HiP in depth

Background

Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP) in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Province in South Africa is the oldest proclaimed park in Africa, covering 960km². iMfolozi Game Reserve was established in 1895 by the British colonial administration, prior to this, it was the exclusive hunting domain of Zulu kings, including the legendary King Shaka.

Hluhluwe Game Reserve was proclaimed in 1897 and is situated directly north of the iMfolozi Reserve. Logistically the two Reserves are managed separately, however ecologically they are managed as one Park and together referred to as Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP). HiP is run by Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife (EKZNW), the conservation authority for the province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.

iMfolozi Game Reserve forms one contiguous area with Hluhluwe Game Reserve in the north, and together they are referred to as Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.

Rhino Conservation

The Park is often referred to as the birthplace of rhino conservation. During the early 20th Century Southern white rhino numbers plummeted to around 50 individuals and urgent action was taken in iMfolozi to save the species from the brink of extinction. Through the dedication and sheer hard work of staff in the Reserve, the number of white rhinos increased to the extent that, in the 1950s, ‘Operation Rhino’ was launched. This saw excess rhinos in iMfolozi being captured and sent to restock reserves throughout Africa, as well as many zoos overseas. The action taken by iMfolozi meant that white rhino numbers have increased to more than 20,000 today. The Park therefore became world-renowned for its white rhino conservation.

Current management is continuing in the tradition of their predecessors, and the Reserve’s populations of both white and black rhinos have IUCN Key 1 status. The focus has shifted more to the more endangered black rhino, but each year ‘surplus’ white and black rhinos are still captured to restock other protected areas and game farms.

Anti-poaching and monitoring work

KZN’s main activities are anti-poaching and law enforcement, wildlife monitoring and habitat management, with rhino protection currently given top priority in HiP. Experience has shown that the best way to combat poaching is through direct anti-poaching work, coupled with good relations with the local community and environmental education programmes.

The ranger staff in HiP is indispensable to the future survival of the Park's black and white rhinos.Their jobs are incredibly challenging, often working in difficult and remote conditions. They frequently risk their lives as they come up against armed poachers in the park who endanger both rangers and rhinos. On average the ranger teams achieve around 8,000 to 10,000 patrolling hours per month. It is essential the rangers are adequately protected and equipped to carry out their work.

The rangers in HiP individually identify and monitor the black rhinos, but not the white rhinos. At present, the focus is very much on anti-poaching activities, as the Park has suffered a number of losses over the last two years.

The Park is currently divided into five sections. Each section is managed by a Section Ranger and has on average four field ranger camps. There are also two specialised Anti-Poaching Units, which carry out extended remote patrols. Hluhluwe and Imfolozi have an overall Park Manager Jabulani Ngubane.

The Park’s anti-poaching and monitoring work is carried out by ranger patrols by foot, vehicle, horseback, and aerial surveillance. It is important to maintain widespread and persistent ground coverage in the Park to deter poachers and carefully monitor rhino populations.

Grants from SRI help fund the Bathawk light aircraft, which is used to carry out aerial surveillance of the Park, it aids law enforcement activities and black rhino monitoring. The Bathawk is part of the Zululand Anti-poaching Wing (ZAPWING), which comprises helicopters, and fixed wing aircraft, used to tackle the poaching crisis. All aircrafts fly up to 30 hours per month, and can be used to respond to a potential poaching incursion, or carry out routine surveillance flights.

Monitoring and evaluation

HiP has a very strong monitoring process for all its ranger activities, which helps the Section Rangers to plan patrol activities. EKZNW has recently begun to use a Cyber-tracker system, which is a handheld device carried in the field that records, via GPS points, the area coverage and hours field staff work and any important information seen in the field, such as black rhino sightings, other wildlife sightings, carcasses and alien plants. 

Black rhino are carefully monitored in the Park, as they are much fewer in number than white rhino. All black rhino in the Park are ear-notched using a unique identification system, which allows each individual to be recognised. Detailed information is recorded for every black rhino sighting, including age, sex, ear notches, horn shape etc.

Community

HiP employs a large number of rangers and staff from the local communities surrounding the Park. The Park also undertakes activities to reduce human-wildlife conflict to mitigate any problems from the animals in the Park. 

Education

HiP has an education base at Centenary Centre in the middle of the Park, which is open to all visitors. Visiting school groups are brought here for conservation lessons.

Research 

The Park has a dedicated research department and there are a number of researchers carrying out studies on wildlife populations and invasive species management which feed back into the management plans.

Black rhino data collected by field rangers is used by the research department to aid management plans for the species.

Habitat and other species

HiP covers an area of approximately 960 square km, with altitudes ranging from 40-590 meters above sea level. Logistically, the two sections are managed separately; however,

ecologically they are managed as one park. Habitats in iMfolozi are primarily grasslands, which extend into acacia savannah and woodlands. Within iMfolozi is a large Wilderness Area, which has no roads and is very inaccessible, making it virtually impossible to patrol by vehicle.

The iMfolozi region has hilly topography and the high ridges support coastal scarp forests in a well-watered region with valley bushveld at lower levels. The north of the Park is more rugged and mountainous with forests and grasslands.

The Park is home to Africa's big five game: elephant, rhinoceros (black and white), Cape buffalo, lion and leopard. It is home to about 86 special species including: Nile crocodile, hippo, cheetah, spotted hyena, blue wildebeest, jackal, giraffe, zebra, waterbuck, nyala, eland, kudu, impala, duiker, suni, reedbuck, warthog, bushpig, mongoose, baboons, monkeys, a variety of tortoises, terrapins, snakes and lizards. The Park is a prime birding destination and is home to 340 bird species. Bird life include Night Heron, Wood Stork, Wahlberg's Eagle, Shelley's Francolin, Black-bellied Korhaan, Temminck's Courser, Klaas's Cuckoo, Little Bee-eater and Crested Barbet.

Visiting Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park

Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park has a number of lodges and campsites in the Park, bookable via the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife website. The iMfolozi Game Reserve offers a series of wilderness trails for longer hikes. Save the Rhino organises a Rhino Trek South Africa (next one likely to be in 2014) when participants walk through Somkhanda Game Reserve and Zululand Rhino Reserve before finishing in HiP.