Who can believe it is already November 2018 and we are on the downhill run to yet another Christmas. Some uncharacteristic weather of late can forgive one for not fully contemplating how close we are to cooking that Christmas Turkey and munching away on seasonal desserts crammed full of raisins!
As I sit here writing this newsletter, the wind is peeling off the Lubombo mountain range and whipping its force around the flora and fauna of our reserve. The clouds are moving with purpose across the skies and vultures are taking full advantage of these conditions in their playground. After some recent sporadic rain the bush is looking fit and vibrant – bristling with hues of green colour. Natural water is readily available, and the game looks well hydrated.
We still wait for those sweltering hot days to come, those days that remind you how important it is to make sure you packed your SPF50 – or congratulate you for building a decent pool at your lodge and purchasing that ice machine on your last visit into town……
Despite the various WhatsApp groups that have been formed, let me run through my version of events and updates for the past year – please excuse any duplication if it occurs.
Checking back on my last newsletter – the main topic was the drought we experienced at that time, so I did a little digging into the archives (aka smartphone) and I note that the first decent rains post drought started coming in mid-December 2017. I have a video on file of the Pongola river flowing strongly on the 13.12.17. I always use the old bridge in the river at the N2 Pongola crossing as a reference point and this was when things started taking a turn for the better. Another serious dump of rain in March further assisted us with river levels almost covering the old bridge by the N2 Pongola crossing.
Since then we have had some good localised rain (records show an average rainfall of 555ml so far this year on RJGR), although there is still some way to go before water levels return to their former glory. On the bright side, Ndlovu Slipway has been operational since March and I still think it is one of the best launches on the dam. So whilst 2017 saw little angling activity, 2018 has improved considerably in this aspect. We currently sit on 43% as opposed to 36% last year this time – with good summer rains in our catchment area and a bit of luck, hopefully we see our stretch of water forging its way northwards deeper into the Kingdom of eSwatini.
That brings me to my next point, for those of you who don’t know – Swaziland has now been officially changed to eSwatini by His Majesty King Mswati III, this took place in April during celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Swazi independence.
The new name, eSwatini, means “land of the Swazis”. The change was unexpected, but King Mswati has been referring to Swaziland for years as eSwatini. Apparently it was the name the King used when he addressed the UN general assembly in 2017 and at the state opening of the country’s parliament in 2014. You will notice that our new logo above has been modified to reflect the new name.
Let me touch on some operational aspects. In December we sold our old single cab Hilux with 550 000km on the clock. If you consider that is the same as driving 14 times around the world on the equator (mostly gravel road), it is pretty impressive. We took ownership of a new shape Hilux in December and since then have had no comebacks.
January saw the first wedding on Royal Jozini held at Kujabula Lodge. It was Kujabula Manageress’s wedding Lorraine and despite the blistering heat, an enjoyable time was had by all. Lynda Van Niekerk is helping with a further wedding next year for an overseas couple – hopefully it is not in summer!
In February we installed a new Lorentz Solar Borehole Pump at Funga Village, this also supplies Motolo’s pan and I can see why they call this the ‘’Rolls Royce’’ of pumps since that pan has been full all year round. All the game from the neighbouring area congregate there at least once a day and even Kohlewe the bull elephant has given up on his quest for clean filtered ‘’pool’’ water and has recently been seen drinking there on a more regular basis. After a pint or 2, he comes and terrorises our night watchman by foraging close by!
In the month of February, we also hosted the AGM for the Swaziland Game Ranchers Association (SGRA), this took place at Brown’s tented camp and the reserve received good praise from those who attended.
March saw the creation of ‘’Marula Mobile Camp’’ near Marula way. The purpose of this ranger camp is to have a quicker response time to any poaching incursions in that location and the impact this camp has had is noticeable. The camp is fully mobile and can be stripped at any time leaving no permanent footprint on the environment.
We also installed a new electric gate with gooseneck push buttons at East Shore Road, many thanks to Norman Chesworth and partners for their contribution.
The existing floating jetty was revamped and put at Ndlovu Slipway in April.
During May, we did a major upgrade on all signage relating to Royal Jozini – this included signage on the main road to reflect the new name of eSwatini, signage at the boom gate, internal speed signs (which seem to be the nemesis of most elephant bulls) and 100 x ‘’Private Property – Armed Guards on Patrol’’ signs along our perimeter fence-line.
On the 25th June, two new field rangers joined our ranks after completing our in-house 3-month training course – they are Sibusiso Magagula and Bheki Mkaliphi.
August saw another 30T load of acacia hardwood being exported to Durban for resale.
September brought our last chance to burn blocks before the rains come. Can you believe it, having to wait until September before you think the grass will actually burn because it has been too green for most of the year? We did manage to burn 4 blocks (images below) although conditions were not great, the grass was still pretty wet and did not provide for a hot burn, but at least we burnt of the moribund (dead grass clumps) and allowed for future regeneration of new shoots.
One of the most highly anticipated events of the year also took place in September – the Tiger Fishing Spring Festival – after 4 disastrous years of drought, our beloved Jozini Dam made somewhat of a recovery and graced us with a 46% level making it possible to resurrect this annual tradition. The competition took place over a reduced 2 days now on the 7 – 8 September and saw close to 40+ anglers battle it out in 10 boats whilst dealing with some seriously unpredictable weather. This included a world class storm on the Friday night!
Unfortunately the fishing was not good at all despite fishing being sublime the two days before the competition started. Fish pulled out were disappointing and up until 3pm on the Saturday afternoon, it looked like the winning tiger fish was going to be 1.2kgs. Luckily Jesse from the Kujabula Team saved us all from embarrassment and caught a nice 3kg tiger an hour before lines went up. Congratulations went to the Kujabula Team who also won the biggest bag – individual and boat.
In October we put some focus into developing new roads and still continue when possible to complete our road programme for 2018. See below for a map showing the new roads in orange line. They are named as follows:
• Ranger Rock Road (Section 28) – this is a link between East Shore Road and Marula Way which accesses a new ranger tower we are constructing on the koppie there aptly called ‘’Ranger Rock’’. It takes you into some beautiful open area revealing a lot of bulk grazers like zebra and wildebeest. It also travels through a knob thorn forest – very scenic.
• Bushbuck Boulevard (Section 19) – this is an extension of the original Imbabala (bushbuck) road and like the name we tend to see a lot of this species in the area. It forms a convenient link between West Shore Road and Mara Way
• N10 Alley (Section 10) – this road was purely cut to act as an access between West Shore Road and Mara Way without having to travel to much distance. The bush is incredibly thick allowing for limited game sightings. We hope the elephants will assist in opening this area up in due course.
• S10 Alley (Section 10) – the Western section of this road takes you through some beautiful open country full of bulk grazers and impala before entering a band of thick vegetation prior to Mara Way.
• Nkonkonini Extension (section 15) – meaning Wildebeest in Siswati, this is an extension of Nkonkonini in Section 14 and hugs the bush belt meandering its way through open country allowing for good sightings.
We will be updating the Avenzamap app with all this new information and post it on the WhatsApp group for all of you to download. I have to reiterate how handy this app is, it really does make your visit a lot easier by guiding you around the reserve without hassle. For those that don’t have it, please download soonest.
Despite the abovementioned operational highlights, throughout the entire year we continue with any other operational aspects that demand our attention. These range from fence repair and maintenance, fence electrics, stripping and extension of fences as dam levels rise and fall, slipway maintenance, repairs to the water reticulation line and treatment plant, fence patrols, ranger excursions, road maintenance and vehicle / equipment breakdowns to name a few. A new demand of late seems to be beehive removals – not a popular duty during the summer months!
Moving onto our team of Field Rangers – we currently have a total of 12 field rangers working full time for us. By way of reminder, they are split between 4 camps (Zibe, East Shore, Mkhonto and Marula mobile) on a rotational basis. Staff also rotate without any predictability through these camps and patrols happen at any time to avoid routine. The patrol of the Elephant-proof fence is now done by Thembinkosi Mamba of Gumbi’s team freeing up rangers for more time in the bush. The elephants south of us between our SE boundary and the gorge take up a lot of time as they continuously try to gain entry but after the destruction they did during the drought, we try to avoid a repeat of this situation at all costs.
The purchase of the quad bike for Vusi Mbhamali has proved to be invaluable. I notice many quad bike tracks whilst doing afternoon runs in the reserve and the operational side of the ranger team seems to be improving in both efficiency and effectiveness due to Mbhamali’s ability to conduct spot checks on these rangers. We always continue to look for further improvement in our duties and more effective time management.
In early October, our head ranger found spoor indicating that a reedbuck had been poached near section 16. The spoor was tracked to a homestead in Mbangweni not far West of the MR8 National Road. The incident was reported to the Lavumisa Police and they helped us with an official house to house search which turned up meat in one of the homesteads where a woman was cooking meat. The woman was arrested, prosecuted the next day and charged with 4 years’ imprisonment or a fine of E4 000. This apprehension deserves huge congratulations to those involved, news of these little victories spread like wildfire amongst the poaching syndicates and boosts our morale in the fight against these criminals.
So I have saved the best for last – our most precious resource being our wildlife. It astounds me sometimes when I think back to the years 2009 – 2012 – a time when we were incredibly concerned about the lack of game and with it, game sightings. A time when we couldn’t get permits to purchase new game and even hired a chopper to internally relocate game from our Western shore to the Eastern section. It is inspiring to think that this is now the least of our worries. Our game numbers rise exponentially year on year whilst our genetics continue to show their class with the regular amount of exquisite bulls seen in a variety of species.
Mike Oldfield’s trail cameras strategically positioned inside East Shore Reserve seem to pick up fairly frequent leopard activity in that area, and our elephant population is behaving themselves for the most part except for Kohlewe who does tend to get aggressive during musth. He has developed a tendency to react to any passing vehicles by immediately breaking into a fast walk / run when one passes by in a vehicle – so please be vigilant and sensible when you see him. He tends to hang out near Motolo’s pan as you enter the reserve from the boom entrance gate.
For the past 14 months, our White Rhino population increased from 1 to 3 then to 5 with a new calf being born inside our reserve. Obviously, we were both blessed and pleased to have these animals on our reserve, however they did not belong to us and their rightful owners Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife wanted them back. After obtaining the relevant permits which is no easy task considering they are CITES species, on the 23rd August a joint operation with Ezemvelo and Big Game Parks assisted in capturing all 5 White Rhino and relocating them back with their rightful owners. It was bitter sweet to say goodbye as their presence made us a Big 4 reserve, but as a land manager they certainly come with their own set of responsibilities if you consider the rhino poaching war being waged outside our borders, and I was relieved that their protection had been passed back to their rightful owners.
Here is a link to some footage of the WR capture – https://vimeo.com/301580080
Finally, let me end of by reminding you all about our Loyalty Bush Breaks Scheme. Lynda Van Niekerk and I are pleased to announce that the Loyalty Bush Break Scheme has been very successful to date and the LOA will continue with this scheme in 2019. However, since allocating suggested weekends and debiting levy accounts for service fees has proved to be administratively cumbersome, we have implemented a few subtle changes to make the system more streamlined and effective for all concerned.
As per the arrangement in 2018, each investor will still be entitled to TWO long weekends, these will run from a Thursday – Sunday or Friday – Monday. You are also welcome to take these days during the week should you prefer. Split between 6 varying accommodation options, these weekends are based on 6 – 8 guests.
Here are some amended T+C’s regarding this scheme:
• Each investor will be entitled to 2 long weekends per year irrespective of the number of plots owned or the location of these plots.
• Investors must book directly with Lynda on firstname.lastname@example.org and choose their own dates to be reserved for 2019. These will be regarded as firm reservations once dates are confirmed by Lynda.
• Bush Breaks cannot be booked for public holiday weekends but can be utilised over school holidays if desired.
• Lynda will bill the investors the service fee for the use of the lodge, this will be R1,500.00 for each 3 day booking. This service fee will be payable 30 days prior to arrival.
• Service fees may be transferred if dates have to be changed but it is not refundable if the Bush Breaks is cancelled or for any ‘’no show’’.
• At least one person of the visiting group MUST be an investor in Royal Jozini.
• Your levy account must remain in good standing in order to qualify for this reward.
• These weekends cannot be sold onto 3rd party.
• If you wish to add further nights to these rewards, these will be charged at listed rates less 20% discount. (The service fee does not apply to these nights).
These new T+C’s came into effect on the 1st November 2018.
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 soon at Royal Jozini Private Game Reserve.