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05 Jul 2022
Rural communities are getting involved in innovative wildlife ventures and are bringing hope to many impoverished people while benefiting conservation, writes Tony Carnie
DEEP in the rural wilderness area bordering Mozambique, two local community groups have decided to join the wildlife business by creating new game reserves on their soil.
The two community conservation areas – Usuthu Gorge and Tshanini – are in the Maputaland district of KwaZulu-Natal, close to the more established Ndumo Game Reserve and Tembe Elephant Park.
According to Saddam Hussein MIambo, Vice-Chairman of the Usuthu Gorge Community Conservation Area, the new conservation land is mostly unsuitable for agriculture because of the rocky terrain, poor soil and low rainfall.
For many decades this community in the Mathenjwa Tribal Authority had relied on subsistence agriculture and migrant labour to make ends meet.
“But there are just not enough jobs to be found so, when we looked at our -options for the future, we decided to explore the idea of wildlife tourism and hunting.
“We think it can bring permanent jobs to a wide section of the community over time.”
“The area we identified for the new reserve did not have any schools or houses and has mainly been used to graze our livestock, some of which have also been dying from disease.”
After a series of meetings with individual tribal authority wards, which began as far back as 1998, the community has now fenced off more than 3 500 ha of land which it hopes to enlarge shortly to about 6 500 ha – a substantial area which directly adjoins the western boundary of the 10 000 ha Ndumo reserve.
Work has also started on a second, 4000ha community conservation area (CCA) immediately south of Tembe Elephant Park.
Zeblon Gumede, Chairman of the Tshanini CCA, says gameproof fencing, roads and other infrastructure are now being established with R2.6 million funding from the WK Kellogg Foundation and a poverty-relief grant from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.
Some of the money had also been used to provide 138 temporary jobs, which were rotated to benefit people in the Tembe Tribal Authority area.
Eventually, Gumede says, the community hopes to build two tourist lodges. One would be an “African-type” lodge where visitors would have direct exposure to the traditional lifestyle, culture and daily activities of a remote rural community.
The second lodge would be more Western, catering for visitors more interested in animal- and bird-watching.
Gumede said his community hopes to derive further direct benefit from culling wildlife to provide meat and other animal products, as well as from organising hunting safaris.
An application for 100 nyala and 45 impala for game seed stock had been made to the provincial nature conservation agency, Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife.
At Usuthu Gorge, MIambo says, there have already been six pilot hunting expeditions organised through the Natal Hunters’ Association and Ezemvelo. The establishment of the Usuthu Gorge CCA has been funded jointly by the Wildlands Conservation Trust (R900 000), the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (R5,4 million), the Peace Parks Foundation (R70 000) and the Ford Foundation (R330 000).
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has also donated 40 impala and 11 blue wildebeest to the Usuthu reserve and is considering providing a further substantial donation of larger game, such as white rhino, giraffe, buffalo and kudu, once the reserve is secure.
Sue McClintock of the Wildlands Conservation Trust says: “Usuthu has the potential to become a national flagship for community conservation In South Africa. It is a really platinum wilderness area, with stunning scenery, where the foothills of the Lebombo mountains overlook the Phongolo flood plain.”
Mlambo said Usuthu would be zoned to separate hunters and wildlife tourists and there were plans to develop a tourism lodge.
Nine field rangers have been employed to patrol the reserve and the community hopes to provide several new jobs and training in hospitality and nature-guiding through the lodge development.
It is believed that other community groups in Maputaland are considering similar ventures to take advantage of future opportunities offered by the tri-nation transfrontier conservation area initiative, which aims to streng then conservation and tourism links between South Africa, Mozambique and Swaziland.