Hluhluwe–Imfolozi Park, formerly Hluhluwe–Umfolozi Game Reserve, is the oldest proclaimed nature reserve in Africa.
It consists of 960 km² (96,000 ha) of hilly topography 280 kilometres north of Durban in central Zululand, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa and is known for its rich wildlife and conservation efforts.
The park is the only state-run park in KwaZulu-Natal where each of the big five game animals can be found. Due to conservation efforts, the park now has the largest population of white rhino in the world.
However, the rhinos and the park’s wilderness areas are now threatened by plans to build an open-cast coal mine right on the park’s border, a plan that a growing coalition of organizations is fighting to stop.
Throughout the park there are many signs of Stone Age settlements. The area was originally a royal hunting ground for the Zulu kingdom, but was established as a park in 1895. The Umfolozi and Hluhluwe reserves were established primarily to protect the white rhinoceros, then on the endangered species list.
The area has always been a haven for animals as tsetse flies carrying the Nagana disease are common, which protected the area from hunters in the colonial era. However, as the Zululand areas was settled by European farmers the game was blamed for the prevalence of the tsetse fly and the reserves became experimental areas in the efforts to eradicate the fly.
Farmers called for the slaughter of game and about 100,000 animals were killed in the reserve before the introduction of DDT spraying in 1945 solved the problem. However, white rhinoceros were not targeted and today a population of about 1000 is maintained.
On April 30, 1995, the then President Nelson Mandela visited the then Hluhluwe Game Reserve to celebrate the park’s centenary. Hluhluwe–Imfolozi was originally three separate reserves that joined under its current title in 1989.
Geography and climate
The park is located in the province of KwaZulu-Natal on the east coast of South Africa. The park is closest to the town of Mtubatuba , Hluhluwe village and Hlabisa village.
The geography of the area differs from the north, or Hluhluwe area, to the south, or Umfolozi area. Hluhluwe–Imfolozi Park is partly in a low-risk malaria area.
This area is situated between the two Umfolozi Rivers where they divide into the Mfolozi emnyama (‘Black Umfolozi’) to the north and the Mfolozi emhlophe (‘White Umfolozi’) to the south.
This area is to the south of the park and is generally hot in summer, and mild to cool in winter, although cold spells do occur.
The topography in the Umfolozi section ranges from the lowlands of the Umfolozi River beds to steep hilly country, which includes some wide and deep valleys. Habitats in this area are primarily grasslands, which extend into acacia savannah and woodlands.
The Hluhluwe region has hilly topography where altitudes range from 80 to 540 meters (260 to 1,770 ft) above sea level. 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 and is known as the Hluhluwe area, while the Umfolozi area is found to the south near the Black and White Umfolozi Rivers where there is open savannah.
The park is home to Africa’s big five game: elephant, rhinoceros (black/hook-lipped and white/square-lipped), Cape buffalo, lion and leopard. It is home to 86 special species including: Nile crocodile, hippo, cheetah, spotted hyena, blue wildebeest, jackal, giraffe, zebra, waterbuck, nyala, eland, kudu, impala, duiker, suni, reedbuck, common warthog, bushpig, mongoose, baboons, monkeys, a variety of tortoises, terrapins, snakes and lizards.
It is one of the world’s top spots for viewing nyala. The park is a prime birding destination and is home to 340 bird species. The Hluhluwe River Flood Plain is one of the only areas in the whole of South Africa where yellow-throated, pink-throated and orange-throated longclaw species can be seen together.
Birdlife include night heron, Wahlberg’s eagle, Shelley’s francolin, black-bellied korhaan, Temminck’s courser, Klaas’s cuckoo, little bee-eater and crested barbet.
In 1981, the Natal Parks board (now Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife) attempted to reintroduce African wild dogs into the park.
Twenty-three dogs were released in the reserve, most of which had been bred in zoos. However this met with limited success and since then the population has fluctuated between 3 and 30 individuals.
The park is the birthplace of rhino preservation, breeding the species back from extinction. As the home of Operation Rhino in the 1950s and 60s (driven largely by the park’s warden, Ian Player), the park became world-renowned for its white rhino conservation.
The Rhino Capture Unit of the park helped save the endangered White Rhino from the brink of extinction. As of 2008 there are more than 1,600 white rhino in the reserve and hundreds of the animals have been moved from here to game reserves around the world.
The success of this program has recently been compromised by the increase in rhino poaching within the park. This recent threat has not only become a great concern for the park, but for rhino conservationists countrywide.
The first visitor camp was built at Hilltop in 1934. The reserve has a 300-kilometre (190 mi) road network.