Wildlife conservation is the practice of protecting plant and animal species and their habitats. As part of the world’s ecosystems, wildlife provides balance and stability to nature’s processes. The goal of wildlife conservation is to ensure the survival of these species, and to educate people on living sustainably with other species.

The human population has grown exponentially over the past 200 years, to more than seven billion people today, and it continues to rapidly grow. This means natural resources are being consumed faster than ever by the billions of people on the planet. This growth and development also endanger the habitats and existence of various types of wildlife around the world, particularly animals and plants that may be displaced for land development, or used for food or other human purposes. Other threats to wildlife include the introduction of invasive species from other parts of the world, climate change, pollution, and hunting, fishing, and poaching.

National and international organizations like the World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the United Nations work to support global animal and habitat conservation efforts on many different fronts. They work with the government to establish and protect public lands, like national parks and wildlife refuges. They work with law enforcement to prosecute wildlife crimes, like wildlife trafficking and illegal hunting (poaching). They also promote biodiversity to support the growing human population while preserving existing species and habitats.

Similarly, the Mluwati Concession in conjunction with the South African Wildlife College and SAN Parks are proud to be on board in assisting with the conservation and success of protecting our remaining population of rhino. It is through the passion and determination of Mrs Sonja Bichel and Mr Roger Muller two guests who are both passionate and determined to make their mark in conservation through supporting conservation initiatives financially and through a large support group of donors which they have gathered along the way. After months of planning and arrangements the 12th August 2022 arrives Sonja and Roger arrive with us and check in to Hamiltons for 8 days of jam-packed activities, including some heart rendering moments which will stay in our minds for a long time to come.

13th August 2022 we arrive at Hamiltons to collect our guests and head off to the South African Wildlife College to meet with Johan van Straaten and his team of dog handlers and of course the dogs who have made a huge impact on the success of anti-poaching over the last few years. We arrive at the college with a sense of excitement for what turns out to be one of the most incredible experiences seeing the dogs and handlers in action. Sonja and Roger are met by Johan – dog master and trainer and his small but amazing team which are there on a weekend just to make the whole tour unforgettable.

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Our guests are taken on a tour around the K9 Unit and introduced to the “hounds” before heading off with a small group of dogs – which are going to prove why this Unit is one of the most effective in anti-poaching. Two handlers are sent off for a brisket 20-minute walk into the bush with the dogs waiting patiently in the back of the bakkie. A combination of straight lines and sharp turns they disappear into the trees and hide themselves deep in the bush. Connor is asked to time the dogs are they are released to see just how long it takes them to find the handlers or suspected “poaches” as a pack following the scent left behind. Johan opens the back of the vehicle and within seconds the dogs are out, 2 minutes and 96 seconds later the dogs have located their quarry. Just to see the speed and accuracy of the dogs as they follow the scent trail through all of the turns and the communication between the pack is truly amazing and we could definitely see why these dogs are the reason for the significant number of arrests in the Greater Kruger Area. We go around to where the handlers and dogs are waiting for us – Johan loads them up and gives them a much-deserved bowl of water and plenty of praise for a job well done.

From here we head back towards the kennels – the dogs are dropped off and Johan collects Lola, besides being Johan’s personal dog, she is so well trained as a working dog, she is one of many dogs which are trained to specific scents for example, firearms, ammunition, horns, etc. She is also trained in the art of being an attack dog but when she not in working mode she is one of the most loveable creatures. I have personally seen her go from loveable to extremely protective to loveable again just from listening to Johan and specific commands given. He did a demonstration of how the dogs are trained and the aim of the scenting process of the dogs and the sheer willpower the dogs show to finding the specific scent for which they are trained. Once she finds the scent even if she is called by Johan, she will not move away from the scent she has found no matter how many times she is encourage to do so. Unfortunately, without being able to witness this yourself, there is no way of telling the story and getting the feeling of being there and seeing the dogs in action. After an awesome picnic lunch and many interesting and inspiring stories shared with us by Johan the time has come for us to leave the College and head back to Hamiltons.

The weight of the success of this initiative as well as the importance of the work they do is to this day still fresh in my mind as I look back at some of the footage taken during the tour and the sheer power and determination of every single team member involved – your work and dedication, love and passion for not only conservation but the dogs who you work with left us speechless. We would like to extend our special thanks to Johan and his team, Theresa Sowry CEO of South African Wildlife College, and of course the dogs who will be remembered for the incredible agility and work which they do towards saving our natural heritage and in particular assisting us in the combat of poaching and persecution of those who are determined and driven to wipe out the existing populations of rhino and other endangered species.

On the 31 March 2022 a proposal was presented to concessions with the Kruger National Park in an attempt to raise funds for the management and protection of the remaining rhino populations within the Greater Kruger area. In the hopes of allowing visitor participation in the curbing of species loss through the funding on the “initial dehorning” as well as the “maintenance” of the dehorned rhinos every 18 months or when needed. Although there is a lot of public objections to the dehorning of the rhino it must to reiterated that due to habitat loss and the growing need for land to house our ever-growing population, we have erected fences around specific areas in Southern Africa to maintain and protect our wildlife. This has prevented animal migrating to certain areas and many species have a natural instinct to migrate we as humans have had to prevent this in order to contain the species and prevent the human animal conflict which often arises due to damage and destruction caused by but not limited to livestock, crops and various other manmade needs, which occur around the perimeter of any and all National Parks and reserves throughout the country.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the possible collaboration and support in offering our guests to attend rhino dehorning operations and make a donation. The concept is aimed at raising the much-needed funds for sustaining rhino dehorning and also other rhino security related efforts. It just so happened that Sonja Bichel and Sandra Kauffman were visiting us over the same period of time, when Greg returned from the meeting, we were discussing this exciting prospect. Of course, some of the guides shared the news with their guests and so the word was spread, of course Sonja was the first one to jump at this opportunity and asked if they could be the first “guests” to experience this unique opportunity. After some calls to Steven Whitfield the Regional Ranger for the Marula Region of Kruger NP we were all set and ready to go. Unfortunately, Roger was not with the first trip due to work commitments and so they decided on their return to once again take part in the dehorning initiative.

Friday 18th August 2022 – the morning starts with lots of exciting chatter as we meet for 06h00 departure, the arrangement is to meet Section Ranger Rob Thompson at a suitable location and to continue together from here. We approach Hamiltons as we look towards the east, we can see Mr Whitfield flying around to locate a suitable rhino. After sometime we meet up with Rob and head off to a predetermined location the excitement grows as we make the final turn the helicopter has also arrived. We get to meet Dave who is SAN Parks chief pilot – Rob walks across to meet everyone as the chopper touches down close to us. There are two spaces in the chopper for Sonja and Roger to have one of the most incredible experiences of their lives as they join the crew in the chopper and head to where Mr. Whitfield is circling. Once the whole operation is underway everything moves very quickly from darting to collecting the necessary data and samples – as well as removing the horns and the animal given the reversal to wake it from the tranquilizer.

For a newcomer to the experience, one of the guests who have joined us on the day has the full impact of the emotion which impacts all of us in very different ways. For all of us who are working in this sometimes-volatile environment we have to this with our minds and not with our hearts when it comes to this – we have over the last few years had to learn to become hard to the way we think and what we have to do in order to ensure the immediate survival of this iconic species. The comments often received are often from people who are unfortunately thinking with their hearts and not about what is needed to be done, the first question asked isn’t this stressful for the animal – the simple answer is yes, it is at that moment when the chopper arrives to when they animal is sedated and then moved to a safe location. But we also have to remember this is what needs to be done to curb the poaching which take the animal entire existence away and not only the 45 minutes which he is actually put under stress. Once the animal is darted it take 4 – 6 minutes for the drugs to take effect the animal is directed with the assistance of the helicopter to a safe area where the crew can work and where the animal is not able to hurt itself when is does fall asleep.

Once down the vet is on his way to the rhino ensuring it is lying correctly and also has been given a top up of the sedative if needed to ensure that everything goes off without any incident or discomfort to the rhino itself. DNA samples are taken, tick samples are collected this is one of the most terrifying things when they keep climbing on you and out of the specimen jars, a fecal sample is also taken which was the duty of one of the guests with the guidance and humorous even comical approach to ensure the guest is relaxed and understands what is needed. Rob is an expert at removing the horn and ensuring the sides are perfectly rounded – such a perfectionist thanks Rob!

Paperwork finished, samples collected, horns done – guests are moved back to the vehicle and the vet administers the reversal. This takes effect within 5 – 10 minutes as we are all watching from a distance the rhino rapidly recovers and stands although still a little drowsy, we wait until it is fully recovered and moves off the road into the bush. Is it strange to see a rhino without horns? Yes, it is but it leaves us with positivity and a certain amount of pride to know this animal is going to survive many more years without this horn than it would with it.

As Sonja and Roger stay comes to an end we have one more visit left, Kruger National Park – Veterinary Senior Manager Dr Peter Buss takes us through the conservation of the existing population of rhino which is left is the park. The numbers are frightening if you listen to his information including the various diseases and other influences which affect our national parks not only our fauna but flora. The time we spent with Peter was informative and his knowledge of the park is of untold value for us. We would like to specially thank Peter for giving up his time to chat to us on a Saturday and meeting with Roger and Sonja, and so the 8 days have come to an end we have seen so much, done so much and have so many unbelievable and unforgettable memories. Sonja and Roger thank you for assisting SAN Parks, Southern African Wildlife College and us to conserve and protect our natural heritage we are definitely looking forward to your return in December when we will be continuing with adventures together.

FEMALE LEOPARDS

Nkhanye: although she has not been seen this month at all we are hoping this is a sign that she may even be a mother again. We will keep you updated when we do managed to see this most amazing and well known leopard on the concession.

Nkhanye last female cub is now matured and keeping to herself, she has taken up residence in and around the Hamiltons area and has been seen on many occasions, a special and very relaxed female with vehicles, she provides our guests with many entertaining sightings where she shows off her character and very playful nature.

Tiyesela: now full grown and an adult in all her right she has turned into one of the most seen females around Hamiltons, Imbali and the center of the concession. Last sighting we had of her a week ago she was on an impala kill close to the weir. It was such an amazing sighting of her where eventually the flies got the better of her and she landed up climbing up the steep bank – on the southern side and headed off leaving the remains of the kill on the floor for the hyenas.

Various other females have been seen over the concession including a younger no skittish female who allows for good viewing around Hoyo Hoyo although she does disappear when she has had enough, she is still a stunning cat.

MALE LEOPARDS:

I don’t even know where to start but I guess the bad news before the good news, our iconic male leopard from the Mluwati Concession has died due to natural causes and old age. Wabayisa first seen as a small cub at Hamiltons Tented Camp – adeptly named for his somewhat curious and naughty / mischievous nature he provided some of the most unforgettable sightings to some of our guests over the years. He will definitely be missed by all of us who have spent years following him and enjoying the time we did see him.

Other males in the Hamiltons area include 2 large adult males and 1 younger male leopard, 3 very large males have been seen on drives along Manyeleti Cutline and our western boundary as well as 1 male around Hoyo Hoyo waterhole, most seen in the evenings he is no fond of vehicles and rather visits the waterhole when the game drives have finished and the guests are having dinner.

IMBALI PRIDE UPDATE

The Imbali Pride have had 3 buffalo kills around Hoyo Hoyo over the last couple of months, stompie is still with them and he is growing more and more each time we see him. Consisting normally of 4 adult females and 5 youngsters – we have heard via contacts from Manyeleti and Buffelshoek that one of the females has got 3 cubs and was seen heading back towards the rest a week ago. Female and cubs have not yet been seen although we have seen the pride every few days between predator plains – Imbali – and Hoyo Hoyo.

“CRAZY EYES” – this male is one of the sons of the Skybed males who was reported to have eaten one of the younger male cubs in the Imbali Pride a few months ago was found tucking into one of the Buffalo kills around Hoyo Hoyo. Guides followed him one morning while scent marking, calling and again chasing one of the other older males from the pride before disappearing again into Manyeleti.

HAMILTONS PRIDE

The group dynamics of this pride are ever-changing with various numbers being seen – some movement in the pride and active calling of other males in the area and being seen close to this territory make us aware that the stability of the current pride males is drawing to an end.

Male lions in our particular area are known for short durations of pride takeovers before they are pushed out or leave on their own accord due to other males pushing into their territory. Our pride male generally last for no longer than two years before new blood moves through – being pushed out of their own territories as they have grown and been pushed out of their existing prides.

HYENAS

Our 3 clans and other splintered groups are doing very well right now – since the loss of the matriarch at Hoyo Hoyo it seems the chaos and disorganization has ended with a new matriarch having taken over. Successful hunting by the clan it what they are known for and this has become evident again throughout this time when the additional water resources have become dry and the waterholes in front of the lodges have become more active.

WILD DOGS

With only a handful of sightings of this apex predator around concession, we are hoping to see them now in the next couple of months as they start to move around with the pups which should be around the right age for becoming independent enough to move away from their denning sights which are located around the outskirts of the concession.

ELEPHANT

Large numbers of elephants are found around the still constant supply of water at Hamiltons – up to herds of 70 – 80 animals can be seen at any given time especially on warm days when swimming is definitely part of the necessary activities for these pachyderms.

BUFFALO

Some nice big herds have been seen crossing from prime grazing areas to water and back into the grazing areas again. Plenty of single males are also seen in and around the concession, as they become more dependent on the single water sources around the vicinity.

The African bush in all its splendour is true food for the soul…

 “May the call of the African Fish Eagle ring out through the savannas and may the roar of the lion vibrate through your soul….”

THE GUIDES OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION