A photo safari in Hluhluwe Imfolozi game reserve

The first nature reserve in Africa, and the second in the world, was created in 1895. The world’s first was Yellowstone in the United States of America.
This reserve is now called Hluhluwe-Imfolozi and are named of the two rivers that flow through the reserve. The park is situated in KwaZulu-Natal at a few hours driving from Durban.

Saving the white rhino

It once was the hunting reserve for the Zulu king, but it became a reserve to protect the white rhinoceros. The white rhino was hunted almost into extinction and thanks to this reserve the number of white rhino in South Africa are now the largest in the world. In 1900 there were only 20 white rhinos left, and the white rhino today all descent from the ones protected in Umfolozi at the time. Unfortunately today both the white and black rhino are threatened throughout Africa once again by poaching, because some Asian countries use the horns in traditional medicines. Rhino horns are now worth more than gold and over the last years more rhino are being killed for their horns than new rhinos are being born.

Poached rhino carcass showing that rhinos are not save anywhere. The horns are cut off and sold in Asia for use in traditional medicines

Even though in the early 1900s the white rhino was protected, many other animals weren’t. The other animals in the reserve, like buffaloes and antelopes were accused of creating a habitat for the tse-tse flies that decimated cattle, and for this reason thousands of those wild animals were killed without risolving the tse-tse fly problem.
Today however, the reserve is a beautiful park with many buffaloes and antelopes.

A safari in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi reserve

In Hluhluwe-Imfolozi you get the chance to see the big 5 (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo), but there are plenty of other animals to see, just as beautiful. I would like to show you some of the animals that normally do not get all the attention, but are well worth seeing. And each animal has its place, often one needs the other in some way.


One antelope, that you might not see so often in other reserves but is quite abundant here, is the nyala. The nyala was first described in 1849 and is found mainly in this area. When a nyala is born, male and female look the same, but when the male reaches adulthood it becomes darker and its vertical white stripes are less pronounced. The males also grow spiral horns. About the only part that does not change colour is the lower part of the legs. It is one of the most pronounced transformations of a mammal.

Nyala young
The young nyalas all look like this, male or female
Young male jumping
The young nyala male starts to grow its horns and to change colour

They prefer to stay in the bushes between the trees and you won’t often see them in the open like impalas for example. The nyala shows the vertical white stripes on the side of their bodies like kudu, but kudu is larger and is of a more grey colour.

Adult nyala male
This adult male has completed the transformation


The reserve is also the home to many birds. A bird that can often be seen around grazers is the ox-picker. In Hluhluwe-Imfolozi we only saw the red-billed ox-picker. They eat the ticks that live in the fur of the large herbivores, like buffalo, antelopes and rhino. The host is relieved from some of the parasites, but ox-pickers also keep wounds open longer than needed by picking at the wound as well. Research showed that ox-pickers even inflict wounds to mammals, so instead of helping their host, they might be the parasite.

Ox-pickers on a giraffe
Ox-pickers on a giraffe
Ox-picker on a rhino ear
Ox-pickers seem to eat the ear wax of their host animals and this one seems to be looking for some
Not all hosts are happy to have an ox-picker around

Guinea fowls

Other birds you will see, not only here, but around Africa, even in urban areas, are guinea fowls. Nothing gets wasted in Nature and since elephants digest only part of the food they eat, in their dung other animals find lots to eat. Here you can see this guinea fowl going through elephant dung. It is also quite common for baboons to pick edible things from elephant dung. Many seeds from fruits or berries have become softer and are now easier to open. There are four species of guinea fowls and in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi you will see the crested guinea fowl.

crested guinea fowl
Nothing goes to waste. A guinea fowl going through elephant dung
Guinea fowl
On the run

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi has done an amazing job saving the white rhino from extinction. Wildlife conservation has been a trial and error process here, as it has been elsewhere. Every time we try to intervene in Nature, thinking we understand how it works, we find out everything is connected. Ideally we should just let Nature run its course, but since the reserves have limited space, this is often not possible. Reserves like this are the best we can offer now, and ideally should be connected with other reserves and grow to re-establish migration routes and gives animals that need large territories their space.
In the mean time, please visit these reserves to enjoy the Nature that is left, and to be aware of how beautiful it is and how necessary they are for the conservation of so many plant and animal species.

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