The Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park is the oldest proclaimed protected Game Reserve area in South Africa, dating back to 1895. It is in these valleys where King Shaka of the Zulus, unbeknown to the world, pioneered a culture of conservation long before the concept was coined by European settlers. It is here, amidst these timeless, undulating hills, where visitors will be able to walk in the footsteps of giants, past and present.
The DNA of all white rhinos alive in Africa today can be traced back to the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park. Once the royal hunting grounds for the Zulu kingdom, this is where the first steps with Operation Rhino were taken almost seventy years ago under the guidance of revered conservationist, the late Dr. Ian Player.
A 1953 aerial survey counted no more than 437 of these pre-historic creatures left in the wilderness. Here, at 25 years old, Player fell under the spell of these magical creatures and conceived Operation Rhino, a serious attempt to translocate the dwindling numbers of remaining rhinos to reserves and parks across the globe in order to give them a better chance of survival.
Dr Player advocated that the uMfolozi reserve should retain its pristine wilderness character, and for years, reshaped the relationship between humans and nature with his Wilderness Leadership courses conducted in this area. At last count, more than 50,000 people have trekked through this wilderness with Dr Player to get a better understanding of nature and their own relationship within the greater scheme of things. Through his multiple efforts the genetic base of the white rhino grew and diversified, and its numbers grew back to the 20,000 mark. To many, Dr Player became the figurehead of eco-tourism and of rhino conservation, even as he spread his ethos to protect many other endangered species across the globe.
Through his sixty plus years at the forefront of conservation and eco-tourism, Dr Ian Player shaped an ethos towards nature and wildlife that forms the DNA of the industry and many of its most successful operators. When you visit the uMfolozi Big Five Reserve, the footprints of this giant of conservation can be seen, figuratively, all over.
The uMfolozi Big Five Reserve represents the future of conservation as it blends past and present conservation models.
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