In January 2019, alien plants took on a useful role for the Babanango community in northern KwaZulu Natal. The invasive alien plants in the area are a major threat to biodiversity in catchment areas, potentially disrupting the delicate natural balance in ecosystems. With the likes of Zulu Rock Game Lodge and Babanango Outdoor Education (BOE) being under new management as of late 2018, there has been a renewed drive in the Babanango region spearheaded by Zulu Rock Lodge’s Director, Jeffrey van Staden, and his team to not only preserve the flora and fauna that call it home, but to partner with conservationists, non-profit organisations and the local community to educate people about the value of this eco-system.
The Zulu Rock Lodge and BOE management team partnered with Emcakwini Community Trust at the start of 2019 to recruit locals from the Babanango area to become part of an official alien plants removal team. This partnership created jobs for 37 trust beneficiaries who, under the leadership of Ryan Andraos from Zulu Rock (Deputy Reserve Manager), have been equipped with the necessary training and skills prior to undertaking this five-year project. “We depend on biodiversity for water, food, wood, clean air, medicine and much more, which is why it’s vitally important that we protect this resource. Alien plants can have a severe effect on water resources and as it is South Africa is a water scarce country, with drought conditions already having wreaked havoc in various parts of the country and placing an important spotlight on the sustainable use of water. An estimated 3 million m3 of water is lost in this area due to invasive plants. The aim of clearing these alien vegetation plants is to turn this space in Babanango into a secure catchment area, which will also improve biodiversity and eventually make the land more productive, as a result, they are unmanaged plantations at this stage. Although the local team has only recently started work on removing the identified plants – they have already made significant progress and demonstrated the community’s commitment to conservation in the Babanango region,” stated Andraos.
Zulu Rock Game Ranch is situated in a place of extraordinary biodiversity, which lends itself to the reintroduction of game, including buffalo and other big 5 animals, which is on the cards for 2019. It also forms part of the Umfolozi Biodiversity Economy Node development, a chain of linked private protected areas, private game farms and communal land, with the potential to create a conservation of 20,000 hectares.
“We are taking our role very seriously to ensure the local community also reap the benefits that will come with the refurbishment and reimagining of lodges like Zulu Rock and Babanango Outdoor Education in the area. Our goal is to play a key role in securing much-needed local employment for the community by creating long-term jobs in hospitality, conservation and management. Through our alien-vegetation removal programme, we have successfully upskilled people from the community not only on plant identification but imparted other useful skills and knowledge to them such as chainsaw use, health and safety, personal finance, site management, educating peers, and field safety and survival skills. The establishment of this locally based alien plant removal team is a great example of how important it is for private businesses and the local community to work together and be aligned in their objectives to successfully achieve a mutually beneficial situation for all affected parties,” concluded van Staden.