Month 7 of 12, 2015 – and a solid wave of greetings from the Kingdom!
So what to report since late February, some 5 moons ago? Brown earth, elusive grass, dusty days and spectacular sunsets are a couple of adjectives to throw into the mix as this drought tightens its grip on Northern KZN and the Lubombo region. Rated the worst drought to hit in 30 years, we realise quickly how water can be taken for granted. Luckily we encompass the 5th largest dam in South Africa, so I am sure people elsewhere are feeling the pinch more than us right now. That being said, the dam is currently sitting at 56% with boating access becoming a concern for water enthusiasts wishing to launch at Jozini Dam. On our side, the only operational access at the moment is slipway 33 which we have extended with gravel past the concrete slab. Access to the North past this slipway is not possible right now without beaching your vessel onto mud banks under the scrupulous gaze from a fleet of large sized crocodiles tanning on the nearby banks. South is your only choice but getting there does require paying attention to some shallow water, occasional tree stumps and in this instance a flotilla of anarchist hippopotamus to the West whose receding habitat has done nothing for their sense of humour. Who said boating at Jozini wasn’t fun! It is rumoured that due to potential political repercussions down in the Makatini flats and the Maputo basin, DWA (Department of Water Affairs) will continue with their annual release in October / November. Let’s hope the Rain Gods look upon us with favour before then. I must say however that we did face this very same situation a couple of years back when we received some fantastic January rains resulting in the dam rising 4m vertical, so I remain optimistic that by February 2016 – conditions will return back to normal. The bad news however is that given this current situation, it has been decided to postpone the annual Tiger Fishing Spring Festival to next year March and the consensus seems to be that we continue to run it during this month moving forwards. Ok, so we lose the ‘’Spring’’ and replace it with ‘’Summer’’ – worse things can happen. I will keep you informed on firm dates for next year. This video taken on my boat in May will remind you why it’s all worth it! Best conditions I have seen in my 9 years in Swaziland…..
So onto the more mundane activities of estate operations – life ticks over as we fly the flag high in the lowveld. New ranger tents have been erected at our East Shore Ranger Camp, our Land Cruiser and S/Cab Hilux both received a full respray bringing them back into contention with 2015 models, the contractors entrance is getting a face lift with the construction of a cattle grid and some landscaping using succulent plant species. The Swaziland Dairy Board and Ministry of Agriculture have been granted access to the reserve in order to harvest grass for supply to local community livestock. Firebreaks are underway resulting in some sleepless night for management……limited roadworks are being undertaken on mountain road focusing on the dips and gulleys, a new water abstraction system for the treatment plant is under review for implementation when levels rise again and new piping has been laid from our borehole to Motolo’s pan on your left as you exit Funga Village. Now acting as a water source to a variety of game, one is usually guaranteed to see at least 2 – 3 species upon entry. This bring me to game management. Despite the drought, we are fortunate to have some of the best grazing on the continent and this is no lie. No casualties have been reported to date and the lack of internal pans and water sources deeper in the reserve areas make for some spectacular game viewing on the flood plains especially by boat. I am pleased to report that another White Rhino has entered our reserve and seems to be travelling far and wide in his reconnaissance mission of his new territory. This has been reported to Pongola Nature Reserve and we will continue to monitor his whereabouts. A buffalo calf has also been sighted with our breeding herd whilst I found a young bush pig stashed in a tree some time back right off East Shore Road (picture below). That’s 3 of the big 5 right there! Below is footage taken from a trail camera that we set up in the hope of catching the leopard as he / she returned for the kill. Unfortunately we were not so lucky but we were pleasantly surprised to see what else turned up. Take a look……
Limited culling has also been introduced on the Western shores to manage the population explosion of particularly warthog and on a smaller scale impala and wildebeest. This is a good indication of a healthy population and has the added benefit of adding income to the LOA coffers. More good news on the financial front is that the LOA Committee has for a 5th year running approved no increase in levies from 1 July 2015 – 30 June 2016. We have scraped through 4% under budget as of end June 2015 and I intend to do the same for the upcoming year.