Species in KwaZulu-Natal
By 1875, almost all the elephants in KwaZulu-Natal had been hunted out, but they have over the last few decades been re-introduced into protected areas and private land in the province. Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve has over 300 elephants. African elephants are the world's biggest land mammals. Males can weigh more than six tons and stand four metres high.
Poaching for ivory is not currently a major threat to elephants in KwaZulu-Natal. The biggest challenge is the limited land under protected area. Elephants outside of protected areas eat agricultural crops as well as their natural browse, so there is inevitably conflict with people and fenced-off protected areas are the only place in which the animals are safe.
Lion - the tourists' favourite
Lions are known as "king of the bushveld", and when you see an adult male with his glorious mane, it's easy to see why. There are about 80 lions in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park and they're the animals that most tourists most want to see.
Lions, the only social big cats, live in prides of up to 15 or so animals, consisting of adult females with their young, and attendant males. As with many other big mammals, lions were shot out in KwaZulu-Natal by the early 1900s.
Then, midway through the last century, a solitary male thought to have run the gauntlet of human settlements all the way from Mozambique in the north appeared in Zululand near iMfolozi. Park staff did all they could to encourage him to settle in the protected area, which he did, and he became the "founding father" of the existing population. Lionesses were brought in from other areas of the country and soon there was a growing lion population in the park.
As predators, lions play an important role in the ecological processes of the Park by keeping down numbers of their prey. In fenced reserves without predators, prey populations can outgrow their available habitat.Leopard - a rare sight
There are thought to be more than 200 leopards in KwaZulu-Natal, roughly divided between farmland and protected areas. They're secretive, solitary creatures who move around mostly at night and lie up in dense cover during the day, so a sighting of a leopard is quite a rare event, even in a game reserve. They prey mostly on medium-sized antelope and smaller animals like hares.
The powerful buffalo, with their big thick horns, are bulk grazers and play a very important ecological role by eating long grass and therefore opening up habitat for other animals which graze on shorter grass. There are more than 7000 buffalos in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park alone. They live in large, mixed herds of around 100 animals. There are also smaller bachelor herds, and old males often live alone.
Black rhino - a critically endangered species
The shy and inquisitive black rhinos are browsers, using their pointed upper lips like a miniature elephant trunk to twist off low-growing branches of trees and shrubs. They can grow to 1.6 metres tall, weigh up to one and a half tons and run at 55km/hour. Despite the somewhat prehistoric appearance, black rhinos are fast and agile animals when necessary. They rely mainly on hearing or smelling, since their eyesight is quite limited.
There are four subspecies of black rhinos
- Diceros bicornis minor (the focus of the Black Rhino Range Expansion Project. They are slightly smaller than the others, and mainly found in South Africa and Zimbabwe)
- Diceros bicornis bicornis (large, adapted to arid and desert conditions, found in Namibia)
- Diceros bicornis michaeli (have rib-like corrugations down their body, found in Kenya)
- Diceros bicornis longipes (have longer legs than the others, less than 20 found in Cameroon)
Find out more about these gentle giants:
- Nature of the black rhino
- Other rhino species
- History and threats to the black rhino
- WWF Flagship species: Black rhinoceros