For those of us who have had the privilege of bumbling through Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park and spotting a crash of white rhino tranquilly grazing or having a snooze, it may come as a surprise to know that this was not always the case. I guess all stories have a beginning, and this story involved an initiative dubbed ‘Operation Rhino’ that went on to save the white rhino from the brink of extinction.
Hluhluwe-Imfolozi is the oldest game reserve in Africa with an offering of 96 000 hectares of wilderness for visitors to explore. (In laymen’s terms, that’s a whole lotta land!) The northern section of the park is Hluhluwe and the southern section is Imfolozi, although there are no fences separating the two regions, making it one massive safari extravaganza!
However, by the late 1890’s there were as little as 50 - 100 white rhinos left in the world, and this spurred the 'then-custodians' of Hluhluwe-Imfolozi to focus their efforts on the protection of the species.
By the 1960’s the population of white rhino had increased so dramatically in size that new fears emerged of such a high density of rhino in one area being targeted.
A plan was put in place and, led by the park’s warden Dr Ian Player, the white rhino were captured and relocated across the continent for the protection and survival of the species. Figuring out how to move one of the largest mammals in Africa took some experimenting but eventually the team landed on a method that was effective. As time has gone on, several adjustments have been made to allow for a safer process, such as better drugs for darting and airlifting rhinos by helicopter to their new locations.
It is incredible to be able to say that today Hluhluwe-Imfolozi game reserve is home to one of the largest concentrations of white rhinos in the world and is considered the birthplace of white rhino conservation.
And the work has not stopped.
Because the threat still exists; and it is still urgent; and it is still a crisis.
Thank you to all those who work tirelessly at protecting this species. Because of your efforts, the rhino will hopefully be around for generations to come!
Some info about Hluhluwe-Imfolozi:
· The Park is about 2.5 hours drive from King Shaka International Airport
· It is home to Africa’s Big Five
· Day trips available
· You can embark on the renowned Wilderness Trail
· Enjoy a private lodge safari experience
· It is close to iSimangaliso Wetland Park and World Heritage Site
References: November 2019; Hluhluwe and Umfolozi Game Reserves; SAHistory.Org
Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve