Don’t you just hate it when you sit down to write a blog post or article that’s so boring that you can’t even be bothered to read it? Well that’s just what I have done so I am trying again! It’s not that the topic was boring it’s just that the words weren’t flowing like they should, so what I’ll do in this post is to try and include some of the more interesting stuff.
I will also not go into too much detail about the Somkhanda training as our MD Andrew Anderson has committed to write a post on that so I will touch on the reserve itself.
Somkhanda is a community owned reserve with the turn off roughly 18km north of Mkhuze Village in northern Zululand. It is a pristine 16 000 ha piece of land sprinkled with grassland and trees with hills that could almost qualify as mountains. The Mkuze River forms the southern border of the reserve that boasts enough roads and tacks to furnish a small country. Stew Noland can confirm this as he spent a week mapping as many roads as possible and hardly scratched the surface. This he did using an underpowered new Utility ATV which on the day I accompanied him, we managed to smash a stick through the floor boards and wasted many hours waiting for the ATV to cool down. Granted it was one of the hottest days and I am convinced that at one stage in the valleys the temperature was easily between 45 – 50°C. Smashing a stick though the floor was only one of the numerous mishaps that Stew faced with others including the ignition wiring burning out and the seat catching fire, both of which Stew claimed happened while he was passenger!
It was my first visit to Somkhanda so to travel around in the ATV was very interesting as it offers excellent viewing potential being so open. It also added two aspects of stress that are unusual: are we going to break down and have to hike back in the extreme heat and what would we do if we encountered a belligerent black rhino? The ATV is no match for a charging black rhinos speed and has no protection to speak about being built out of plastic without even having doors that you could make believe would be helpful. In my mind I could see Stew and I splayed on top of a thorn tree while the rhino trotted off with the ATV firmly ensconced on its horn! In the end we were fortunate not to encounter any rhino, belligerent or not, nor did we have to walk back in the grueling heat.
Somkhanda has both black and white rhino which are protected by a special team of rangers who track them daily using telemetry or, when that is down, by following their tracks. These guys are so good that they can tell exactly which rhino belongs to which tracks.
The reserve also has an assortment of general game but from initial observations is quite limited as far as numbers are concerned. Nyala was the one animal that we saw throughout the day but very little else until late afternoon, just before we were drenched by the typical late afternoon thunderstorm, when we found giraffe and a large herd of wildebeest. Leopards are frequently recorded by the rangers but we saw no signs of them during our brief visit. Another ubiquitous animal was the golden orb spider. I have seen thousands of these spiders all over South Africa but never as big as the Somkhanda ones. Fortunately they were mostly high up in the trees so we managed to drive under them without getting a face full of golden web.
Somkhanda has an interesting history being made up of a number old cattle farms which were later converted into game farms and which still have a couple of fully functional, al be it slightly run-down lodges. (Maintenance on the main lodge is due to commence on 3 February). There are still many ‘farm houses’ on the reserve, some of which have been totally trashed while others need minimal maintenance to restore them. The lodge we stayed in has six chalets, a functioning swimming pool, kitchen/dining area, two braai areas and an attractive viewing platform.
Throughout Somkhanda are reservoirs and drinking cribs which I’d imagine could easily be restored should the need arise. The river crossings have been extremely well constructed out of concrete but the roads are impassable in the wet as they consist of black cotton soils which are unbelievably slippery. (I went onto a mowed grass verge to drop off the trailer and spent the next 30 minutes with three people pushing trying to get out).
Bird life in the reserve is excellent as there are a number of different habitats ranging from grasslands, savanna, forests, pans, streams etc to attract the different species. I spent very little time ‘birding’ but managed to record at least 67 species.
Phase one is to train up some of the community members as chefs, housekeepers, garden staff etc and get them to run the hospitality side of the reserve and open it up to the general public. Initially visitors will need to have 4 x 4’s to enjoy the reserve. (Phase one has been completed and trainees selected. Training will commence on 1 February 2013). We will also be looking at getting specialists in their respective fields to spend time at Somkhanda on a barter system whereby they teach the trainees in lieu of accommodation. We are also looking at groups such as bird clubs; photographic clubs etc using the lodge and assisting with training. Bird clubs and wildlife clubs could assist greatly but so could individuals who would be prepared to let the trainees cook their food under supervision.
A further initiative is to get volunteers to spend time at Somkhanda doing research work so if you are interested contact us and let’s see what we can arrange.
Somkhanda is definitely worth a visit.
Guide at African Insight