declared as a Nature Reserve (the highest level for private land and equivalent to a National Park). This reserve was formed in 2017 by a collection of private landowners and Wild Tomorrow Fund, a US based charity. It underwent a stringent declaration process to be formally protected as a Nature Reserve, being signed in early 2021. The formation of this reserve secured crucial habitat for many protected species on land that was going to be farmed for pineapple. It is considered a conservation coup due to its location and strategic value in linking up two existing reserves with some of the highest biodiversity in the world as well as restoring ancient migration routes.
The most famous government reserve in the area is Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park (HiP). This is the reserve that the world’s last remaining population of southern white rhino (>50) were found. Through one of the greatest conservation success stories ever, they were grown into the over 20 000 southern white rhinos found across Africa today, and in zoos worldwide. (The northern sub-species has only 2 female individuals left in total and are held in captivity and functionally extinct). Ninety-three percent of White Rhinos are found in South Africa, and HiP remains along with Kruger National Park, the most important and abundant wild populations. Other important government reserves in the area, include uMkhuze Game Reserve, Pongola Game Reserve, iThala Game Reserve, and a bit further north, Tembe Elephant Park (community owned), Ndumo Game Reserve, Sileza, and others. The World Heritage site, iSimangaliso neighbours the GUR, the property Ubuntu is based on.
&Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve (part of the Mun-Ya-Wana Conservancy) is world famous and a leading light in African conservation. Through their excellent support of research, proactive management, and wonderful community programmes, they have for decades shown the successful blueprint for conservation in Africa. Phinda was originally old pineapple farms that were transformed into one of the most biodiverse reserves in South Africa. As with many of the government reserves, Phinda is home to the Big 5 (Lions, Elephants, Rhinos, Leopard and Buffalo) and they make huge contributions to wild populations of cheetah, rhinos, lions, and elephants. They were the first to re-introduce pangolins to the province (where they had been considered functionally extinct) and have recently discovered multiple new species ranging from rain frogs to button spiders (widows). They also protect a sizeable portion of the unique Sand Forest, South Africa’s most endangered vegetation type. This property also adjoins the GUNR. Other notable private reserves are Manyoni Game Reserve, Thanda Private Game Reserve, Somkhanda Community reserve, and the various private owners that join Phinda to form the Mun-Ya-Wana Conservancy.
Ubuntu Wildlife Trust, along with organisations such as &Beyond Phinda, FreeMe Wildlife, Rehabitate Conservation trust, Africa Foundation, Wild Tomorrow Fund, Biologists Without Borders, As Wild As, and a collection of reserves, private landowners, companies, and conservationists, are all working to secure, restore, and link these properties. This will increase habitat for animals, and thus increase their populations sizes and further restore natural processes. As this region has multiple protected, and endangered species, many of which are unique to the region, the time to secure this habitat is now as in the future it will be far more difficult to achieve this.
The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration starts is declared for 2021 – 2030 and Ubuntu Wildlife Trust plans to be at the forefront of this in the Maputaland Region.