Conserving biodiversity is a founding pillar of Babanango Game Reserve in northern KwaZulu-Natal, some 50km from Vryheid. The 20,000ha reserve is a partnership between conservationists, private investors and local communities to care for the ecologically-sensitive mistveld grasslands, thornveld, riverine thicket and a 23km stretch of the White Umfolozi River.
Most of Babanango Game Reserve is considered irreplaceable from a biodiversity perspective. As part of the KZN Biodiversity Stewardship Programme, Babanango scored an impressive 17/20 in an assessment undertaken landowners, site managers, conservation Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the KZN Department of Agriculture and NGO partners. Babanango comfortably qualified to be declared as a nature reserve – the highest form of protection for a biodiversity stewardship site in KZN.
The assessment team found that Babanango offers high biodiversity value, unique landscape features and protects the only known viable population of two endemic species of aloes – Aloe gerstneri and Aloe vanrooyenii. Babanango also contains three natural heritage sites and will contribute significantly to tourism and sustainable job creation in the conservation sector.
“Each plant and animal plays a role in these restorative processes,” says Chris Galliers of Conservation Outcomes, the conservation partner at Babanango Game Reserve. “We recently reintroduced a locally extinct antelope – the humble steenbok – to the reserve. These small herbivores used to occur on the reserve but were poached out. We’ve released seven onto the reserve, so we’re looking forward to seeing their population grow.”
Babanango is home to a diversity of wildlife from leopard, buffalo, rhino and hyena to hippo, giraffe and antelope. At least 283 bird species have been recorded on the Babanango reserve, including the southern bald ibis, buff-streaked chat, mountain wagtail, African finfoot and raptors like the lanner falcon and African hawk eagle.
Babanango Game Reserve was created by the local Emcakwini, KwaNgono and Esibongweni communities to attract tourism and stimulate the local economy. Babanango Valley Lodge enjoys panoramic views of the Nsubeni River that flows into the White Umfolozi. Surrounded by dramatic granite koppies, sandstone cliffs and impressive quartzite ridges, Babanango Valley Lodge can accommodate up to 18 people in nine rooms, each overlooking the reserve below..