iSimangaliso Wetland Park: uMKhuze Game Reserve

On the 15th of February 1912 the Mkuzi Game Reserve was proclaimed in the north of the Natal Province. At that stage the reserve covered 251km², with its northern and eastern border being the river of the same name. In the west the reserve straddles the Lebombo Mountain and in the south it reached to the Umsunduzi River and Nsumo Pan. Before its proclamation the area was popular among hunters, especially in winter when the dangers of malaria and tsetse flies were diminished, and as a result several animal species, including white rhino, buffalo and eland, were wiped from the area. With a large and impoverished human population living around it, after the reserve was established it faced, and still does, a never ending war with both commercial and subsistence poaching.

In the early years there was lots of hostility to the reserve’s existence, with neighbouring farmers seeing it as a breeding ground for the cattle disease nagana (of which the tsetse fly is a vector from game, which is immune against it). As a result, the reserve was deproclaimed in 1939 and control of the land transferred to the government veterinary department. Subsequently more than 38,000 wild animals were killed, with only black rhinos spared, after which an extensive aerial spraying campaign with poisonous insecticides followed. The war to control the tsetse fly was won at great financial and environmental cost. The reserve was re-proclaimed, under the auspices of the Natal Parks Board (now Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife), in 1954.

Shortly after, the reserve faced a new existential threat when the Mkuze River and the pans it feeds at Nhlonhlela and Nsumo dried up due to dams and extraction for irrigation upstream. With no surface water available for the animals the reserve staff had to sink deep boreholes in the bed of the river to pump water to two waterholes deeper in the reserve to prevent animals moving out. One of these waterholes, Kumasinga, is still a major attraction for both game and human visitors.

In 1972 the Nxwala State Lands, on Mkuzi’s then south-eastern boundary, was incorporated into the reserve, increasing its size by a further 58km². The reserve boundary was later moved further south to beyond the Umsunduzi River to bring it to its current size. Today the reserve covers 400km² and uses the more correct traditional spelling of uMkhuze for its name. It forms an integral part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Have a read here for more about the history of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

Map of uMkhuze Game Reserve (https://isimangaliso.com/)

uMkhuze is rich in scenery and biodiversity. Records indicate that the reserve is home to more than 700 indigenous plant species, 90 mammal species, 450 bird species, 64 kinds of reptile (perhaps as many as 85), 43 kinds of frogs and 32 fish species. The extensive Nsumo Pan, its shores lined by magnificent fever trees, is a watery haven for a myriad water-dependent birds and a magnet for other kinds of wildlife. Majestic riverine forest trees like the sycomore fig trace the course of the Mkuze River. Sand forest is a unique and endangered plant community in South Africa of which a tiny portion is protected in uMkhuze and the open plains of the reserve are covered by savannas and grasslands with a fascinating mix of plant species. Above this all tower the 600m high peaks of the Lebombos.

Elephants were reintroduced to the uMkhuze Game Reserve in 1994, and today number more than a hundred animals. They are however not seen very often.

While the founding population of uMkhuze’s white rhinos were translocated from Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park in the 1960’s, the black rhinos have occurred here throug the ages. What a pity that these enigmatic creatures are now again threatened by poaching

In August 2005, buffalo was reintroduced to Umkhuze Game Reserve (from Marakele National Park). Although numbering several hundred, they’re still not often seen and tend to remain in the wilderness areas far from human eyes.

After an absence of 44 years, lions were reintroduced to the uMkhuze Game Reserve in December 2013.

Lions at uMkhuze (18 December 2014)

uMkhuze is home to leopards, cheetahs and wild dogs, but we haven’t seen them yet. We did however have a few encounters with uMkhuze’s spotted hyenas over the years though.

uMkhuze harbours around 300 of the rare suni antelope which finds refuge in the sand forest.

uMkhuze is well know for its sizable population of the beautiful nyala.

Other herbivores that occur in uMkhuze are hippo, giraffe, plains zebra, warthog, bushpig, kudu, blue wildebeest, bushbuck, impala, steenbok, common and red duiker, baboon, vervet monkey, thick-tailed bushbaby and scrub hare.

uMkhuze is considered one of the top bird-watching destinations in South Africa

Cold-blooded creatures abound in uMhuze too, and visitors can expect to see anything from fish to nile crocodiles while exploring the reserve.

In 1958 Mkuzi Game Reserve opened to the public, when three rustic huts were erected for use by overnight visitors. The reserve’s Mantuma Rest Camp today provides a variety of comfortable accommodation options in huts, chalets, safari tents and cottages with a swimming pool available to accommodated guests. Unleaded petrol and diesel is available and the reception office doubles as a small shop selling mainly snacks and fizzy drinks. The Rhino Din-o is a small cafeteria in Mantuma that sells light meals and offers excellent value for money. There is also a well-shaded picnic site for day visitors in the grounds of the reception office. Guided night drives and guided walks through the Fig Tree Forest departs from the main camp. The exclusive Nhlonhlela Bush Lodge, overlooking the pan with the same name and able to accommodate 8 guests, is located a few kilometers away from Mantuma, while the rustic Umkhumbe Camp in the far south of the reserve also accommodates groups of up to 8 guests. There is a spacious camping ground at eMshopi at the western entrance to the reserve. All these overnight facilities are booked through Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. Malaria is still endemic in the area and precautions are strongly advised.

There are two access gates into the uMkhuze Game Reserve. In the west, 15km from Mkuze town, lies eMshopi Gate. In the east, providing easy access from Sodwana and the R22 road, is the newer Ophansi Gate which opened in 2006. Visitors have access to a road network spanning 100km within the reserve for game viewing, much of it tarred. There is a beautiful picnic site with braai facilities on the shores of Nsumo Pan. Photographic hides at kuMalibala, kuMasinga and kuMahlahla as well as two on Nsumo Pan are well maintained and very popular. The Lebombo Lookout Tower, just a few kilometers south of the main camp, is another spot not to be missed.

 

 

 

 

35 thoughts on “iSimangaliso Wetland Park: uMKhuze Game Reserve

  1. naturebackin

    Another wonderful post. uMkhuze really does tug at the heartstrings. The landscapes and vegetation are so beautiful and the pans so special. I particularly enjoyed your impressive gallery of birds. (Although I like the safari tents I still miss the simplicity of the rustic camp from times past.)

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      1. naturebackin

        The rustic camp comprised three thatched one-roomed huts with wooden-plank walls and raw concrete floors. Each had a bunkbed and a little wooden table/counter inside and nails in the wall to hang things on. There was a basic wooden ablution hut in the centre with two outside sinks. There was no lighting but there was a gas water heater for the shower. Cooking could be done on a concrete block outside each hut. Each hut was well spaced apart, but usually we were the only people there when we went. There was a huge old weeping boerbean in the camp, and there were resident owls and a leopard could be heard passing through sometimes at night. As it was in a clearing the view of the night sky was spectacular. It was demolished to make way for the second lot of safari tents. Sadly missed for its simplicity.

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  2. wetanddustyroads

    Sjoe, dit voel nou behoorlik of ek op ‘n virtuele wildrit was! Daar’s soveel mooi diere en die landskap tonele is pragtig! Ek kan sien jy het baie moeite met hierdie post gedoen – dankie daarvoor, ons het dit weereens baie geniet 👏.

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  3. Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    Oh my goodness, this post represents a labor of love! Stunning landscapes… I grasped the ‘bush baby’ as a favorite, then quickly dropped it to gawk at the Cattle Egret – of course we have them here now, and in the USA, and I quickly traded it for the jacana, because we have the ‘Wattled Jacana’ here (jacana jacana) – but yours is lovelier, and then I traded Jacana for the Longclaw – (it reminded me of a Meadowlark) – but then I ‘dumped’ them all to focus on that Hoopoe — and was ready to claim one of those houses as a respite – but wait – repellent! no Malaria for me, and as holistic as I try to be, I choose repellent over another mosquito-vectored illness!

    Suffice to say, as always it is a joy to tour your world via your beautiful posts.

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      As always you are very kind and very generous, Lisa. Thank you very much! Indeed, malaria is not to be taken lightly and we also apply the repellent liberally and take the prophylactic medicines our doctor prescribes religiously.

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      1. Playamart - Zeebra Designs

        A friend handed me some little ‘dots’ that she bought somewhere for me…. she says they are to go on the skin are are a big help to ward off the mosquitoes. We’ve had about ten days of dry weather, and the landscape has changed fast.. but I’m betting that the rank growth along the barely-visible trails will still have lots of blood-thirsty mosquitoes! Having had dengue twice, I am quite dengue paranoid.. the last round had me sick for two months, and it was another year before i was semi well. it was a co-infection with chikungunya, and the latter’s effects on my joints still linger.
        Yes, by all means, stay pro-active at dodging those mosquitoes!

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        1. de Wets Wild Post author

          Thank goodness malaria is the only real threat we face from mosquitoes in, and then only in a few parts of, South Africa, and that it is fairly easy to prevent and cure if you get help fast enough. The malarial threat is also to thank for many of our protected areas remaining pristine through the colonial expansion, proving again that every dark cloud has a silver lining!

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          1. Playamart - Zeebra Designs

            I chuckled about dark clouds and silver linings! our rainy season is ending, and with it, the threat of dengue/chikungunya/Zika will lower. I still wear my boots which help shield against not only mosquitoes but also a possible snake. Always good to be proactive, and you for sure know that!

            Liked by 1 person

  4. sustainabilitea

    Another post with an embarrassment of riches, Dries. Of course you opened with a magnificent nyala bull and I love Joubert’s playful elephant shot…as well as all those other to numerous to mention. The talk about spraying reminded me how I hate all the poison sprayed on weeds here. I refuse to spray and aside from one necessary spraying the first year we moved into our house in Ohio, I’ve gotten rid of weeds by hand. I may be the only one anywhere around not spraying, but it’s my contribution to sanity in the ecological world. 🙂

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      I am glad to hear you also abhor pesticides, Janet. I’m always concerned about the non-target species of wildlife that gets killed in the process. The poor wagtail that picks up poisoned ants, or the owl that feeds on a poisoned rat. To think that at some point people had no qualms even using it in pristine areas like uMkhuze makes my head spin.

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        1. de Wets Wild Post author

          Already our drinking water is contaminated with traces of everything from micro plastics to scheduled medicine. Humans will cause our own downfall. We need more places like uMKhuze.

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Thanks for visiting uMkhuze along with us, Helen! Perhaps next time you’re on your way to the Kruger you could visit a few of the Zululand Reserves along the way.

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