Let’s hope Rudolf and his reindeer team have got their SPF 50+ ready for their journey to the Kingdom later in the month, because the mercury is rising and we are sparring with another hot summer!
December 2016 – a blink of the eye, 3 double G & T’s and we will be into the new year. Probably a good thing in my opinion since 2016 has been a challenging year on all fronts.
So, let’s talk about the elephant in the room, no not the politics nor the herd! – but rather the devastating drought of 2016 which some say was the worst in half a century or more. RJB6 did not get a drop of decent rain for more than 5 months and the reserve told the story. Surprisingly we weathered the storm very well with limited mortalities and our good supply of grazing up in the North acted as a lifeline during these turbulent times. When I say, we fared well, we compare this to some reserves up near Simunye who are rumoured to have lost up to 3000 head of game during the drought – that is devastating indeed! The end of October brought some good rains and due to the lack of ground cover we had sheets of water flooding towards the low-lying areas resulting in a collection of natural pans inside RJB6 unlike anything I have ever seen in my time here. Further rain which added up to 100mm in a week at one point fast tracked the grass and tree vegetation into life and it is hard to believe the transformation of the veld in a few weeks. That being said, we haven’t had any rain now for 3 weeks and the brutal sun aligned with the thirsty soil is fast eroding away at these water points. The other concerning issue is the current dam level of 37.9% – the academics with thick glasses predict good rain over summer and we wait for it because if we go into another winter on the back of poor rains we will face another challenge. And so, we remain optimistic that the man upstairs will hear our prayers, fill up the dams and let us launch our boats in the new year so we can hunt for that elusive striped waterdog!
Besides the drought, there has been a lot of action in the reserve – most of which has been communicated on the WhatsApp group. Now with 80 group members, it really has been a successful way to communicate day to day activities on the estate. For those of you who are not on the group – let me remind you of events since my last newsletter in May.
Firstly, the arrival of 58 elephants which grew to 78 and capped themselves at 83 (I believe) gave my estate team more grey hairs than Richard Gere. When they decided to take up residence inside the East Shore reserve – we went into overdrive. The damage to top-structure, water reticulation infrastructure and vegetation was growing daily and it came to the point where we could not accommodate them anymore. In early October, we hired a chopper and over a period of 3 days, herded 58 out onto the Eastern shores going down towards the gorge. Despite this land being conservation land, the arrival of a herd of the world’s largest mammal obviously gave the Nyawo community a shock and there have since been some heated exchanges between the Nyawo’s and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife with some angry fingers being pointed my way. BUT at the end of the day, our reserve breathed a sigh of relief and up until now we have coped with the remainder 20+ strong herd. I am amazed however at the politics surrounding the future of these mighty pachyderms and how the population was allowed to explode in the first place. Human error has been paramount in this regard.
During the chopper relocation, we did manage to GNRH (male vaccinate) 8 emerging bulls and plans are in place to at least continue with this vaccination course on the 2 bulls currently inside RJB6. The problem arises in that we need to administer this on foot or vehicle and the dart gun shoots about 30m – that is close. Furthermore, it is advisable that we don’t use estate vehicles when doing this otherwise they will associate this experience with that vehicle and it could become a marked target moving forward.
What I haven’t mentioned is that prior to the chopper exercise, we relocated the internal fence from running along the reducing western shores of the dam and have now installed 2 electric strands all the way to the SA / SZ border running between the tree line and the original dam waterline. I thank all lodge owners for their contribution in this regard. A thank you must go towards the Space for Elephants Foundation and their contribution towards this fence and other infrastructure which includes the installation of a solar power pump in the north.
That brings me to my next point – the drought served to highlight how dependant we had become on the dam for water and this drastically receding life source mixed with no natural water in the rest of the reserve forced us to make use of the dormant boreholes up North. We installed 2 x solar powered pumps supplying water to 2 new pans, these being Kaden’s pan and Xander pan. Kaden’s pan is situated at the star junction between Zibe Road and Inyatsi way along the non-perennial Zibe river course. The arrival of recent rains has flooded this area making the pump unnecessary right now but come the dry months – it will serve its purpose once again for the game of that area.
The newer Xander pan was installed in November with the assistance of Mike Oldfield who sourced and installed together with the estate team a fantastic Lorentz system. This set up is slightly different in that it pumps water to an old cattle reservoir (the hope being that the clean water will attract the elephant herds) with an overflow into a lower trough for smaller game species and then a further overflow to the actual
Xander pan about 100m away. This pan is located on the corner of Zibe Road and Mkhaya break not far from our ranger camp in that area. What this water point does is open the beautiful grazing of the North to all species who previously had to travel big distances daily in summer / thrice weekly in winter to find water. These distances handicapped their ability to spread further North which in turn kept game numbers low in that area – I am pleased to say that this is no longer the case.
Keeping with game related stories, in July of this year we assisted Big Game Parks in a black rhino capture. A male black rhino had come across from PGR and since we are currently not recognised as an approved area for rhino under the Swaziland National Rhino Conservation Strategy, it was captured and removed to Mkhaya reserve where I am sure it will be well looked after.
To end of with the fauna of this mighty land – I am pleased to say that the cycle of life has come around again, we see different ages impala lambs bounding around different locations of the reserve, amazing to see that even within the same reserve, different locations affect the birthing times of certain species – clearly the east and North was lusher and so they experienced new life first. The warthog piglets are also starting to drop and I have seen a couple of fluffy brown haired wildebeest running amok as well.
Let’s not forget the red-billed queleas either who are here in force.
From 25th June – 22nd July 2016, Browns tented camp hosted 7 students from the UK and Italy who were doing as part of their degree practical studies on elephant and vegetation impact as a result thereof. Tutored by the highly-experienced elephant researcher and monitor from White Elephant Lodge, Heike Zitzer – it seems the course was a great success and feedback has been tremendously positive. We look forward to hosting them next year.
In August, we were visited by the Elephant Ignite Expedition on the 2nd day of their 100 day, 10 000km journey across 10 African countries raising awareness for the plight of the elephant. Please visit www.elephantignite.co.za for more information.
The estate baling team came to end this past week after supplying local farmers with some much-needed grazing in times of need, the income benefitting the LOA. We aim to continue this income stream in the new year.
Boating access is still disappointing but mark my words, as soon as that Pongola river starts rising dam levels and we can reopen Ndlovu slipway – you will be the first to know.
Finally, on the administrative side of things, the estate continues to operate successfully. I continue to strive for additional income streams to assist the financial position of the LOA, and together with the support of our Board of Directors, we trust the proposals that will be put forward at the upcoming AGM will be well received.
To the majority of you who pay your levies regularly, I thank you. This income is paramount to the survival of the RJB6 development and in turn the individual investment of each one of you. The Board has recently taken a hard line on those who fail to pay their dues.
I wish you all a magic Christmas and Happy New Year from the Estate team – God bless you all!