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Historic return of elephants in KwaZulu-Natal’s Babanango Game Reserve

Sameera Casmod |
4 October 2023 | 11:06am CAT
2-min read

Elephant in the Kruger National Park
Picture: File image/Sameera Casmod

In a monumental conservation victory, the Babanango Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, has welcomed the return of wild elephants after an absence of over 150 years. The remarkable reintroduction of these majestic creatures into the 20,000-hectare reserve represents a significant milestone in the ongoing efforts to restore biodiversity and genetic diversity to the area.

The Babanango Game Reserve, which encompasses a substantial portion of land leased from local community trusts, has long been a beacon of hope for both conservationists and the surrounding communities. The income generated through land leases and conservation levies has proven vital for the economic prosperity of the region.

Kenneth Buthelezi, chairperson of the Emcakwini Community Trust, expressed immense joy at the return of elephants to Babanango. He highlighted the transformation of the landscape, which was once home solely to cattle herds benefiting a select few but is now a sanctuary for the Big Five, benefiting the majority.

“We are filled with joy and delight that the beautiful rolling hills and mountains of Babanango are now home to the Big Five for the benefit of the majority, who were disadvantaged in the past,” Buthelezi reportedly said. He emphasised that the arrival of elephants fulfilled the dreams of those who initially envisioned establishing a Big Five game reserve, extending heartfelt gratitude to all involved.

Chris Galliers from Conservation Outcomes praised the Emcakwini Community for their vision in preserving land for biodiversity and cultural conservation. He also thanked investors and the Kwangono and Esibongweni communities for contributing land for the same purpose. Galliers referred to this momentous occasion as a “conservation milestone” and commended the collective effort in positioning the reserve for elephant range expansion.

The Babanango Game Reserve welcomed a total of 16 elephants, comprising a breeding herd of seven from Manyoni Private Game Reserve in Maputaland, with genetic lineage from Kruger National Park. Additionally, two bulls from Tembe Elephant Park in northern KwaZulu-Natal and seven elephants from Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape have joined the reserve’s elephant population.

Ryan Andraos, the general manager of conservation and operations at Babanango Game Reserve, expressed his elation at the historic moment. He credited the dedicated efforts of numerous individuals over many years for making this achievement possible and emphasised the profound impact of witnessing these magnificent creatures traverse the landscape.

The introduction of elephants from various regions in South Africa into a single population is a crucial step in enhancing genetic diversity. This diversity is vital for the long-term health and survival of the elephant population and contributes significantly to the conservation of this iconic species. In southern Africa, the primary challenge facing elephants is the reduction in available habitat, making the Babanango Game Reserve’s role in their preservation all the more critical.

Elephants, as megaherbivores, play a pivotal role in the ecological functioning of the reserve. They efficiently recycle plant matter, benefiting species such as dung beetles and birds. Moreover, elephants serve as habitat engineers, modifying landscapes as they consume vegetation that other species cannot access. Notably, they contribute to tree propagation by dispersing seeds.

The return of elephants to Babanango Game Reserve not only symbolises a remarkable conservation achievement but also underscores the importance of collaborative efforts in safeguarding the natural world for generations to come. This historic moment represents a win for both conservation and local communities, forging a path towards a more vibrant and ecologically balanced future.

Source: News24


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