Right in the heart of Zululand Northern Natal, is a place of breath-taking outstanding natural beauty, where an ambitious project is taking shape to rewild the area and create a conservancy. The conservancy will include resident elephants, communities and private game reserves. Ultimately it will offer a haven for the critically endangered Black Rhino.
In 2018 Thaka Valley rural farmers and Mawana Reserve reached out for assistance with human elephant conflict. A small team led by Grant Fowlds of Project Rhino spent 6 hours searching for the elephants by helicopter, luckily the elephants had moved on. Grant began surveying this valley and concluded that establishing a conservancy here would be a successful partnership for the communities, the animals, and the landowners.
This is truly a project that needs to succeed and cannot be written in a short story…
Consisting of 37 various reserves/farms the valley targeted is around 100,000 hectares of which Loziba could encompass 20,000 hectares in phase one and 40,000 hectares or more in staggered inclusions and be part of the Thaka Valley Communal Wild Conservancy (CWC). The area is lush with a wide variety of flora and fauna, large koppies and majestic flat-topped mountains. Endless grassland plains are supplied with abundant water flowing from two rivers, and various waterfalls. Further down the Thaka Valley there are eternal hot water springs and pools of luscious green mineral mud. It is truly a spectacular wonder.
According to local folklore this was the bathing area of King Shaka the legendary Zulu King.
The mighty Black Umfolozi winds itself through the valley and fills it with life, some parts wild and bubbling, others narrow and calm. The Hlonyani River crosses through and has impressive breathtaking areas of wide flat rocks on different levels, creating a bounty of pools and natural water features.
Culturally the Valley is rich with history. Many small communities lie dotted around the Koppies in the same areas of their ancestors. Situated high up on the slopes and tops, this enabled communities to see enemies approaching and sight herds of game. Today they live and farm corps such as mielies here. The impressive flat topped mountain known as Isihlalo Kashaka is said to have been the place King Shaka surveyed his kingdom from.
35 elephants live here and it is their home, unfortunately much of the fencing is broken, so the elephants are roaming out of the area and communities conflict with them. In a combined effort, 5 of these elephants where collared to enable them to be monitored daily via satellite. Tragically two years ago, during an attempt to herd a young raiding bull away from the community, Beyers Coetzee lost his life. A memorial to this great man by sculptor Andres Botha sits was erected at the site. He was a huge part of Loziba and this project will honour his legacy and love of the wild.
The urgent funding for the first phase of Loziba is vital to the elephants safety by restoring the fences on one of the reserves, which will prevent them from entering the communities crops.
There are over 7000 head of game here which include both brown and spotted hyena, leopards, giraffes, rooikat, servals, zebras, waterbuck, rooi hartebeest, reedbuck, warthog, and an amazing array of snakes including the African python. Baboons and vervets call this their home too. An array of birds including the secretary bird and our vulnerable vulture..
I observed many giraffes and noted the young bulls have more muscular legs, larger ossicones and are thicker set than their Kruger cousins. Their hides are glossy in the sun. While Grant and I drove up one steep path I was entranced by a young bull as he cantered gracefully all the way in front of us before disappearing into the Acacia.
The African Thorn Bush – Acacia - which is the most recognizable and iconic tree of Africa, is bountiful here and certain areas have perfect vegetation for Black Rhino...
On a hike up one of the flat-topped mountains where the team was spread out, I literally collided into a large herd of zebra who raced away up a huge grass escarpment that swept up towards the sky in a large spoon shape. From the other side it would have been one of the flat top mountains we had driven around on a previous day and gazed up at the sheer scale of the cliff. Now here we were on the wide flat plain at the top. This left me breathless and I will never forget crossing the flat yellow veld grass and gazing over the cliffs at the incredible vast plains below.
It was here that I looked up and right there in the sky for a moment - a cloud formation - a Rhino. See my photo of the cloud. Thaka Valley once was the home of the Black Rhino. Their spirit is strong here and tangible in the land that bore them.
It is vital for the Black Rhino to bring them back here.
The closest natural historic range where these iconic critically endangered animals live is the Hluluwe Umfolozi Park.
This valley was also the historic hunting grounds of the Zulu Kingdom, and perhaps all these elements meeting here is why they chose this place. It is a whole eco system. A world on its own. A truly African Eden.
Many visionary minds have mapped and researched here for this project. Thousands of hours of planning, building relationships with reserve owners and communities. Time has been invested in the education of the community and showing them how they can benefit from the conservation of endangered species.
A tree planting project is also already employing 8 people.
Loziba ,as its planned will be a gamechanger for the black rhino and will include all the “Big 5”. A first phase size of 10, 000 hectares will be the core sanctuary area for endangered species, the black rhino, white rhino, elephant, giraffe and Lion. In the next phase it hopes to reach 33,000 to 40,000 hectares. Adding to this will be areas allocated for various luxurious lodges, budget lodges, and could include regeneration of the incredible Thangami Spa where the hot springs are eternal even during drought. The whole Thaka Valley is an eco-tourists dream, with endless mountain biking, hiking, game viewing and wild camping. Rafting and river walking on parts of the Black Umfolozi are in my sights.
This Short Story…
We had large bonfires at night, normally Sundowners with a fire on a Koppie to see the red African sun, as it set over the Mawana Mountain, and then back to our lodge, where we sat around the fire, talking and laughing, surrounded by the barking of Hyena, and a galaxy of stars…
We had some serious driving testing skills and glad to say all vehicles where undamaged and no one was injured!
We ate delicious Puto Pap (wonderful local African meal made from maize enjoyed across all our cultures) and meat braaied by Kallie..
As a gesture to kickstart investment many thanks go to Mr John Charter of Human Elephant Foundation, the recently formed US based Truwild and three philanthropists who purchased farm Zoekmij.
Soon to be introduced will be a donation effort where you can “own” your piece of Loziba.
Grant Fowlds of Loziba and Project Rhino, James Arnott of CWC Africa and of Loziba, David White CEO of DRG Outsourcing, John Charter of Human Elephant Foundation and myself were hosted by Karel “Kallie" De Walt of Mawana.
Please join us to rewild the land here. The time is crucial to our endangered species.
Spread the word and buy that hectare to help Save the Rhino.
See the MOJO Streaming interview here.
Please feel free to comment here and share or message me directly.
Koppie: An Afrikaans word for a small hill rising from the veld.
Veld: Afrikaans word for field
Meilie: Afrikaans word for corn