HIGHWAY LEOPARDS DON’T COME FROM HiP SAYS MEC
Leopards sighted along the N2 between Mkhuze and Hluhluwe were not escapees from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s notorious from Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, according to a statement issued by MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Siboniso Duma.
The MEC was reacting to social media reports of three leopards having been sighted along the N2 and suggestions that the leopards escaped from Hluhluwe-iMfolozi. The Park has been criticised for a number of lion escapes which have tragically led to the shooting of these big cats as well as rescue missions to bring back rhino that had exited the park when community members apparently cut the fences of KZN’s best known wildlife conservation area.
Duma said a report that he had received from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, which manages the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, indicated that the leopards that were seen by motorists were probably residents of wild areas outside the park.
Ezemvelo pointed out that, like animals such as jackals, hyenas and snakes which are found in both protected and outside areas, the leopards could well be living in unexplored parts of Zululand.
He said that the province was particularly proud of the conservation achievements of the
Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP) which is often referred to as the ‘birthplace of rhino’ as it was in this area that the southern white rhino was saved from the brink of extinction over half a century ago.
“We wish to also point out that the installation of infrared trap cameras which are linked directly to the Parks Operational Centre at HiP have helped a lot in terms of conservation of our animals. These cameras use artificial intelligence (AI) to identify people and activities inside our game reserves and send an immediate alert to the Operations Centre which then rapidly alerts and activates the relevant reaction units and associated resources,” Duma noted.
He added that Ezemvelo game rangers continued to work with neighbouring communities and, especially, with traditional leaders, when it came to the management of wildlife and eco-tourism in general.
“Notwithstanding some challenges which have been vented through the Portfolio Committee on Conservation, we remain indebted to leaders of society for their commitment to work with management and the board of Ezemvelo. Our view, as the department, is that communities living near our game reserves and parks must benefit from our operations,” Duma said.
He said the KZN provincial government believed that nature conservation was critical for the creation of jobs and growing the local economy.
“Our game reserves and parks give us yet another avenue to confront the challenge of unemployment, poverty and inequality. We wish to assure nature lovers, and the public at large, that we have unparalleled experience when it comes to conservation of wildlife and eco-tourism in our game reserves and in our parks,” he said.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife manages more than 114 protected areas and close to 42 facilities that provide accommodation for more than 6 500 guests per night.