With an estimated 30% of surface water left in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, management at the World Heritage Site is keeping a worried eye on the skies and another on wildlife in the park.
“We had a very bad drought between 2002 and 2012 and at the time it was considered the worst drought in living memory,” said iSimangaliso CEO Andrew Zaloumis.
“When you have successively low rainfall years, you begin to have real trouble.” In 2015, the park recorded the lowest rainfall in 65 years.
In December, it was decided to review the park’s ecological carrying capacity in terms of the wildlife it could sustain.
One of the decisions to come out of the review was to move six rhino from the uMkuze area into a different part of the park, which would be more viable for the threatened animals.
Zaloumis said by the time the drought kicked in, the park was already fairly well prepared, having refurbished boreholes and water supply points through the years, as well as taking out plantations and alien vegetation that had been sucking underground water supplies dry.
However, the declining nutritional value of the grass was the major problem.
“During the drought, we suddenly saw we were getting a lot of rhino deaths, not from poaching.
“So, in a matter of three days, we moved 20 rhino off uMkuze into new areas where we have also capped the populations,” Zaloumis said.
He noted that iSimangaliso – while it did not have the Kruger National Park’s number of game – has some of the highest densities of rhino in Africa.
Now, it’s about monitoring the animals left in sub-tropical areas on semi-arid land in uMkuze and keeping a watchful, hopeful, eye out for rain clouds.