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HME Mapping
 

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Community Mapping of the

Hluhluwe and Umfolozi Game Reserves

By ECOTRACS

17 20 February 2005

On Thursday 17th the roll call was held at Hluhluwe's Gontshi camp, for the first participants in the Hluhluwe mapping expedition. The majority of our members arrived by nightfall and

a welcoming braai attended by Sihle Nxumalo (Conservation Manager Hluhluwe Game Reserve), Sue Van Rensburg (Regional ecologist South Zululand) and Dave Robertson

(Section Ranger Nqumeni), was enjoyed by all.

 

By 8h00 on the Friday morning a handful of members from the Richards Bay contingent joined the throng, barely making it in time for the first mission briefing by Peter Tiedt, after

which the much anticipated mapping activities could commence.

 

The park was split into areas with teams being appropriated to the various areas, the mission, to travel each and every road in those areas down to the last meter of the last track and to

plot the tracks  with the highest accuracy available to GPS.

 

The majority of the parks roads are clearly signposted and in excellent condition, with a good quality tar road forming the spine from memorial gate through to the southern most

extremity of the park in the corridor section between Hluhluwe and Umfolozi. Leading off from the spine is a series of loops of varying lengths, designed to provide scenic alternatives

to the tar road, and to cover some of the more remote features in the park for game viewing.

 

The Ecotracs mission was however also to record the less prominent roads including the details of the management roads to such destinations as staff accommodation, water management

facilities, private lodges and various other restricted areas. Many of the management roads in the park are not too frequently used as the travel to the areas they service is seasonal, such as

for firebreak or game counting exercises which are annual functions. These roads consequently become somewhat overgrown and rather difficult to find in mid summer when luscious

green vegetation covers every square inch of this beautiful park.

 

Government survey maps from the 1 : 50 000 series were used to identify the more obscure roads and tracks and the club members having been assigned the mission to cover all roads,

set out well  briefed by Peter Tiedt to dispatch exactly that objective.

 

By sunset on the Friday, the remainder of the club arrived making a total of 36 participants ranging from 2 to 82 years old and covering a wide variety of vehicles including the timeless

Landcruiser and Landrover marques as well as a handful of the slicker bakkie variety and one Jeep. Although an undoubtedly wide spectrum of vintages, they didn't quite span the 80

years that their occupants ages achieved.

 

On Friday evening the data collection began with the downloading of tracks from all GPS's and the correlation of data, keeping Peter busy well into valuable braai and recreation

time. Sihle Nxumalo and Sue Van Rensburg once  gain represented the parks management at the evening function and were bravely available until the last revelers had absorbed

the last piece of information that their now weakening minds could manage. Being there at the very end, I will gladly testify to the liveliness of the discussion provided by our hosts

and especially by Sue who proved that the "bittereinders" at the party need more than perseverance to wear down her steel resolve to protect the

environment.

 

Sue shared a very enlightening concept of the human footprint and the unjust size thereof by way of explanation of the extreme and often glutinous demands the human race makes

on the planet, mostly to the detriment of the cohabitors of our planet Earth. Some very interesting debate, excellent whisky and eventually we had to agree to disagree on the

subject of global warming.

 

Saturday morning commenced with a brief and informal morning session in which Peter highlighted some holes in the previous days data, and issued some new challenges in order

to wrap up the last few unfinished routes which were identified the previous evening as a consequence of reviewing data together with the park management. Some of the more

challenging routes were to be undertaken including tracking of the park boundary fence which was necessary to redefine the parallelogram describing the parks boundary on the

T4A map, and also the greatest challenge, the northern roads which NCS normally only traverses with 'tractors and Landcruisers' says the parks manager Sihle. The Saturday's

routes were a bit more of a challenge and also saw the mappers traveling further distances to their targets than the previous day, most only returning to camp just before sunset,

with a few stopping over at the hilltop camp for lunch and late afternoon swim.

 

The data collection exercise on this evening presented an amazing picture, many of the roads which we had tracked had officially been declared closed by parks management and

due to the consequent lack of maintenance, the parks management was somewhat surprised to learn that not only did we locate these roads, but also managed to plot the greater majority

of them too. It transpired that there was only one small missing link in the middle of the park, and one little used track in the far northern extremity of the park that had not been

discovered. The evening's function comprised a more formal but alfresco gathering, at which some small speeches and acknowledgements were made, and at which the members of

Ecotracs started a valuable tradition by presenting a most beautiful Cape Ironwood framed certificate of thanks to me for my contribution to the establishment of Ecotracs, to quote

the certificate, an idea whose time has come. Guy Boardman competently performed the MC duties and on our behalf thanked the NCS, once again represented by Sue and Sihle and

this time joined by Mabhida Ntenga (Logistics officer). The formalities over, Sue addressed the gathering using a powerpoint presentation and informal speech on what happens in the

management and ecological care taking of this important piece of real estate called Hluhluwe. Sue presented some very powerful images of the importance of this park and its continued

existence, she well painted the picture that natural conservation areas are not established as a last undiscovered refuge for the human race, but rather to preserve and ensure their

continued existence despite the human race. So thus somewhat saddened by confronting some of the uglier aspects of human nature and yet simultaneously thankful for the obvious

enthusiasm and contribution that people such as Sue and Sihle and all at NCS make to saving some parts of our natural heritage form ourselves, we went on to enjoy a last evening

braai and once again, a fair bit of good hops, grapes and barley all around.

 

Sunday morning saw a somewhat more subdued beginning to the day with the inevitable breaking down and cleaning of the site prior to our departure. There were essentially two holes

in the gathered data, one being the far northern extremity of the park which it was decided to leave for another day due to the inevitable complexity and predicted difficulty of the

route, the other of which Peter Zagel committed to complete and successfully led a party of vehicles out to close this last hole.

 

Finally we met up and said our farewells at the Hilltop camp some doing a last swim in the Hilltop pool and others partaking of a sumptuous buffet lunch in the restaurant.

 

An important precedent has been established on this significant event, we set out and succeeded, to prove to the Nature conservation Services, and to ourselves, that the concept of

4 x 4 clubs and nature conservation do not always have to have conflicting objectives. The expensive vehicles and gear that make up the basic requirements of our sport, can

also be put to a constructive and beneficial use to assist rather than conflict with conservation objectives. We have demonstrated an important area of common ground with NCS and that

through open and frank dialog around the campfire, we have also identified some other potential common areas where we as a club can utilize our unique talents, skills and equipment to

assist the cause of nature conservation and do a little bit more to make a difference to enhance our natural heritage.

 

Future projects which are now on the cards as a consequence of this highly successful mission are, the mapping of the Umfolozi park, (possibly this year in winter), and, Ecotracs is now

seeking a way to assist with the raising of funds for the provision of tracking collars for the unique wild dog communities of Hluhluwe. This incentive has the caught the attention of myself

and Shaun Cullen who are currently investigating ways and exploring avenues to get this off the ground, the exercise primarily requires funding of a minimum of 4 tracking collars of

the order of R13,000.00 each, a not inconsiderable sum of money, but surely a worthy project to assist a unique and worthy cause. There have also been some proposals to assist the park

management with tracking and setting up services for firebreak management and Ecotracs has offered its services for any other 4 x 4 specialist services and including our special mapping

and GIS talents for any future projects the park may have to offer us.

 

We thus look forward to a fruitful and mutually beneficial relationship of long term, with the Nature Conservation Services of Hluhluwe and Umfolozi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Donald Pittendrigh


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