Posted by: megandnath | February 15, 2011

Hluhluwe Game Reserve – The land of the Rhino

After leaving Durban we headed south to Port Shepstone for a couple of days to check out where Jono lives and stock up on supplies needed for our adventure into the heart of Zululand. Port Shepstone is situated along the stunning south coast in an area covered with banana plantations and sugar cane fields. Then after passing back through Durban we speed north on the motor way following the coast up into Zululand.

The Zulus are South Africa’s biggest tribe and Kwazulu-Natal is their original homeland. The countryside is made up of rolling hills with small houses covering it like a well laid blanket, there appeared to be no real established towns just the ever continuing spread of small colorful homes.

Eventually after 4hrs in the back of a hot vehicle we arrived at the gates to the park, Hluhluwe is South Africa’s oldest game reserve and probably the world leader in rhino conservation and breeding.  Unfortunately South Africa is experiencing a major issue they are calling the ‘Rhino War’ with huge increases in the number of Rhino being poached for their horns. In 2010 alone over 240 Rhino were killed by elaborate poaching rings, a number which is dangerously high when you consider how fragile the population is and how few animals actually live in the wild. I had just finished a book called ‘To Save an Elephant’ about 2 guys who single handedly stopped the trade of Ivory back in the late 1980s. At that time over 100,000 African Elephants had been killed to feed the illegal ivory trade. Through bribery, corruption and absolutely useless control systems countries like Tanzania had all but lost their Elephants so rich people in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and the USA could have ivory jewelry and ornaments.  The ivory was smuggled out and sent to Dubai where it was then transferred to Hong Kong and Singapore before being sold onto its final destinations. These 2 guys literally uncovered the whole elaborate scheme and just like a secret spy type movie they filmed and photographed everything. Eventually they convinced the world agency in charge of regulating the trade in wild life to place a total ban on ivory. I can’t help but think more needs to be done now to stop the growing number of animals being killed for nothing more than thick hair in the shape of a horn.

Luckily for us Hluhluwe has a very high Rhino population and it wasn’t long before we spotted our first white rhino. Over the next 3 days we encountered an amazing 22 white rhinos and 3 black ones.  At one stage we came across a gathering of 6 of them as they nibbled the long grass just as the sun was setting, on another occasion we met a young white rhino on the road, it was intent on traveling towards us down the road and would not move, as we crawled back it would follow us, obviously it wanted to go where we were and nothing would prevent it from doing so. For at least ½ hr we sat watching it only 5m from the vehicle playing a game of cat and mouse together, eventually we backed away far enough for it to pass us and continue on its way.

Rhinos have incredibly bad eye sight so the whole time we were watching it wouldn’t have been able to see us but with its very good sense of smell and hearing it new exactly where we were. Some of the Rhinos we saw had massive horns that were as long as a human arm and pointed sharp at the end – a great sight to see an animal that was clearly very old but also very safe and protected in the park. Some places now cut off the horns so poaches won’t be tempted to kill them.

As well as the numerous rhino sightings Hluhluwe was full of Elephants enjoying the long grass and rich food sources that the rainy season has left behind. Over the 3 days we saw hundreds of Elephants of all shapes and sizes. On one particular occasion we meet the biggest Elephant I have ever seen strolling casually down the road, once again it wanted to go exactly where we had come from and so a standoff ensued. With the huge size of this one our 4×4 would have had no chance had it decided to flip us with its trunk so we quietly backed away, as we did the Elephant followed us always staying about 5m in front. Eventually we ran out of road and had to pull over to the edge and the monster Elephant passed within an arms reach of the car! Jono and I looked behind us to see the girls curled up in the back absolutely terrified that this huge animal would charge us and flip the vehicle. It was so big and so close to us it was impossible to photograph it! Just behind the vehicle it stopped in a mud pit beside the road and proceeded to cover itself in mud before meandering off into the grass.

As well as all of the Rhino and Elephant we also had another brilliant encounter with 3 spotted Hyenas. They appeared out of the bush just in front of us and trotted on past the vehicle, their mouths open and tongues out all covered in red blood having obviously come from a kill.

Unfortunately we never saw the Wild dogs that help to make Hluhluwe so famous and we will also have to leave Africa without having seen a leopard. It’s easy to get disappointed about having not seen these two animals but when I think about what wildlife we have seen we have been very very lucky. Meg’s and I both agreed that Hluhluwe made it into our top 3 game parks in Africa and if anyone is considering a visit to South Africa it should be at the top of your list.

Leaving Hluhluwe behind we headed back down the coast to Durban and back to Jono’s parents place, after 3 days of full on driving and peering out a window we were all very tired and welcomed the rest and relaxation as well as an extreme game of backyard croquet.

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