Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife looks after a staggering 120-plus protected areas in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, providing conservation management and ecotourism to help preserve this unique area and its wildlife for generations to come. From the waterways of iSimangaliso Wetland Park to the mountains of Maloti-Drakensberg Park, with a host of game reserves in-between, there is truly something for everyone.
waZulu-Natal is the most ecologically diverse of South Africa’s nine provinces. It is bounded to the east by a magnificent 800km Indian Ocean coastline of wide sandy sun-drenched beaches hemmed in by the world’s tallest forested dunes. In complete contrast, its western border is formed by the formidable rock buttresses and burnished escarpment of the Maloti-Drakensberg Park, a 200km-long montane wilderness whose 3000-plus metre peaks are frequently dusted with snow in winter.
Between these extremes, KwaZulu-Natal hosts a rare and alluring biodiversity: enchanted mist-belt forests alive with monkeys, squirrels and a blissful bewilderment of birdsong; grassy midlands whose soft green contours and temperate climate evoke the finest of English summer days on eternal replay; coral gardens that swirl with colourful fish, ancient whale migration routes, frolicsome schools of dolphins and gigantic marine turtles that come ashore nocturnally to nest; and, last but not least, this being Africa, there are also vast tracts of classic thorny savannah roamed by lion, elephant and other safari favourites — including the world’s densest population of both black and white rhinoceros.
The custodian of this natural abundance is Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the government agency mandated to administer KwaZulu-Natal’s remarkable tally of more than 120 protected areas. The primary focus of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife is the biodiversity and conservation management of KwaZulu-Natal’s myriad protected areas. These include several reserves of global importance. Not only is Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife the custodian of two magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the form of the Maloti-Drakensberg Park and iSimangaliso Wetland Park, but its world-class safari destinations – Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, Ithala and uMkhuze – have played a unique pioneering role in the conservation of Africa’s endangered rhinos.
A secondary but nevertheless vital role played by of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife is the management of South Africa’s largest ecotourism operation. This incorporates a full 65 protected areas that offer overnight facilities of some sort, ranging from luxury lodges and comfortable well-equipped resorts to simple campsites set deep in the bush – even, in the case of the Maloti-Drakensberg Park, a few caves offered as natural shelters to dedicated hikers. In total, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife provides more than 2500 beds per night across its portfolio of reserves, as well as camping facilities with a total capacity of 10,000 people per night. All these camps, resorts and lodges provide exceptionally good value to foreign and local visitors alike, making them ideal bases for independent and moderately adventurous outdoor enthusiasts to sample the wide range of experiences offered by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.
And what a unique and wonderful range of experiences these are. At the likes of Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, the primary activity is Big Five game viewing, whether from the comfort of your own car or in a guided 4WD tour, supplemented by guided game walks or (for the truly adventurous) overnight wilderness trails. The many reserves set in and around the Maloti-Drakensberg Park offer scenic, guided or self-guided walks into magnificent mountains adorned with mysterious prehistoric rock-art sites. The long pristine coastline protected within iSimangaliso Wetland Park is a superb base for marine activities such as snorkelling, diving, turtle-tracking and whale-watching, as well as close-up encounters with hippo and crocodile. Wherever you travel, the birdwatching is stunning, with more than 700 species recorded in the province. And when day ends, there is the embalming peace and quiet that characterises all the province’s reserves.
Tourists who stay overnight in the reserves, rather than popping in for day trips, have the added satisfaction of contributing directly to the conservation cause. Although Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife is a parastatal body, partly subsidised by provincial government, some 40 per cent of its operating budget is generated by its own business operations. Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife is also an important employer in rural areas, paying salaries estimated to support more than 30,000 people in communities that border its reserves. Furthermore, a levy on every tourist that pays to enter a protected area helps bolster a carefully administered Community Levy Fund, while dedicated staff help assist and teach good biodiversity conservation practices to local communities dependent on the sustainable use of natural resources — the very air that we breathe, water we drink and land upon which we walk.
The allure of the wild is reason enough to explore KwaZulu-Natal’s wonderful and uniquely diverse bouquet of protected areas. But by supporting the multifaceted custodianship of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, you also help maintain these magnificent parks for the benefit of both present and future generations.
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For more information, please visit www.kznwildlife.com