Living with wildlife in iSimangaliso

6 Nov 2017

St Lucia Estuary has always been a rather unique sort of town, totally surrounded by the iSimangaliso Wetland Park World Heritage Site. Fringed by lush coastal forests and the Park’s marine protected area of the Indian Ocean shoreline in the east, the Eastern Shores section to the north and the Lake St Lucia estuarine system to the south and west, this thriving tourist destination has been made world-famous by the proximity to wildlife that wanders freely through the streets and fringes of town.

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It would be rare for a visitor not to spot hippo (the Park has around 800), crocodile, (at least 1200), red duiker, banded mongoose, Tonga squirrels, bushbuck and a virtual aviary of birdlife while strolling down the leafy lanes. Less frequently encountered – but often enough to make the list – are spotted hyaena, leopard, civet, genet, honey badgers, waterbuck, bushpig, warthog, kudu, impala, porcupine and a lone baboon. And yes, we are still talking about the STREETS of town.

Most of the time, all is harmonious between animals and humans. The local residents cherish their close presence, and it is of course one of the main reasons that millions of tourists are attracted to St Lucia. And seldom is there any negative encounter between the two.

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Every so often, however, an animal becomes just a bit TOO comfortable in the company of people and it is then that a warning bell is sounded. This was the case with the young male hippo pictured above who chose to regularly frequent first the office premises of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority and then the main streets of town almost every day, during daylight hours. Seemingly chilled, he grazed as peacefully as a domestic cow mere metres from passersby – but therein lay the danger. After one or two people ventured just a bit too close and received a display of his impressive tusks, management realised that the day had come to relocate him to a quieter part of the Park.

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Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the conservation managers for iSimangaliso, placed their Game Capture team on standby and on Thursday 2 November, when the man-about-town arrived early morning right on cue near the busy town entrance, he was placed under constant hippo watch as the team readied their gear. Dr Rowan Leeming, working under EKZNW Vet Dr Dave Cooper’s direction, darted the bull in the rump as he peacefully chomped the lush green lawns of the Luwandla residential complex. A recently developed combination of drugs worked like a charm and he soon nodded off to a deep sleep.

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As fascinated townsfolk and tourists gathered around to watch the show, the ‘well-oiled machine’ that is one of the industry’s finest and most experienced capture teams, bound and strapped the immobilised bull, hoisted him with a crane and lowered him gently into a large crate, closely managed by EKZNW officers Dumi Zwane and Jan-Pierre van Heerden. He was then driven to Fani’s Island on the Western Shores of the Park, an area with few resident hippo, and released on the Lake’s shore where he lowered himself happily into the cool water.

As always with wildlife, iSimangaliso urges visitors to respect the presence of any wild animal and be mindful of the sheer privilege of peaceful co-existence. As we enter the busiest tourist season of the year, we ask accommodation owners to remind their guests of the constant presence of hippos and other wildlife and to report any injuries, incidents or transgressions to the iSimangaliso Emergency Line 082 797 7944.

For media enquiries and photographs contact Slie Msweli on +27 79 6320 363 or sli@isimangaliso.com.