Our Burning Planet

HUMAN-WILDLIFE CONFLICT

Angry community shuts Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park gate, sets alight guard hut after repeated wildlife escapes

Angry community shuts Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park gate, sets alight guard hut after repeated wildlife escapes
A guard hut burns at the Cengeni entrance gate to the Hluhuwe-iMfolozi Park during a community sit-in protest on Saturday morning. (Photo: KZN Wildlife)

A guard hut was set alight and a park entrance gate shut to the public during a community protest at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game reserve at the weekend, sparked by the recent escape of several lions and other dangerous wildlife species.

Police were also called in to disperse protesters after a community sit-in protest at the park’s western Cengeni gate near Ulundi on Saturday. The park, established 145 years ago to protect a remnant population of white rhinos, is Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife’s flagship wildlife reserve.

According to Ezemvelo, community members stole cellphones, food and a piece of sophisticated rhino anti-poaching equipment from the nearby ranger accommodation quarters. A guard hut next to the Cengeni entrance gate was set alight and solar panels used to power an electrified fence were vandalised.

The protest was sparked by a series of recent escapes by dangerous animals, including lions, rhino, buffalo and elephant. In one incident last week, a 45 year-old woman was hospitalised after being knocked over by a white rhino outside her home near the park’s western boundary fence.

A guard hut burns at the Cengeni entrance gate to the Hluhuwe-iMfolozi Park during a community sit-in protest on Saturday morning. (Photo: KZN Wildlife)

One of the solar panels damaged during a community protest at the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park at the weekend. (Photo: KZN Wildlife)

A pride of five lions was shot and killed by Ezemvelo wildlife officers on 14 August after breaking out for the third time in a matter of weeks and killing several cattle.

Late last week, another two lions broke out and killed four more cattle. One of these predators was shot dead on Friday by wildlife staff, but anger in some communities was already high after two adult white rhinos broke out of the park and were seen close to residential areas.

Some members of the community were reported to have chased and fired several shots at the rhinos in the vicinity of a rural homestead, leading one of the animals to enter 45-year-old Zanele Mbhele’s yard. According to community members, Mbhele was lucky to have escaped death or serious injury after one of the animals charged towards her, ripping off her skirt with its horn.

In other recent incidents, elephants have also broken out of the park, prompting members of the Okhukho and Nqulwane community committee to lodge a complaint with the Public Protector and the board of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.


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In a formal complaint, committee members Msizi Myaka and Similo Khanyile said the repeated escape of wild animals and the poor condition of large sections of fencing around the park posed a serious danger to the lives of surrounding communities, who had also suffered the loss of several livestock from both lions and hyenas.

They said a buffalo was seen outside the reserve recently and four elephants had escaped into the Masokaneni area earlier this month.

In a media statement, Ezemvelo spokesperson Musa Mntambo said the Cengeni gate (one of three main entrances to the park) had been closed due to community protests and would likely remain shut until 15 August.

He confirmed that another two lions escaped last week, apparently via a gully along the park fence. One of the lions was shot on Friday after killing four cows, but the whereabouts of the second lion was unclear.

Mntambo said the protest at the Cengeni gate came as a “surprise”, as Ezemvelo management believed it had reached agreement at a recent community meeting to allow the conservation agency two months to repair sections of damaged fencing.

A resolution had also been passed at the meeting to employ at least 115 local residents to help fix the fence, but so far only 21 had not started work while Ezemvelo finalised a vetting process and waited for pre-employment medical reports.

“Some of the protesters broke into staff accommodation on 13 August and stole various items belonging to the field rangers like cellphones and staff food. They unfortunately stole a Cmore device which is used in the fight against rhino poaching and also burnt the security house next to the gate and damaged solar panels that power the fence.” 

Senior Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife staff and community members inspect homestead fences damaged by two rhinos last week. (Photo: KZN Wildlife)

A lion lies dead outside the western section of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. The predator was shot dead late last week by wildlife conservation staff after it broke out of the park and killed four cattle. (Photo: Supplied)

Meanwhile, Ezemvelo Acting CEO, Ntsikelelo Dlulane has appealed to community members to refrain from further protest.

“We request people that have issues with Ezemvelo to engage us instead of protesting. I have ensured that most of the resolutions adopted during the community meeting attended by the former Environment MEC Ravi Pillay are implemented. 

“The places where we have not started repairing the fence are remote areas that are not easily accessible by vehicles delivering the material. We have put a plan in place to attend to these areas and we appeal to the community to afford us some time. I also hope that those who took items belonging to our field rangers (including the Cmore device) will return them to us.” 

On Saturday, Dlulane also visited some of the six community members whose fences were damaged last week by two fleeing rhinos.

“Ezemvelo has begun the process of repairing the damaged fence. Dlulane also met with the family of Zanele Mbhele, the lady injured when a rhino stamped on her, and facilitated that her family visit her in hospital yesterday. Ezemvelo will cover all costs related to this incident,” said Ezemvelo’s media statement.

Nevertheless, community committee member Msizi Myaka said yesterday (14 August) that several residents believed Ezemvelo was not acting swiftly enough to repair the fence or to compensate them for livestock losses.

“We do not want to destroy the park, but we are talking about the safety of human lives. Guards must be placed day and night along weak spots in the fence and helicopters must be on standby to respond immediately if there are more breakouts,” said Myaka.

He blamed the destruction of the guard hut on “someone who was drunk, and set it alight”, denying that protesters were violent.

“We don’t encourage what happened (to the guard hut) on Saturday… Whoever did it must take the blame. At the same time, we worry that our homes are no longer a residential area when we find lions and other members of the Big Five roaming around us.” – DM/OBP

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Charles R says:

    There is not allot of lions in that park, they just killed most propably the last lions. Very sad. I noticed the settlements are right next to the parks…

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    Lack of maintenance is the hall mark of ANC management. Things look fine for a while because of the original installation and /or the previous management but go down hill quickly when maintenance budgets are used for salaries, cars, catering and theft.

    • Malcolm McManus says:

      I wonder how much poachers from the inhabitants of the surrounding communities contribute to the damaged fences? Always a story behind a story in the beloved country. Sad that wildlife has to be killed by whoever contributes to the animals getting out.

    • Coenie Harley says:

      Jip, where unskilled comrades take charge the “we will look into it” inaction takes centre stage and apparently only this unnecessary violence get them out of it.

  • Wendy Dewberry says:

    Looks like two stories in one. Failed legitimate community negotiations for safety, and a drunken group of angry thieves. Pity they had to be rolled into one because it kinda obfuscates the responsibility of the park and takes away the validity of the community spokespeople.

  • Margie Gibson says:

    We need to secure the nature reserves – can we think of a way to do this one thing? The fences / boundaries in the Kruger are nearly non-existent as are those of the reserves in KZN. Maybe international cooperation would be possible. We are late, we are late and need to act now.

    • Alastair Stalker says:

      This not a new problem. As someone who has spent quite a bit of time in Hluhluwe doing conservation activities, I have seen large sections of fence which are non existent. There was a “normal” ANC contract to a cadre contractor to fix part of it but they disappeared without completing the work. This can’t be foxed by Ezemvelo or the ANC for even if they had the money, beause of the procurement policies they would have to appoint an ANC cadre company. My only hope is that one of the large overseas conservation organisations take this on as a project.

  • Alan Salmon says:

    Ezemvelo yet again proving they are utterly incompetent and unable to maintain our parks. The entire management should be fired.

  • Rob Wilson says:

    ‘Ezemvelo management believed it had reached agreement at a recent community meeting to allow the conservation agency two months to repair sections of damaged fencing.’ I did a double take here. Two months to fix a fence between predators and rural residents. Really? There are far too many people wandering around as office workers in this park instead of being out there maintaining the place.

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