The Hluhluwe Game Reserve has a rich and diverse history. The Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve traces a
turbulent past back to a bygone era. Although people had stayed in the area for over two millennia, their presence was not fully evident until they began smelting iron in the Imfolozi river valleys to produce metal in order to make spears for warfare and hunting, in around 1000 AD. The area’s wild animals offered an important source of food for these people. When the Zulu people arrived in this area during the early 1800s, it is said that King Shaka instigated a campaign to remove all crops and other food sources that would aid enemy tribes. In so doing, he destroyed almost all the wildlife in the area, after the Zulu’s had masticated most of the animals, then came the ‘Great White’ hunters. Remains of some of the huge pitfall traps used by the Zulu’s are still to be seen in the wilderness area between the confluences of the Black and White Umfolozi Rivers.
Despite protection of wildlife, the persecution thereof in Zululand persisted for decades because of outbreaks of sleeping sickness among cattle and the human part of the problem was actually malaria. The Tsetse fly was the carrier of the disease, so the idea was to get rid of the animals and in so doing get rid of the flies and the disease, so a campaign was launched to clear the surrounding areas of game and by doing this they would get rid of the disease. About, 26 000 animals were shot out in this time , and by the 1950’s wildebeest and zebra had been entirely eliminated from the area and small amount of wildlife, including the black and white rhinoceros, remained. During this time of upheaval the Imfolozi junction was deproclaimed as a Game Park on a number of occasions. DDT was used to get rid of the Tsetse fly and mosquitos. Since the early 1960s, however, the existing game has been well protected and other wildlife reintroduced to the Hluhluwe Game Reserve by the KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Services. The ‘corridor area’ between the two parks was functionally incorporated at this time, but was only formally incorporated in 1989 to form Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park as it is known today.
The inclusion of this area has helped to recreate a fully-functional ecosystem, allowing for natural migration of animals between the two areas. There is a national road that goes through the middle of the park, the negative effect of this is road kill. The Park is now 96 000 hectors (960 km2).
The protection that the park has enjoyed has conserved its great diversity and besides its wildlife, the park has over 1000 plant species, including a number of endangered plants that were overexploited for traditional medicine. Supported by the plant community is a wide range of wildlife, including an impressive 80 mammals and 350 bird species, not to mention countless reptiles, amphibians, and insects.
These figures are forever changing, among the mammals are the famed ‘Big Five’, namely black rhino, elephant, lion, leopard and buffalo – the most sought-after and dangerous of the world’s big animals. It was these five species which gripped the imagination of the’ great white’ hunters and sport men, drawing them to Africa to experience the thrill of hunting and being close to these animals. Folklore and legends are rich regardsing the Big Five, encompassing beliefs such as:”The Good Lord put the animals here for us to use wisely and respect, even as we hunted them, but He knew that without fear we might lose our respect for the creatures. So He put the five here to help us remember. The lion and leopard taught us fear for the night, that only the daytime was ours. The buffalo, the elephant and the black rhino taught us to fear their strength, that we might respect the strength of nature”.