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    Mkhuze has always been a land of contrasts, especially as far as its weather is concerned. Situated on the low-lying Mozambique coastal plain, the reserve is essentially tropical but mainly dry. The warm, sunny weather of the autumn months of May and June all to rapidly gives way to the blistering heat of summer with its unpredictable rainfall that can either cause flash flooding or result in a prolonged and severe drought, which leaves the Mkhuze River dry and the surface pans in the reserve no more than barren areas of sun-baked black clay.

    Winters are comparatively warm although occasional short cold spells accompanied by rain may be experienced. But even the normal pattern of spring, which is generally warm and not too hot, can be unpredictable.

    In September 1924, Vaughan Kirby wrote "On the following morning (September 1st) we crossed into the reserve at an early hour, with a hard day's work ahead of us and most unpropitious weather conditions - a strong southerly gale was blowing and it was cold and cheerless in the extreme". On his visit to Nxwala during the same month he found that "it was extremely cold and constant showers of cold sleet drove over the hilltops". Some weeks later, during the same visit he reported that "the misery of these conditions was much intensified on the present occasion, when the red sand ridges of the main plateau were churned up by the gale into actual whirling walls of sand". Definitely not what the average visitor to the reserve now experiences during the month of September.

     Mkhuze has always been known for its unpredictable and erratic rainfall. Rain falls mainly in the summer months, separated by hot, dry periods.  After the Board regained control of the reserve in 1954, Singie's report for December of that year records that Marula trees were dying from the drought, whilst in October 1956 there were reports of serious washaways in the reserve. Uncannily, Mqolosi Gumede, Induna of the game guards had predicted the floods the previous month, when he had observed reedbuck on high ground. This, to him, was a sure indication that there was soon going to be heavy rain.

    The Nsumu Pan is today assured of a constant water supply as the Mkhuze River flows directly into it and, hippo are now permanent residents in the reserve, but this was not always the case. In the past, the arrival of these animals and their subsequent departure would coincide with the periodic flooding and drying up of the surface-water pans. The ability of hippos to rapidly find new territories, when conditions are suitable, appears to be uncanny. In January 1957, Singie reported that two hippos had made their appearance in the Nhlonhlela and Delagufa Pans, moving from one pan to the other as the mood suited them, very shortly after these pans had filled up. Spoor had been found in the northern and southern areas of the reserve and it was suspected that these animals had moved down from the Pongola River. This was borne out by the fact that no spoor was seen in the eastern areas, which might have indicated that the animals had come up from St Lucia. He expressed the thought at the time that permanent water in the pans would attract the animals to take up permanent residence, something which now, very happily, has occurred.

    Nineteen fifty-seven continued to be a very wet year. In his report for October, Singie states that "on Friday, 27 September 1957, in the late afternoon, the first of a series of floods arrived, with the Mkhuze River rising about 22 feet and breaking its banks, completely submerging the pumphouse pit. The cracking of breaking trees and other debris was almost incessant".

    An official party of visitors was expected to visit the reserve at this time and tents to accommodate them had been ordered and erected in a campsite that had been cleared in the western section of the reserve. By the afternoon of the 27th, it became obvious that the visiting party would not arrive and, owing to the rise of the river, Singie feared for the safety of the tents in the campsite. Early the following morning he inspected the campsite again and found that a stream of water 100 metres wide separated the tents from the western entrance to the reserve. It was obvious that the visitors were not going to be able to stay there. After wading through the water, it was established that the tents were well above the watermark but they were removed, dried as thoroughly as they could be and taken to Mkhuze station for return to the suppliers. The railways refused to accept the tents due to the collapse of the bridge over the Tugela River and they had to be stored at the station. The tents were finally despatched after several days of delay.

    The Mkhuze River again came down in flood and broke its banks on 1 October 1957. Singie reports that "the night of Wednesday 2 October 1957 was a remarkable one. Thunder rolled in throughout the night and the lightening was the most vivid and almost ceaseless that I have ever seen. Steady rain fell the whole night and on the 3rd, at approximately 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon, the well-known sound of swirling water could be heard from the house, this being nothing out of the ordinary when the river is in full spate. Going out at about 3:30 p.m. I found that the river had risen about 24 feet, not quite reaching the level of the January floods".

    " At 5:00 p.m., the whine of what was at first was thought to be an aircraft landing, became audible in the Mkhuze Poort area. My first thoughts were "what fool of a pilot would be flying around in such heavy, low cloud. This peculiar whine increased in volume and suddenly, in the distance, reports not dissimilar to the firing of a machine gun became audible and increasing in volume. It then became obvious that the Mkhuze River was coming down in a wall of water. We rushed to the river, but by the time we got there the wall of water had already passed, but the sight that met our stunned gaze is almost impossible to recount. The river was now a surging sea with waves running 10 to 15 feet high and with what appeared to be a hollow in the main streambed. Mqolosi's words of the 26th September "Nkosana enkulu Ndambi" were no longer a prediction but a positive fact".

    "At the pump house, the water was three feet deep in the engine room and the Lister engine was completely submerged. We had fears that the whole structure would collapse and wash away, but fortunately this did not happen, although the roof of the pump house pit was found to be entirely gone when the water subsided. Huge fig and fever trees had been torn out by their roots and were being carried along down the river in an almost an upright position by the pressure of the water".

    "An amazing sight was the sudden glinting of bright metal that occasionally made its appearance. This was the forerunner of what must have constituted the loss of thousands of pounds to farmers living along the banks of the Mkhuze River. The object seen was a 44-gallon drum - the first of what seemed to be an almost ceaseless line of bobbing 44-gallon, 10-gallon and 4-gallon drums, all destined to be buried in the mud and debris as they headed towards Lake St Lucia".

    "One incident in this scene of loss and destruction was amusing.  A single, very new 44-gallon drum had come to rest on a raft of debris and, as it moved past us it was standing straight up and balancing in a remarkable manner as it was swept downstream by the waves of water. Carcasses of livestock in the form of cattle, donkeys, dogs, cats and poultry all told their sad story of the loss of property and pets. Opposite the pumphouse the river was estimated to be at least a mile wide. During the peak period of the flood on 3 October, the local staff were very perturbed about the safety of their families, but fortunately, except for the loss of personal belongings, none were in anyway injured".

    "The day following the flood revealed a pathetic sight as I walked along the riverbank in the direction of the Nhlonhela Pan: the riverbanks were lined with sugar cane and other debris. Many hundreds of swarms of bees must have been destroyed in their hives in the hollow trees and holes lining the riverbank. During this tour of inspection it was easy to pick out the game which had been driven out of thickets and heavy bush bordering the river. The floods affected the inyala in particular. The older cows stood around disconsolately in ones and twos at varying intervals above the high water mark, having possibly lost lambs in the rush of water. Bushbuck and bushpigs were also in evidence. The remarkable thing that emerged from this catastrophe was that the animals, in their bewilderment, seemed to have lost their fear of man. It was possible to approach to within a few feet of them before they moved away and then it was only for a few yards before they would stop and gaze back to what was previously their home. One very large bushpig male was not at all concerned by my approach, apparently assuming that no harm would befall it".

    "I only received one report of game actually seen in distress and this was of an inyala bull, that had been seen drowning in the waters of the Nhlonhlela Pan. It is feared however that large numbers of red bush duiker have perished. A few days after the flood, vultures were active all along the banks of the river, testifying to the loss of stock and game. No doubt, crocodiles will have a royal feast".  

    "Africans living in the Mandhlazi Forest in Native Reserve 13 were still in the treetops the following day and could be heard all day and night calling for help, as the waters surged through the undergrowth. Our pet poacher, Banoi Jobe lives in this Forest and may decide to move out if he has survived the flood. The Nsumu pan rose to a level never before known and was possibly 20 or 30 feet deep. The water is now receding slowly and it is hoped that the birdlife will soon return".

    "All vehicle tracks in the reserve have become impassable and it soon became obvious that, as the river could not be forded, the game guards would be wasting their time on patrols. They were all recalled to headquarters to do essential road repairs and to clean out the pump well and remove the Lister diesel water pump engine".

    On the 22nd October 1957 the Mkhuze River came down in flood again and on this occasion the walls of the pump pit collapsed and the roof of the pit was washed away in the floods. Fortunately, the pumps were saved as they had been removed for general overhauling after the first deluge. Singie goes on to report that, due to the breakdown of the Lister engine, it was necessary to cart water for domestic purposes from the Nhlonhlela stream in the western section of the reserve. The water from the Mkhuze River had the consistency of thick mud, had an unpleasant smell from rotting debris, and was completely undrinkable. The guards from the Nsumu area also complained that the water there was unpleasant, due to the rotting vegetation and grass. Almost 51/2 inches of rain were recorded in the reserve during October.

    After all the rain at the end of 1957, it is hard to believe that by August 1958, the reserve was again in the grip of a serious drought. During the year, farmers to the west of Ukhombe Gorge had installed large pumps for irrigation purposes. This act had a profound effect on the flow of water to the reserve and was a contributory factor to the shortage of water that followed. 

    Singie reported that the Marulas and Tree Wisterias had no flowers on them at all, older impala females were aborting their calves and large numbers of old blue wildebeest and impala were dying. A month later, heavy rains again filled the Nsumu Pan but no sooner had this happened than the hot weather started evaporating the surface water supplies, causing problems for the animals.

    In February 1959 Ranger Tony Pooley rescued an impala that had got itself bogged down. When discovered, only its head was sticking out of the mud. In May, game guards from the Gwambane camp reported a blue wildebeest bull trapped under branches overhanging a puddle of mud in the Mkhuze Riverbed. Tony accompanied the guards to the spot to see whether the animal could be rescued, but gave up the idea on arriving at the scene. Although the animal could hardly move in any direction, it was so enraged that there was a danger that someone would be gored if it was released and it reluctantly had to be shot. By August of 1959, the Nhlonhlela Pan was dry again and many animals were caught in the black sticky mud on the base of the pan as they tried desperately to reach the last few small pools of stagnant black water. Impala and blue wildebeest carcasses were found caught in the mud of the drying pan, as were numerous huge barbel, some of which weighed over 50 kg. This situation was repeated in other areas of the reserve. Game Guard Mnyaisa Nyawo reported in October 1959 that animals were trapped in the drying-out Nsumu Pan - the following month the Mkhuze River came down in flood again.

    Until fairly recently, the filling and drying up of Nsumu was a cycle that occurred at regular intervals. Nsumu would fill up when the Umsunduzi and Mkhuze Rivers came down in spate together. The swollen Mkhuze River would then overflow into back channels and fill up the pan. This situation no longer occurs. Early in the seventies, the course of the Mkhuze River changed and it now flows directly into the Nsumu pan. There is now a permanent supply of water in this section of the reserve. The shortage of surface water in other areas of the reserve during very dry years Is, however, still a problem.

    In December 1960, some months after my arrival in Mkhuze, I was privileged to witness one of these miraculous fillings of the Nsumu Pan. Early in that month we had been happily driving across the dusty pan floor in our Landrovers and by the end of the month, the pan was full to the brim. We had received a few days of very heavy rain towards the end of the month and water started flowing into Nsumu pan on 30 December. When we were able to negotiate the black, sticky mud to get around the reserve to check on the guard camps, we were faced with a remarkable sight as we approached Nsumu. Where six days previously there had been a dry dusty pan, there was now a huge lake of water stretched out in front of us - what a welcome New Year's gift!

    A solitary fish eagle, was an early arrival on the scene and was spotted on 31 December, sitting in a fever tree on the banks of the pan- a day after the pan had filled up. Hippos also soon discovered this new haven and the Qakweni game guards reported seeing the spoor of a hippo which had crossed the tourist road early in January 1961. My diary for the same month records seeing them at Nsumu on the 29th of January, presumably having moved up from Lake St Lucia. Before long, lesser flamingos and many pinkbacked pelicans had taken up residence on the pan.

    The cycle of rain and drought was soon to repeat itself. By December 1961 the reserve was again in the grip of a drought and was becoming very overgrazed. The sparse rain that did fall was insufficient to  revive the grass but merely gave impetus to a species of primary ground cover in the form of a yellow-flowering weed. Large areas of the over-grazed western section of the reserve were covered with this weed which, although very attractive to look at in its flowering state, was not utilised by either the grazers or browsers.

    In March 1962, Nsumu was drying up and hundreds of barbel, the largest of which weighed in the region of 80kg, were again trapped in the pools of thick, black mud which formed in the hollows as the pan dried out. The sight that they presented was an amazing one. The pool contained a mass of writhing bodies and a stone thrown into it would  cause a thrashing explosion of bodies. Some of our guards and labourers were anxious to obtain a few of the fish to eat and we took them down to the pan, where they waded into the treacle-like mud, armed with assegaais. Forming a line at the end of the pool they waded through the pan, stabbing amongst the frantically threshing fish as they went along. Quite a number of fish were speared and loaded into our Landrovers to be taken back to headquarters for staff rations. We did not have any qualms about removing them, as they constituted only a small percentage of the hundreds trapped in the mud. On a subsequent visit to the pan, I saw fish eagles, marabou storks, whiteheaded and lappetfaced vultures all sitting around the perimeter of one of these mud holes. They were so gorged on barbel that they could hardly take off as we approached. Another casualty of the drought was a year-old black rhino that had got itself bogged down in one of the smaller pans in the reserve - only its skeleton was found.

    Ever an area of contrast, the temperature in the reserve dropped suddenly in August 1962 from 36\B0C to 21\B0C overnight. Being at the end of winter, when food supplies were depleted and the animals generally in poor condition, hundreds must have died during the cold snap. We managed to get some idea of the mortality amongst the animals during a 16km foot patrol through the Nhlabeni area when we came across the carcasses of 15 blue wildebeest, 5 impala, 1 warthog and one jackal which had died from the cold. This was a most unusual occurrence and one which I had never experienced before, or since.

    On 13 November 1962 I had a lucky escape from the elements. A freak electrical storm that preceded a welcome summer thunderstorm, struck the reserve. My personal motor car was usually parked in a makeshift reed and thatch garage, which I had put up with the help of some labourers near my squaredavel. The car was only used on the infrequent occasions when I left the reserve on leave or periods of "time off". To keep the battery charged I would have to make a point of taking the car for a drive in the reserve occasionally. On this particular day, having taken my car out to charge, I returned to Mantuma and as I was about to put my dusty car back in its shelter, I decided to leave it next to my squaredavel to be washed. Shortly after this the storm blew up. Sitting in my squaredavel, I watched the storm develop. One particularly vicious bolt of lightening struck close to where I was sitting and, as I looked out the window, I saw flames coming from something that was well and truly ablaze. Then I heard Dawn Denyer shouting desperately. Thinking that Singie's house had been struck, I rushed outside only to find that it was my makeshift garage that received a direct hit and was going up in flames. The fire was so severe that it was impossible to even rescue two spare tyres that I had stored in the garage. The entire structure was gutted within 15 minutes. Had I put my car away 30 minutes earlier, as intended, it would have been completely destroyed.

    The unseasonable rains that we experienced the following winter followed this very hot summer. In July 1963, more than 350mm of rain fell in 24 hours, causing a flash flood in the reserve. This exceptional storm caused the Mkhuze River to rise even higher than it had in 1957, when a record flood level had been recorded. The Nhlonhlela Stream turned into a raging torrent that cut the entrance road in four places, washing away drainage pipes, and surface hardening and preventing visitors in the camp from leaving, until temporary repairs could be effected. The rain resulted in a full Umsunduzi River and water again began flowing into the dry Nsumu Pan, filling it overnight. The pan rose to such a height that it covered sections of the tourist road in its vicinity. All surface pans, with the exception of Mbanyana Dam, which burst its banks and lost all its water, were filled to capacity. 

    Hundreds of animals were trapped and drowned in the floodwaters, which poured into the pan. A foot patrol around the periphery of the pan a few days later revealed the extent of the disaster. During the course of our patrol we counted the carcasses of 206 blue wildebeest, 42 impala, 31 inyala, 4 blue duiker, 4 cane rats, 5 bushpigs, 5 reedbuck, 1 steenbok and 1 Cape polecat. Whitebacked vultures sat in the larger trees around the pan for days. They were so engorged that they could not cope with all the meat that was available. For some days after the flood, all the birds did was peck out the eyes of dead animals. We felt at the time that the animals that we had counted were only a part of what we had lost and that many more had been swept down the river towards Lake St. Lucia. In another section of the reserve, 59 carcasses were counted along a relatively short section of the river.

    The Udisa guard camp, about a kilometre from the river, was washed out. The guards and I made an attempt to salvage some of their possessions, but we were forced to turn back when we were still some distance from their camp, after wading through waist-deep water. On our way towards the guard camp I noticed a number of vervet monkeys marooned in trees and one thorn tree contained a large burrowing adder that had sought refuge in it. When we could finally get to the camp and retrieve their waterlogged possessions, the guards were moved to one of the higher camps. The most serious damage was again caused to the pumphouse and pumping equipment. Although built of reinforced concrete, the pump house could not withstand the enormous pressure of the floodwaters and the three outside walls nearest the river collapsed inwards like a pack of cards, onto the pumps. All three pumps were badly damaged and it was only possible to remove them after the reinforced concrete had been broken up and removed. A special trip had to be made to Mkhuze Village to buy sledgehammers for the purpose. After the concrete had been removed, it was possible to salvage pieces from all three pumps to reconstruct one of them and get it working again. The whole operation of clearing and repairing the pumps took two weeks, during which time we avoided bathing or showering, in order to conserve the dwindling water supply in the reservoir. It was very much a case of "water, water all around, but not a drop to drink".

    The exceptional rain did have its compensations however. Very little poaching activity was recorded for the month, as no one could get in or out of the reserve across the Mkhuze River and there was not much activity from the mountainous western area of the reserve either. Presumably, the local inhabitants were all too busy repairing the flood damage to their own homes and lands. We were fortunate in obtaining a rowing boat from Peter Potter in December 1963 and this was placed on Nsumu and so could venture out onto the pan to explore this new water world at our leisure for the first time.

    These extreme weather cycles appear to have largely abated now and nothing has been recorded since then to touch the scorching temperatures recorded by Ranger Gilbert Schutte in January 1972. The maximum temperature for that month was 45\B0C, which continued for days on end, with the "cold" water temperature being recorded at 33\B0C. Such were the extremes of temperature under which the staff had to work at the time - who said a ranger's life was one long holiday!

    Amongst the many advantages of working as a ranger in the reserve in the sixties were the many opportunities afforded us for interesting natural history observations, which one would otherwise never have the good fortune of observing as a casual visitor to the reserve. Much of our time in those years was spent on fieldwork in the form of regular patrols with game guards on a rotational basis. We would often camp out at a guard camp for two or three nights and spend the days, and often the nights, patrolling with the guards.

    Reading through the reports of rangers stationed in the reserve over the years reveals the wealth of important and interesting information garnered during the course of such routine foot and vehicle patrols. Recording interesting natural history observations that we had seen was an essential part of our monthly reports and made a rather mundane account of routine duties that much more interesting to read. We often got a comment from Colonel Vincent on a particularly interesting observation and the observations were periodically gathered together and printed in the Board's scientific journal "The Lammergeyer". A few of the more interesting observations from Mkhuze, recorded during the 20-year period, following the Board's resumption of its control of the reserve, are recorded here for the reader's interest.


    An impala ram in evening light

    As early as November 1954, Singie Denyer, newly appointed to the staff of the Board, could record that the first impala lambs were seen during the month.  Whitebacked vultures were seen perched in treetops all over the reserve, waiting to pick up the dropped placentas as the lambs were born. Impala lambs are generally born around the month of November and in 1957 Relief Ranger Terry Oatley disturbed an Impala doe giving birth. The doe managed to run off with her half-born lamb protruding from her body, the head and front legs of which were clearly visible. In January 1957 a baboon was seen catching a turtle at Bube pan and another unusual recording for that month was the sighting of a serval, the first such sighting to be made in the reserve.


    Game Guard Khonjwayo Ndhlovu made another interesting observation involving a blue wildebeest in October 1959. While on patrol in the reserve he spotted one of these animals without horns. In Khonjwayo's many years of service in the reserve, first as a member of the Nagana shooting team and later as a game guard, this was only the second such animal that he had seen.

    It is not only the larger and more spectacular of the animals and birds of the reserve, that provide interesting natural history observations though, but the smaller creatures and insects as well.

    Singie could record, with an equal amount of enthusiasm, on how he had seen the spoor and heard reports of lions roaring in the reserve as he could on his observations on the emergence of Mahloboza flying ants, the larger black female ants of which are also much sought after by baboons and monkeys.

    An indication of the profusion of wildlife to be seen in the reserve before the start of the extensive game control programme in 1963 is contained in an entry in a ranger's report for July 1961. It is recorded that approximately 8000 head of game was seen on a 23km drive along the tourist roads in the reserve. The animals seen were mainly impala, blue wildebeest, warthog, and inyala but also included two groups of 9 zebra and 31 kudu.

    During the early sixties, blackbacked jackals were frequently heard at night but were rarely seen by the staff during the course of their day or night patrols. They were obviously quite plentiful though. When night shooting started, they started becoming very bold and were frequently seen. One African staff member had a narrow encounter with one of them.  On the morning of 11 April 1962 Mvender Myeni reported to Singie that the previous evening he had been asleep on his mat outside his hut, as was his custom when it was very hot. Mvender was awakened by something pulling at his grass sleeping mat and he was astounded to see a fully-grown jackal trying to pull the mat from under him. As he jumped up, the jackal ran off into the bush with his mat. Mvender gave chase but the jackal turned on him and he made a hasty retreat back to the hut. The jackal though had made a mistake. Mvender had laid a partially dried impala skin under his grass mat and the scavenger, smelling the skin, had obviously mistaken the mat for the skin. The mat was recovered the following morning in the bush some distance from the hut and the facts of this story were confirmed from the tracks in the sand when the incident was reported.

    Singie commented at the time that " these animals are becoming more numerous than ever and also more daring, as spoor is to be found throughout the compound and in the clearings around our quarters. It is a great pity that these increases in the jackal population are occurring, because of the inroads they will make in the guineafowl and francolin population. Unlike the giant mongoose they do not help in any way with the extermination of harvester termites, but how to destroy them is another story".

    During the same month a kill by an exceptionally large hyena was reported from the Mavolovolo Valley near Headquarters. The hyena had killed a fully-grown impala ram and, from the spoor around the carcass, it appeared that jackals had assisted the hyena in making the kill. The spoor indicated that 5 jackals had chased the impala from the south. When it had tried to break back, it had been turned by a jackal, towards the concealed hyena, which sprang forward and killed it. That teamwork had been used was quite evident and easy to trace. There had been very heavy dew the night before, leaving all the tracks plainly visible. The hyena was of exceptional size, judging from the spoor marks and all that remained of the impala was the neck, head, and portion of the shoulder. To add to the interest of the scene, when it was first observed, two mature bateleur eagles, birds rarely seen in Mkhuze, were cleaning up bits and pieces of meat and a slender mongoose ran off with its tail elevated, at the approach of the rangers. 

    Another interesting incident involving a jackal followed on the shooting of a blue wildebeest for staff rations, by one of the game guards in the early sixties. The carcass was left covered with branches while the game guards went to fetch Ranger John Tinley and his Landrover to transport it back to the guard camp. When John arrived to load the carcass he found a group of vultures sitting around it and discovered that a jackal had forced its way into the carcass, through a cut which the guards had been made in the belly to degut the animal, and could not get out. John had to cut the animal free, a rather dangerous procedure as the animal was in a frenzy, snapping at him continually. Once freed, it lost no time in running off and the wildebeest was loaded and carted off to the camp.

    During the four years that I was at Mkhuze I never saw a hyena, although they were occasionally heard at night and their spoor and faeces were seen during the course of patrols. Following the large-scale introduction of night shooting in 1963, the position changed rapidly and there was a dramatic increase in the number and boldness of both jackals and hyenas. The animals would be attracted to the areas where night shooting was taking place and they soon learnt to associate the sound of rifle fire with a free meal!

    Within minutes of the first shots being fired, jackals would make an appearance and as the shooting programme progressed, hyenas would start appearing as well. By June 1964, hyenas and jackals were a common sight as they followed the shooting vehicles around the reserve, waiting to feed on the gutted innards of the animals which had been shot.

    Ranger John Forrest recorded how bold these animals became. "On 16 June 1964, while passing the site where an impala had been shot some 20 minutes before, a very large hyena was disturbed eating the entrails of the slain animal. The hyena ran into the bush and remained there, just out of range of the spotlights. This was repeated 3 weeks later at almost the same spot, but this time two hyenas were picked up in the spotlights. On three other occasions a hyena was observed near where we were shooting, which I deliberately tried to chase away. On every occasion the animal merely circled the area where we were shooting, always remaining within the limits of the spotlights and within a reasonable distance from the impala's guts. All attempts to drive the hyenas away failed."

    He also reported that on 7 July 1964, three impala were shot at 20h00 in the Nhlonhlela area of the reserve. Two of the carcasses lay very close together and the third about 10 metres away. The first two were degutted, with the operation being accompanied by the normal amount of conversation, movement and the shining of spotlights in all directions. The degutting took a maximum of four minutes".

    On turning their attention to the third carcass, John found it was gone! Closer inspection revealed that it had been dragged away and a quick search found a large hyena with the carcass some 80 metres from where the animal had been shot. Chase was immediately given, using the vehicle. The hyena took hold of the carcass on the underside of the chest and made off at a fast lope. Because of the speed at which he was driving and the angle of approach, it was difficult for John to observe whether the hyena was dragging the carcass between its legs or on the far side of its body. Two facts were obvious though; it showed a marked reluctance to let go of the carcass and the weight and bulk of the carcass did not seem to be an impediment to its speed. John reports that after covering a distance of approximately 200 metres, with the vehicle hot on its tail, the hyena eventually dropped the carcass and swerved off into the thick bush. The stomach of the carcass had already been well eaten. The impala in question was a mature female of 90 - 120kg in weight. A further hour was spent on impala control in the same area and during that time a hyena was repeatedly seen near the vehicle, on one occasion calling (howling) from a distance of not more than 30 metres.

    It is interesting to note that the observations recorded above were all made in three of the western areas in the reserve (Magebugane, Nhlonhlela and Nhlabeni) and the hyenas obviously tended to favour the more open countryside. Extensive shooting was being done in other areas of the reserve as well during 1964, but no hyenas were reported from those areas.

    As a result of their association with humans during the night-shooting activities, some of the reserve's hyenas lost their fear of humans and became increasingly bold. Attracted by the smell of cooking meat, the animals started frequenting the area around the hutted camp to scrounge bones and leftover bits of meat. In 1965, one animal bolder than the rest entered the hutted camp and chewed up one of the plastic taillights of a visitor's Mercedes Benz motor car. Presumably, during the course of a "braai", the owner, having enjoyed his meal, returned to his car for something, touched the area near the lights with his fatty hands and left the scent of cooked meat on the car!

    Ranger Adriaan Erasmus was the first to record in January 1963, another animal's rather strange choice of diet. A large male baboon was seen wading into Bube pan and pulling out waterlilies to eat the corms. Other visitors, including the writer have since seen this sight. The animal must have instinctively known that there were no crocodiles in the pan at the time, otherwise it would not have ventured into it.

    Perhaps one of the most unusual and mystifying natural history observations made in the reserve during the sixties was Ranger Herman Bently's sighting in October 1968 of a waterbuck male, about 300 metres from the Mpila guard camp. This species was thought to have been absent from the reserve at the time and where this lone animal had come from still remains a mystery.

    Following the successful introduction of squarelipped rhinos to the reserve in 1961, it was decided to reintroduce additional species of animals to the reserve and also to revitalise the zebra population by introducing new animals. In December 1964, following the decision to introduce giraffe into the reserve the construction on the pens to hold the animals was started. Senior Ranger Adriaan Erasmus and Senior Warden Norman Deane set off for the Eastern Transvaal to record and survey all overhead obstructions and low bridges, which might cause problems to the passage of the convoy that was to carry the animals to Zululand. As with the earlier introduction of squarelipped rhinos, this exercise too was bedevilled by a host of problems, not the least of which was the weather.

    The first consignment of giraffe destined for Mkhuze was only due to arrive towards the middle of January 1965, after an initial allocation of animals had been sent to the Umfolozi Game Reserve. On 6 January, at around mid-day, Norman arrived in Mkhuze to report that the movement of the first consignment of animals to Umfolozi was not going well and that it had been decided to divert the convoy and off-load the animals in Mkhuze as soon as possible.

    This new development created immediate problems for the staff at Mkhuze, as the off-loading ramp, which they were still in the process of constructing, was not designed to accommodate the low-loading trucks being used to transport this particular load of giraffes. All staff in the reserve was mustered to assist with the completion of the pens and ramp. The last shovel of soil had barely been thrown into place before the convoy, made up of two low-loaders from the Roads Department; each containing 6 crates and one lorry carrying two crates, arrived.

    Five of the 14 giraffe were found to be dead on arrival and a sixth was dying. It was vital to get the remaining animals out of their crates and into the pens as soon as possible. The difficult task of off-loading the crates started immediately. The big trucks had to be manoeuvred under the overhanging branch of a large Marula tree to which a block and tackle had been attached. Ropes were strung underneath crates, which then had to be lifted to allow the low-loader to move away. A smaller lorry that was to ferry the crates to the pens then took its place. A crate was lowered on to it and it was then transported to the pens about 500 meters away. At the pens the crate was manhandled off the lorry onto the loading ramp and positioned in front of the gate to the pen, before the door of the crate was opened. Light drizzle added to the Rangers' difficulties as this caused the low-loader to get bogged down once or twice while manoeuvring to get under the block and tackle.

    Off-loading took most of the night and by 03:30 the last of the giraffes were in the pens. The surviving animals looked really tired and it was obvious that they had had a very strenuous trip. One of the animals died during the night and another died on the afternoon of the 8 January, leaving one bull and five heifers.

    The second convoy of giraffe destined for Umfolozi left the Eastern Transvaal on 11 January but there were problems being experienced with this consignment as well, with animals dying from stress. It too was diverted to Mkhuze and only one of the four giraffes, a young bull, survived the trip and was placed in the pen with the first six.

    The giraffe settled down remarkable quickly after the stress of their capture and translocation and two years later, in March 1967, the first giraffe calf was born. This was followed shortly afterwards by the birth of a second male calf which was given the name "Sikonkwana ohmide" (the tall beacon peg), by the guards. By Aril 1970 the number of giraffe in the reserve had increased to 20 and by 1979 the increase in numbers allowed for the capture and movement of 5 giraffe out of the reserve. In November 1981, 10 more were caught at Mkhuze and sent to the Ndumu Game Reserve. What started out as a rather sad and stressful saga had a happy ending!

    Closely following on the arrival of the giraffe in the reserve, were the cheetahs that were reintroduced. During the three-year period from August 1966 to September 1969 there were sporadic arrivals of cheetah from Umfolozi. Cheetah enclosures and pens were built and completed in August 1966, shortly before the arrival of the first animals. By July 1967 the first arrivals had settled down well in the reserve and Ranger Mike Behr records seeing one of them at Bube pan in July of that year. A further twelve cheetah were received from Umfolozi on 23 April 1968 and they were kept in the pens until 8 September before they too were released into the reserve.

    The animals had become so accustomed to their enclosure that, when the time came for their release, they were most reluctant to leave it for the unknown world outside.

    The Rangers finally managed to chase 9 of the animals out but kept two young animals in the pens, which were joined by 10 new arrivals in November 1968. In September 1969 additional cheetah were released into the reserve. Occasional sightings of cheetah are still made in the reserve but they do not appear to have settled down and increased to the extent expected. One would have expected in an area with such a high density of impala and large stretches of open country to hunt over, that their re-introduction would have been more successful.

    There were very few zebra in the reserve when I was there and the population, perhaps of a result of inbreeding, appeared to have remained static. Early in 1968 it was decided to introduce new blood into the zebra herds and in June of that year 24 zebras arrived from the bomas in the Hluhluwe Game Reserve. They were released near the Msinga pan. Unfortunately, all the reintroduced stallions were lost when they wandered out of the reserve and were killed, but the mares settled down well. In 1977 a further 10 animals were transferred to Mkhuze and from that time on the species has steadily increased, as testified by the number of zebras that visitors now see on their game drives or coming down to drink at Msinga pan.

    Even in the animal world, certain individual animals appear to have identity crises and occasionally the staff of the reserve is privileged to observe these variations in appearance or behaviour. Singie reported seeing an impala lamb with an inyala doe and watched as the animal made two attempts to suckle. The inyala doe had its own lamb in attendance at the time and, unfortunately, the report does not say whether the impala's attempts to suckle were successful.

    In February 1963 Ranger John Dixon shot an impala female with straight, underdeveloped horns. When examined, the sexual organs of this animal were found to be very poorly developed. Ranger Robert Reid made another interesting observation in March 1968, during the course of a patrol to the Nkazeni Pan. As he and a game guard were sitting at the side of the pan they noticed a monitor lizard stalking a baby crocodile lying at the water's edge. The crocodile had caught a large bird by the neck. The bird was so covered in mud and slime that it could unfortunately not be identified. The monitor was disturbed at the approach of the rangers and made off at high speed but a water terrapin immediately started harassing the crocodile. A slow chase began along the water's edge as the terrapin pursued the crocodile. In desperation the crocodile moved into the water in an effort to get away from it. Its efforts were in vain though. All of a sudden there was a tremendous splash and the small crocodile re-appeared minus the bird, which was presumably taken either by a bigger crocodile or perhaps by one of the giant barbel that inhabited the pan at the time.   

    The recent reintroduction of elephants to Mkhuze has returned, as permanent residents, a species that has periodically visited the reserve over a considerable period of time. In 1936 game guards in the reserve reported to the Game Conservator, Zululand that from 5 to 7 elephants had visited the reserve in December of that year, one of the largest groups ever to have been recorded. Two years later, in 1938, elephants again visited the reserve and Potter reported that "a small herd of elephants made their abode in the reserve during the winter months, but by the end of the year they had trekked north to the Portuguese border".

    During 1946/47 when Nagana staff were engaged in pupa surveys and operating their "bait" cattle on the Makatini Flats, a fairly clear picture emerged regarding the seasonal movements of elephants from the Portuguese border, south. The migration usually took place during February and March, to coincide with the ripening of the Marula fruits. The elephants moved from the Sihangwana area, which was their preferred habitat, down to Makani's Pont and the Tete pans, then onto the Makatini Flats, skirting the Pondo bush to the Mkhuze River and into the reserve. The animals would spend a day or two in the reserve before travelling north again via Tshongwe, Manaba and the Pelendaba Forest, back into the Sihangwana bush.

    Despite the disturbance to which the area was subjected during the Nagana shooting campaign and the later aerial spraying operations, it was only two years after the Board resumed control of the area before 2 mature elephants visited Mkhuze again. In his report for November and December 1956, Singie records that "the event of the month within the reserve was undoubtedly the visit of two male elephants, which entered the reserve during the early hours of 9 December. The spoor of one of the animals was noted shortly after 9a.m. on the track to the river crossing. The animal had left huge footprints in the damp soil and my wife and I tracked it to the Mtshopi area in the west, where we had an excellent view of it as it stood silhouetted against the vivid young green grass of the firebreak on the hillside. We watched the elephant for some considerable time as it stood almost rocklike, with only the occasional flick of the trunk".

    "Later in the afternoon a second trip was made to observe the animal, but it had moved off, crossing the main track and going in a southerly direction. His tracks were lost in the Ndawana/Dagela area. On my arrival home in the evening the guards reported the presence of a second animal. The animal had rested only a few yards from the cattle kraal and, strange to say, the cattle in the kraal at the time were not perturbed by the presence of the animal".

    "The first elephant made a circular trip through the reserve, following the main track through the central portion of the reserve northwards via the airstrip to the Gwambane area, where it joined up with No 2. Here they spent the night in the heavy undergrowth before crossing the river and heading back north in the early hours of the morning. They were tracked to the Malobeni bush, midway from the reserve to the Tshongwe store".

    "It would appear that these animals had a preconceived plan as to where they would meet again, after parting company at the Mkhuze River drift on the 9th. The female remained in a particular spot while the male made a circular trip of at least 45 miles, before meeting up with her again. The puzzling factor is that all the time the animals were in the reserve, there was a strong south wind blowing, precluding any possibility of the scent of the female being wafted to the male or of it hearing any trumpeting. Yet the male travelled unerringly to the spot where his mate awaited him".

    "An interesting observation regarding the visit of these animals was the fact that their journey was made almost exclusively on main roads and tracks. Their incoming route from the north was along the main road from near Tshongwe store, to the Makatini turnoff, thence through the Pondo bush on the track to Denyer's Drift. Here they parted company, the male crossing the river at this point whilst the female crossed about 200 yards further down stream. The male then followed the main track to Mtshopi, then south to Ndunakazi, Ndawana and Dagela, east to Malalaleni thence north on the control track right through to Gwambane. They fed entirely off Marula trees and here again an interesting fact emerged - not a single male Marula tree was sampled. In each and every case bearing trees were selected, even though the fruit was still green. Only where these trees occurred near the track, would the animals deviate from the track, when a large branch would be broken off, carried along and stripped of leaves and fruit before being discarded". Visits from these animals in the past have usually been in February or March, when the Marula fruit ripens".

    Further periodic visits from these animals followed from March 1957 through to 1960. There was then a break until December 1964, when they paid another visit to the reserve. After that date the visits ceased as the animals presumably came under pressure from the increasing activity on the Makatini flats and they confined themselves to the Sihangwana area. Happily, the reintroduction of 25 young elephants to the reserve in 1994 has now ensured a safe haven for them for the foreseeable future.

    Of equal interest as the appearance and disappearance of the elephants were the periodic appearances of the "Mahloboza" flying ants - a delicacy not only favoured by birds and small mammals but relished by the residents of Tongaland as well. Occasionally these flying ants would emerge from the soft ground for their mating flights. The Mahloboza termite males would emerge first, in their hundreds and fly off, to be followed some time later by the large black female termites. The females would make for the branches of the Acacia trees, where the males would join them, and mating would take place.  Following the mating, the females would fall to the ground and burrow into the soil, if they could avoid the attention of baboons, vervet monkeys, birds ...and Man! This delicacy is much sought after by the local inhabitants, both animal and human, who relish them raw or, in the case of the local population, cooked. I had an opportunity of trying them myself. Driving along with Khonjwayo one afternoon we saw the large black female termites emerge from a small hole in the centre of the jeep track. At Khonjwayo's insistence, I stopped and allowed him to collect a small harvest of ants. He nipped off the fatty-looking abdomens of the ants as they emerged and stuffed them into the pocket of his tunic. Later that evening he fried them up and brought a few of them over to my squaredavel, for me to try. They were fatty and crunchy, but something of an acquired taste, I thought.    

    Animals of a different sort that made regular periodic visits to the reserve until the early seventies, were lions.  Towards the end of 1918 and the beginning of 1919, Singie Denyer and a party of friends toured northern Zululand, sightseeing, fishing, and shooting. Their first contact with lions was when they were visiting Nxwala. They were told at the time that lions were also to be found on the Zankhomfe Hill, in the Hluhluwe Game Reserve and an old resident of Nxwala took them to a low hill within the Mkhuze Game Reserve, known as "Dwala le Mbube". Here they saw several lions basking in the sun on the peculiar flat stones of the area. The old native informed them that this was their favourite sunning spot and that their favourite breeding place was in the Nduzeni bush, close by. He also stated that he was employed by the Native Affairs Department specifically to trap lions in the tribal lands.

    Captain Potter's annual report for 1933 records that "lions may frequently be heard (in Mkhuze) and their kills are much in evidence. I have seen only one old male during the year. There is estimated to be from 10 - 15 of them in the reserve and now that they have been placed on the Royal Game list, it is to be hoped that they will increase and become a source of attraction to visitors". The following year he reported that "two lion cubs and their parents were seen in the Mkhuze Game Reserve recently and there may be 20 at the most in the reserve".  Potter's report for 1936 states that "no lions have been seen or heard in the reserve for some months. It is thought that they either followed the wildebeest outside the reserve in August or September and failed to return, or that they have perished as a result of devouring arsenically poisoned game animals, which are easy prey for lions". It is not known why the animals suddenly disappeared and abandoned the safety of the reserve, where there was presumably an adequate food supply. There was also no reason for them to follow the blue wildebeest out of the reserve, but Potter does record in his 1938 report that "6 lions are known to have returned to the reserve from adjoining districts".

    Sometime between 1936 and 1940, a lion male was shot in the Magut area, to the north of the reserve. In 1941, shortly after the commencement of the Nagana campaign, a report was received of a pride of three grown lions and two cubs that had been seen in the south-eastern section of Mkhuze. The following year the presence of these lions was confirmed and during 1943, Singie received a report that some lions had been shot on the Makatini Flats, between Mamfeni and the Mseleni Rubber Factory. He stated that this report co-incided with the cessation of the yearly visits of lions to the reserve. This also ties up with another report that, during the Nagana campaign, with its accompanying disturbance, the remaining resident lions either left the reserve or that the pilots doing the aerial spraying, may have shot them.

    During the early months of 1948, Singie received a report from Nagana staff working with bait cattle in the Mbanyana bush, that a lion had jumped into the cattle kraal the night before and stampeded the cattle. The labourers had managed to frighten the animal away by beating on pieces of galvanised iron that had once formed the sides of Harris flytraps.  Several days later two African women were confronted by a male lion in the Msinga bush, but managed to get away. Singie went out immediately with the guards and followed the spoor for some distance, before losing it. During July of the same year, Singie was conducting Mr van Zyl, the resident Native Affairs Commissioner at Ubombo, and his family around the reserve, when they had an excellent view of a large male lion in the Bube area. Some days later a report of a blue wildebeest kill in the Gwambane area was received, which could possibly have been caused by the animal seen previously.

    During the latter part of 1952, Singie saw a very bedraggled male lion on the edge of the Msinga bush, while he was returning to Mantuma from the eastern section of the reserve: this was about 300 metres from the spot where the African women had seen a lion in 1948. Because of the mass of inyala spoor in the area, it was, unfortunately, not possible to follow the tracks. Singie doubted that the animal would live for very long and that it would soon die in the thickets next to the Mkhuze River.

    There were no further sightings for four years, before Singie noted in his monthly report that, on 26 November 1956, "lion spoor was reported about 200 yards from Headquarters. The spoor was followed by game guards Khonjwayo and Silokaza to the Msinga bush and thence to Mbunene". He goes on to say that "on 30 November 1956, whilst returning from a patrol in the eastern portion of the reserve, very fresh spoor was seen in the sand on the track over the Gwambane hill. Whilst examining the spoor, the lion coughed not more than 75 paces in the bush to the north. The bush was unfortunately too thick for me to see the animal and, as I was unarmed, to follow would have been foolhardy. The spoor and cough would point to this animal being a male. Spoor has also been observed in the Bube area during the past month". This could possibly have been one of a pair of lions previously reported from the vicinity of the Emseleni bridge.

    Lions appeared again two years later in November 1958, when game guard Mnyaisa Nyawu found a lion kill near the Nsumu guard camp. A year later, lions were heard roaring near the Mtshopi guard camp on the 3rd and 5th of October 1959 and spoor was seen on the main road, about a mile from the camp. Game Guard Magazine took Singie to a spot where an exceptionally large spoor, obviously left by a large male, was imprinted in the middlemound of the main track leading into the reserve. Where the animals had come from, or where they subsequently disappeared to, could never be established, although it is was surmised that they could have come from the Sihangwana area or Lower Mkhuze. It is interesting to record that with the disappearance of the lions from Mkhuze, most of the hyenas disappeared as well. Certainly, in the 4 years that I was at Mkhuze, I never saw a hyena, although one would occasionally come across their spoor and faeces.

    Lions did not reappear in the reserve until 1969 and there was certainly no sign of them during my four years in the reserve. On 14 July 1969 reports were received of cattle that had been killed by 3 lions on farms in the Lower Mkhuze area and the very next day a horse was killed inside the reserve at the Mbanyana outpost area.

    Complaints were being received that lions were regularly killing cattle on farms adjoining the Nxwala State Lands and the staff was given permission to destroy them with the proviso that they were not to be shot within the boundaries of the game reserve. On the night of 2 August 1969 Senior Ranger John Tinley and 3 rangers positioned themselves in a strategic spot on the Nxwala State Lands and, using a staked out donkey as bait, awaited the arrival of the lions. Close to midnight, three lions, all young males arrived at the bait and the rangers shot one of them. The other two made off, but stayed in the area for some considerable time, causing a lot of trouble on local cattle farms, often killing up to 3 animals a night.

    It was presumably an animal from the same pair which returned to the reserve three months later in December and killed a horse and foal in the stables at Mantuma. On this occasion permission was given by the Board to destroy the animal inside the reserve, to prevent it wandering onto neighbouring farms and causing further havoc.

    The staff tried to track the animal during the day and again set up a bait animal and waited for the lion to make an appearance at night, but with less success than before. For three days in a row the rangers found signs of where a lion had lain for most of the night and they were able to watch the animal from a distance. The lion then left the area and made for Mbanyana, but it remained as elusive as ever. Despite the rangers keeping a careful watch on the Mbanyana horse for the next few nights, it failed to put in an appearance.

    The first night that the staff decided not to sit up, the lion again attempted to get at the horses at Mantuma, but failed. The bait donkey tethered with the horses broke out of the stables and disappeared over the river into African Reserve. A further attempt was made by rangers and guards the following day to track the animal. These were unsuccessful, as the lion had made for the heavy riverine bush in the Nyameni area. Here the rangers found that the hapless animal had got itself caught in a snare and, from the signs, appeared to have been snared for most of the night. Its desperate thrashing around eventually managed to break the wire of the snare and it made off. The trail from there on was easy to follow until it had to be abandoned when it disappeared into really thick bush and the rangers and guards had to crawl along on hands and knees. The next day the guards found the tracks crossing the road in the Mahlala area and they were followed to the airstrip, where they were lost.

    Five months later, a single lion paid a return visit to the reserve, with very unhappy consequences to itself. On 9 January 1970, guards from the Nsumu guard camp reported to Ranger Willie Willox that a lion had been caught in a snare near the Nkazeni waterhole and that the animal was still alive. Collecting the Mbanyana guards to back him up, Ranger Willox armed himself with a 30.06 rifle and went to investigate. As mentioned elsewhere, the 30.06 was generally an unsatisfactory firearm issued to field staff for game control at the time, which was to be scrapped. It was certainly not the ideal weapon with which to face an enraged and injured lion. In Willie's own words "I secretly thought that the guards had been mistaken and that the animal could possibly be a cheetah and not a lion. However, while cautiously approaching the spot where the animal was said to be, the grunts and snarls which greeted me were unmistakably - lion. I saw the animal and fired six shots, only one of which hit the poor beast and downed it. I eventually managed to get up close and give it a mercy shot, which killed it".

    "The snare had eaten deep into the shoulder, a truly horrible sight to see and not a good way for such a magnificent animal to die. The snare had only two strands of wire left intact and another few lunges would most likely have broken it, the consequences of which I don't even like to think about".


    Game guard Mahukwane Mlambo, Senior Ranger John Tinley, Section Ranger Herman Bently and Cadet Ranger Douglas Woods photographed at the carcass of the problem lion destroyed in February 1971. 

     No further reports of lions in Mkhuze were recorded until February 1971 when another wandering animal made an appearance in the reserve. Game guard Mahukwana Mlambo, Senior Ranger John Tinley, Section Ranger Herman Bentley and Cadet Ranger Douglas Woods successfully tracked the animal and reluctantly had to destroy it.  Due to the problems associated with fencing the reserve adequately along the river boundary there is sadly very little possibility that this species will be reintroduced in the foreseeable future. The lions of Mkhuze have regrettably now passed into history!

    Over the years some interesting snake stories have emerged from the reserve and, in particular, encounters with the banded cobra, the dreaded "Mfezi", as it is known to the Zulus, have been legion and regularly made an appearance in monthly reports. Two months after starting with the Board in 1953, Singie records that "Rex, our terrier showed us a large cobra under the hydrangea drums below our bedroom window - a real spitter. The snake was destroyed". On the afternoon of 24 November 1959, Dhlozi Sibiya and a companion were carrying replacement waterpipes down to the pumphouse, to fit to the waterpump. As they were walking along, a 2-metre long banded cobra suddenly emerged from the one end of the pipe and wound itself around Dhlozi's neck and forearm. Dhlozi let out a great yell and threw the pipe from his shoulder. As the snake had not yet fully emerged from the pipe it went with it and this quick action no doubt saved him from a nasty bite or venom in the eyes. Dhlozi's companion was thrown to the ground by the rebounding pipe, but both of them wasted no time in getting themselves out of the way as rapidly as possible. Dhlozi was very shaken by the incident and it was quite a while before he could muster up the courage to pick up the pipe again.

    In 1961, Singie's cook, Mqubela Mabika, also had a narrow escape when an "Mfezi" spat into his face and a full spray of venom went into one of his eyes, followed by less venom into the other eye and a quantity into his mouth. Fortunately, Singie had a supply of fresh milk, which he got daily from the few dairy cows that he kept and he could wash out Mabika's eyes, before giving him an injection of anti-snakebite serum and taking him to the Ubombo Hospital. Mabika's eyes were very inflamed and sore for some days.

    Cobras appeared to have been especially prevalent around this time for shortly after Mabika's incident Game Guard Khonjwayo Ndhlovu saw an "Mfezi" in the thatch above the door to his hut, but despatched the snake before he had a similar experience. During the course of one of my patrols near Msinga in 1961, I came across an inyala bull that appeared to have been blinded by snake venom. The animal became aware of my approach and stumbled off, crashing into trees and bushes as it went, Singie recorded seeing something similar in December 1957.

    In October 1961, Singie was driving down a narrow track outside the reserve, on his way to Nibela to buy thatching grass for the new camp. A black mamba, almost 3 metres in length reared up from the side of the track and landed under the front wheels of the Landrover. The dead snake was found to have been in the process of swallowing another mamba, slightly less than a metre in length and it had already engorged about a third of the snake. Singie had his own close encounter with a cobra in March 1963 and records in his report for that month that "On the 19th, whilst supervising labour repairing the drift at Mtsubile, I had a very unpleasant experience. My attention was drawn to a large dung beetle, which was trying to force its way through a piece of bark peeling off a dying tree. What struck me most was that the beetle appeared to have a tail of over an inch. The sight amazed me for I had never seen anything like this before.  To prove the point, I took a small stick and tickled the tail, which rapidly disappeared with a grating sound. Looking up into the peeling bark, I looked straight into the eyes of a banded cobra, which immediately spread its hood to spit. Anticipating what was going to happen I dropped my head and the crown of my bush hat took the full shot of the evicted poison. Needless to say, it did not take me long to move backwards before a second discharge of venom was sent out. The snake was despatched by a labourer and although only about 18" in length, gave a good spray of poison. I have since wondered whether the snake was a male or a female - most probably a male, objecting to having its tail tickled!"

    I had my own narrow brush with one of these reptiles shortly before this when I went to my car parked in its reed garage and disturbed a cobra. The snake was lying on one of the saplings, used as a crosspiece to secure the reeds of the walls. We were both taken by surprise and, fortunately for me, the snake did not spit but made off rapidly through the reeds, while I headed in the opposite direction equally rapidly.

    Ranger Graham Thompson reports on a narrow encounter he had with a mamba in October 1970. "Whilst on a patrol in the Delagufa area, I was walking along a narrow game track, covered with long Themeda grass. The morning was already hot, and we had been walking for some hours in search of an injured black rhino that was reported to have been terrorising the local inhabitants. We had met with little success: all the spoor was old and windswept and the many dung heaps common to the area seemed unused".

    "My small boxer dog, Thumbi, trotted confidently ahead, one ear cocked, a red tongue hanging loosely and her short, stumpy tail wagging in rhythm with her pace. As we walked along I reflected on the many experiences we had shared and how close this companionship had brought us".

    "Suddenly a deep growl cut across my thoughts and I found Thumbi trembling and whimpering uncontrollably at my feet. Puzzled and concerned I looked around quickly and, to my horror, not three paces in front of me, was a mamba close to 8 feet in length. It rose slowly out of the matted grass, its hood flayed, its small darting eyes watching us intently. Its long, forked tongue flicked in and out of its mouth and I realised that to move could well prove fatal at this close range. We stayed like that for some minutes, perhaps seconds, I could not really be the judge of time and then, slowly, almost in distaste, the snake lowered its head and was gone amidst a rustle of grass. I looked down at the small brown form close to my feet...she seemed almost indignant at the intrusion. I bent down and gave her a small very thankful pat on the head".

    Perhaps some of the most interesting encounters the staff has had involving snakes, have been with the pythons of the reserve. In January 1958, Game Guard Zifo Mlambo came across a python in the act of swallowing an impala lamb. As the guard approached, the snake disgorged its meal and made off. I had my own interesting experience with a python and its meal. In 1962, whilst on patrol in the Msinga sand Forest, I saw something white in a tree about 30 metres ahead of me. Approaching cautiously, I found that what had attracted my attention was a dove that had been caught by a huge python. It could not have been much of a meal for the huge reptile but, ever opportunistic, it had nevertheless caught the bird. I returned to the camp as rapidly as I could to collect my camera as I was very anxious to get a photograph of the scene, but unfortunately by the time I got back, the snake, although still in the tree, had dropped the dove. I took a picture of the python and then watched with interest as the snake doubled back up the trunk of the tree and disappeared down the hollow end of a large broken-off branch.

    In January 1958, Singie reported that Game Guard Zifo Mlambo had discovered a python that had been killed by a honey badger. After killing the snake, the badger had eaten the fat along the python's back and severed the head. This was the second occurrence of a honey badger catching and killing a python in the reserve, as Singie had witnessed a similar incident some years earlier, during the Nagana campaign.

    On another occasion, Ranger John Dixon captured a three metre long python at Bube pan in order to weigh it. The reptile was placed in a hessian sack and left in his Landrover overnight. To our consternation we found the snake curled around the gear lever and steering column the following morning. It had managed to the escape from the sack during the night to drape itself around the interior of the vehicle. John recaptured the snake with difficulty and moved it to another part of the reserve.

    The stories recorded here are just a few of the many interesting experiences recorded in monthly reports, that the staff of Mkhuze have had with the wildlife of the reserve. These were all recorded in their monthly reports submitted to Head Office from 1953 to 1975. After this time the style of the monthly reports from rangers was changed and they moved away from personal reminiscences to more structured and formalised reporting - I think that this was a great pity. However, there remains a wealth of untold natural history material contained in the KZN Conservation Service, recorded in reports submitted by the many rangers that  served in the reserve in those early days and this material would make fascinating reading if it could be gathered, edited and published