I realise the scarcity of my newsletters this year has been on par with our expectations for rain, but with the highly active WhatsApp group – I ran the risk of a lot of duplication on occurrences. However, it is November and the investors are definitely due some written word from our piece of paradise!
To say a lot has happened this year on Royal Jozini could be considered by most as an understatement.
Please forgive me if there is any duplication but I am going to throw all I can in here to paint the 2017 picture of activity for us all!
Let me start with the drought. Yes, the never-ending drought! No good summer rains during the 2016 / 17 season only heightened the lack of flow down the Phongola river and the consequent impact on Jozini dam levels. Last year at this time, the dam was sitting at 37.2%, this year 36.4% – less than a percent difference from 12 months prior. Given the little rainfall received, the continuous abstraction for agriculture from the southern end of the dam and outflow down by the dam wall – I must say that I find this quite surprising, and in a good way. I am still of the opinion that if we get half decent summer rains from now until January 2018 – there will be enough of a recovery to push the water back past Montgomery’s spit and most certainly allow for pleasant boating access from Ndlovu Slipway, possibly even Slipway 33.
Positive thoughts are needed!
Ok let us move onto our field ranger team. This department has certainly seen some improvements. Firstly, we relocated our Mpangele camp down south – close to Mkhonto Road – and this new haven is aptly called Mkhonto camp. Earlier in the year we seemed to be experiencing a small surge in poaching activity closer to the town of Lavumisa, hence the motivation behind the move. We have also constructed 3 new rooms and a kitchen at East Shore Camp, as well as erected a lookout tower near Xander pan – be careful if you climb it, the wind does whip around up there…… Vusi Mbhamali, our head ranger has got to be applauded on his efforts in keeping these young troops committed to their cause and to assist with this, we purchased a Kawasaki 300 ATV exclusively for his own work use. The objective behind this purchase is 2-fold –
• Give us the ability to conduct spot checks on our own ranger staff thus ensuring patrols are happening according to rosters as well as general management of the same staff
• Give us the ability to lift our game in the fight against poaching activity by providing quicker response times to situations and more vigilance on the ground
We have unfortunately had to let go of some of our rangers, but they have been replaced by youthful enthusiasm who gain in knowledge and ability day by day. Finally, our entire field ranger team is now sporting new camouflage uniforms so when one magically appears next to you like a lowveld bush genie, you know why……..
I would like to congratulate the field rangers on apprehending poachers in August who were handed over to the Royal Swaziland Police and convicted under the Game Act in record time. These little victories are incredibly important to morale on the ground. Our team currently sits at 12 field rangers.
Moving onto the reserve itself, there has been consistent maintenance to our road network and some expansion. Mountain road was re-gravelled in April, and when feasible we grade all main arterial roads. Bush clearing along the less-used roads continues in earnest.
A new road named by Gumbi and his team (Jay’s Way) has been cut. It is a short road currently only about 2 kilometres long which follows the Zibe river course from Sitwetwe Break past Kaden’s pan to Inyatsi way. The great thing about this new road is that it accesses remote bush areas and enables you to view the old river course and any stagnant pools within it from the summer rains. These pools held water from last summer rains right up until June / July this year and consequently attracted a lot of game to these areas. I think the road will bear many sightings. It is still a rough track and will not be accessible during the wet months, but worth a visit.
A new slipway south of Ndlovu slipway was also recently constructed but receding levels make this non-operational at present. In anticipation of the rains to come, the blue floating jetty has been revamped and is sitting at the workshop awaiting its return to glory!
The burning of firebreaks this year gave us many grey hairs. Some wild winds and tinder dry conditions made it a supreme challenge. After many heated discussions (excuse the pun) – the estate team did manage to complete the task – well done to Gumbi and his men. However, we also like to conduct block burns on an annual rotational basis to assist in veld management. This year none of us had the confidence for this under these conditions and visions of wild fires spreading throughout the reserve were a real threat – so after much caucusing we decided to give this one a miss! We will have our opportunities next year.
To assist in additional income for the reserve, grass bale sales of late have been decent. I guess there is a silver lining to the drought and we continue to bale for supply to local livestock owners. We also started a firewood project in April which entailed harvesting those trees that the elephants had knocked down. For the record we are not cutting down any live trees. The focus is on acacia hardwood which is cut to size and packed into bags weighing 10kgs. We have a buyer in Durban who has taken a 30T load for supply to the local market down there and hopefully will continue to buy from us. We have also supplied to retailers and private users within Swaziland. We will continue with this as long as there is a demand. Besides cleaning up the bush environment, it also creates new employment for local Swazi folk, so in my book – it is a win-win formula.
Let’s talk a little about our most precious possessions here at Royal Jozini – the wildlife. We work continuously to protect the inner sanctum of this reserve. This comes in many forms including anti-poaching activities, fence-patrols, water supply, maintaining the ecological balance and management of human-wildlife interactions.
Whilst we do that, the game does their side of the bargain and continues to grow and flourish. Yes, it is true, we have lost a lot of water with receding dam levels, but this has increased our grazing land by the same again. So, in true style, nature replaces the loss of one habitat with another.
To assist our game in this loss of water, 3 pans in the SW of the reserve have been expanded and excavated deeper. The thinking is that more water will catch here during good rains enabling the pans to survive evaporation and wind factors deeper into the dry months. I have noticed that from June – September, very little game congregates here due to the lack of water – they all move down to the shores of the greater dam. Water availability will assist in restricting this movement. The pans I mention are on Nkonkonini and Mhohlo tracks. We also have 4 operational boreholes scattered throughout the reserve feeding pans continuously – Goss’s pan, Motolo’s pan, Xander pan and Kaden’s pan. In addition, there is natural water in abundance near Mpangele road and numerous other areas. I would like to think we have this angle covered.
Our elephant population has for the most part behaved themselves this year. In comparison to their destructive impact on infrastructure and top-structure last year, 2017 has been quiet. Our rangers work around the clock to keep the 50+ herd that we pushed onto the Eastern shores out of Royal Jozini and our current elephant numbers seem to fluctuate between 30 – 35 depending on the bulls’ movements.
Other game is impressive, I have never seen some many nyala bulls as I have in the last few months. All beautiful specimens sporting their rugby socks. Kudu – wow, again another species that is flourishing. I came across a herd of 20+ last month and the waterbuck are off the charts. One herd alone exceeds 50.
There haven’t been any more sightings of leopard but recently a White Rhino Bull did walk into Royal Jozini and remains to this day. Ezemvelo is making plans to herd him back to their side. Hippo numbers abound and be careful, they are a bit grumpy these days as their natural water habitat reduces. I guess we would also lose our sense of humour if our lodge started losing the odd bedroom every now and then!
Moving on. There has been some rebranding of our beloved reserve. In the absence of lion and rhino, we fielded many enquiries about the rationale behind calling it Royal Jozini Big 6, and I tend to agree. So, we have now rebranded ourselves as Royal Jozini Private Game Reserve (the big 6 is no longer). Our existing logo has been modified and updated accordingly and our new website is now live. Please visit www.royaljozini.com. This new website amalgamates our old site www.royal-jozini.com with www.royaljoziniaccommodation.co.za. It certainly makes sense and we believe will make life easier for those visiting these sites. I must say a hearty thank you to Lynda Van Niekerk for all her tireless work in this regard. You really have been fantastic with your continuous enthusiasm, passion and service to Royal Jozini.
A quick word on lodge construction. Congratulations to the De Lange’s for breaking ground and we have another plan submitted for imminent approval. My door is always open to assist in this regard, be it advice on design, materials, local suppliers or workforce availability. Please do not hesitate to contact me.
Finally, let me end of by reminding you all about our newly developed Loyalty Bush Breaks Scheme. There has been a great response from most of our investors, but some of you are still missing out. I urge you to please take the time to follow up on your rewards by clicking on these links and contacting Lynda Van Niekerk on email@example.com to confirm your weekend.
That’s it from my side. I wish you all early festive greetings in the run up to Christmas and look forward to seeing you at Royal Jozini Private Game Reserve.
JAY AZRAN General Manager / Director SZ Cell +268 7602 3085 | SA Cell +27 82 442 0290