Land invasions and poaching threaten famed KZN game reserve

2014-11-13 00:00

A WORLD famous game reserve in northern KwaZulu-Natal is under threat.

Ndumo Game Reserve on the border with Mozambique and separated from the Tembe Elephant Park by the Mbangweni Corridor, has been subject to land invasions since 2008.

“We believe the integrity of the game reserve is at stake,” said Richard Penn Sawers, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife manager: northern protected areas.

As recently as Tuesday, according to a source, “another area was cleared and trees cut down”.

The reserve with its unique flood plain is recognised as a “wetland of international importance” under the international Ramsar agreement. It is also an international birding destination with over 430 recorded species.

A land claim for 1 200 hectares of the 10 117 hectare reserve saw ownership restored without occupation in 2000.

In 2008 members of the Mbangweni and Bhekabantu clans living in the Mbangweni Corridor removed Ndumo’s eastern fence and began clearing land for farming.

“The encroachment has widened and the eastern boundary still has no fence,” said Penn Sawers. “If this encroachment is left much longer, the Ramsar status of the reserve on the Pongola Floodplain could be jeopardised.

“If the invasions cross the Pongola river and spread towards the west the actual status of the reserve will be compromised.” Paul Dutton, an environmental consultant and former ranger at Ndumo, said people have now crossed the Pongola “into the heart of the reserve”.

Dutton said the reserve’s floodplain eco-system “has no comparison in the world” and that 14% of the reserve had now been destroyed.

“The entire reserve is very troubled and totally neglected,” said Dutton, adding that weirs have been constructed on rivers and that the Jozini dam also affects the flow of water into the reserve.

“The whole flooding regime has been changed”.

Dutton said that as well as the reserve’s Ramsar status being in question “if Ndumo and Tembe cannot be connected the Lubombo Transfrontier Park can’t happen”.

An additional problem, according to Penn Sawers, is that the Mbangweni Corridor “is used extensively by criminals to import and export contraband between Mozambique and South Africa.”

According to another source the land encroachment has seen a “massive increase in hippo and buffalo poaching”.

Penn Sawers confirmed this and said several people have been charged with poaching. “The majority of cases involve bush meat and this is sold to the public on pension days.”

An initiative has been launched with funding from the private sector and NGO’s to engage with the communities involved. Penn Sawers said “work in the area will start on December 1”.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has also applied for funding for community initiatives from the provincial Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs.

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