Wildlife in KwaZulu-Natal

Giraffe, KwaZulu-Natal. Photo by Richard Madden
Giraffe @ResponsibleTourism


The wildlife of KwaZulu-Natal’s parks and reserves is expertly managed by Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife which, during more than 100 years of formal conservation, has received many awards for the quality of its service to conservation and for the high standard of management of the province’s natural resources.

KwaZulu-Natal is home to the Big Five – lion, rhino (both black and white), elephant, buffalo and leopard – alongside a huge range of other game animals including cheetah, zebra, giraffe, hyena, jackal, blue wildebeest, impala, waterbuck, common and mountain reedbuck, kudu, bushbuck, steenbuck, duiker, warthog as well as rare and exotic species like the nyala antelope and more than 300 species of birds. Warthog, KwaZulu-Natal. Photo By Richard Madden

The province also boasts many of Africa’s top game parks and reserves including the continent’s oldest, the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Park opened in 1895. As the home of Operation Rhino in the ‘50s and ‘60s, the park became world famous for bringing the white rhino back from the edge of extinction. Numbering less than 20 animals in 1900, there are now more than 1,600 white rhino in the park (10,000 worldwide) and more than 350 black rhino.

Located in northern Zululand, uMkhuze Game Reserve has a huge diversity of natural habitats from mountains to broad stretches of acacia savannah, swamps and a variety of woodlands including riverine and sand forest. This diversity of habitats attracts a corresponding variety of wildlife including black and white rhino, elephant, giraffe, nyala, blue wildebeest, warthog, eland, hippo, impala, kudu and other smaller antelope.

Another of Africa’s oldest reserves, Pongola has more than 300 bird species and a range of plains game including elephant, white rhino, leopard, zebra, giraffe, blue wildebeest, kudu, impala, nyala, warthog, waterbuck, common and mountain reedbuck.

One hundred years after the last sighting of elephant in the Pongola area, two breeding herds were reintroduced in 1994 and The Space for Elephants Foundation was formed to sustain an elephant population of 1,000 and re-establish ancient migration routes. Nyala, KwaZulu-Natal. Photo by Richard Madden

Tembe Elephant Park on the northern border between KwaZulu-Natal and Mozambique is famous for being home to the largest elephants in Africa. Today, over 220 of these gentle giants still remain in their ancestral homeland alongside the other members of the Big Five and many other mammal species right down to the tiny Suni, one of the smallest antelope in the world.

The Indian Ocean off KwaZulu-Natal is one of the most biodiverse marine hotspots in the world renowned for the humpback and southern right whales which migrate north along the coast during June and July and back south again in September and October.

Dolphin sightings are also a daily occurrence year-round. One of the world’s great marine migrations, the Sardine Run, also takes place each year in June and July when huge shoals up to 7 kms long made up of millions of silver sardines (pilchards) migrate along the south coast creating a feeding frenzy of sharks, dolphins and sea-birds in their wake.The northern Elephant Coast has coral reefs that are home to more than 1200 fish species including manta rays, leatherback and loggerhead turtles, colour-changing octopus and giant potato bass while south of Durban, Protea Banks is known for its many shark species and the Aliwal Shoal reef has regular sightings of dolphins, manta rays, hump-backed whales and ragged tooth sharks. Game fish species in the Indian Ocean include dorado, tuna, barracuda, kingfish, black and blue marlin, sailfish, spearfish, wahoo among many others. Heron, KwaZulu-Natal. Photo By Richard Madden

Finally, KwaZulu-Natal is home to about 470 bird species and another 200 which are seen less often. The importance of KwaZulu-Natal in bird conservation is reflected in the number of Red Data species in the region. Of the 62 species currently listed, 49 occur regularly and the province makes a major contribution to the conservation of 26 of these.

The Elephant Coast is famous throughout South Africa as a birding Mecca with more than 500 species recorded in a variety of habitats. Rare exotic species such as the pink-throated twinspot, neergard’s sunbird, woodward’s batis and iconic species such as the southern-banded snake eagle, pels fishing owl and African broadbill can be seen. The Ndumo Game Reserve has the greatest variety of bird species of any protected wildlife area in South Africa while the uMkhuze section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park has more than 320 species. The wetlands are renowned for huge numbers of waterbirds including pelicans, storks and flamingos, rosy-throated longclaws, pygmy geese and lesser jacanas.

Durban beach, KwaZulu-Natal. Photo by Richard Madden Renowned for its golden beaches, warm winters and hot summer weather, Durban has a sub-tropical climate with sunshine for at least 320 days of the year.

Temperatures range between 16°C and 25°C during the winter months of June, July and August while summer temperatures can reach 32°C. Swimming in the warm Indian Ocean is ideal throughout the year.

South Coast
The entire coastline of KwaZulu-Natal is renowned for its world-class beaches and the south coast is home to its most popular resorts. Its balmy climate and wide, golden beaches lapped by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean make it a magnet for tourists. The South Coast is also famous for the annual Sardine Run (aka ‘The Greatest Shoal on Earth’) which attracts thousands of dolphins, sharks, game fish and sea birds. During the winter months Humpbacked and Southern Right Whales can be seen all along the coast heading north to their breeding grounds.

North Coast
Stretching 110 kms from Umhlanga Rocks just north of Durban to the Tugela River Mouth, the north coast is often known as the ‘Dolphin Coast’ after the bottlenose dolphins which can be seen year-round. It has some of the best beaches in the province and is known for its unspoilt environment. The secluded bays and golden beaches of this tropically lush coastline are broken up by patches of natural forest giving way to rolling hills of sugar cane stretching back into the interior.

Pietermaritzburg & Midlands
Located between the Drakensberg mountain range in the north-west and Durban on the coast, the Midlands region is a land of rolling hills and well-tended farmland. It was settled largely by English farmers who planted European trees and created horse studs and cattle farms so that today it looks much like England’s West Country. The main city, Pietermaritzburg, is a vibrant city combining the best of Zulu, Boer and British influences while the famous ‘Midlands Meander’ was created by a group of like-minded arts, crafts and local food businesses looking to showcase their work and produce.

These mountains of outstanding natural beauty form a barricade between the hills and valleys of KwaZulu-Natal and have been incorporated into a 243,000 hectare mountain park, declared a World Heritage Site in 2000.

Forming an inspiring chain of seasonally snow-capped peaks and buttresses, deep gorges, and sheer cliffs, the region stretches across three sections, the Southern, Central and Northern Drakensberg.

The battlefields region contains some 63 sites from the Voortrekker-Zulu conflict of 1838, the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, and the 1st and 2nd Anglo-Boer Wars of 1880/81 and 1899/02 respectively. These include the sites of the Battle of Blood River; Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift; and those of Laing’s Neck, Majuba and Talana. Read more about Battlefields

Zulu Land, KwaZulu-Natal. Photo by Richard MaddenCutting a broad swathe through the province from the far north to the coast, Zululand is at the heart of the original Zulu Kingdom created by the legendary King Shaka at the beginning of the 19th Century.

At its heart is the town of Ulundi and the Emakhosini Valley of the Kings, where King Shaka grew up and later returned to set up his royal palace. Seven Zulu kings lie buried here and many of the important battles in Zulu history were fought nearby.

Elephant Coast
The most untamed section of the coast, the Elephant Coast has a rich diversity of ecosystems and is home to many protected parks and reserves. These include the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, Africa’s oldest game reserve, the Ndumo Game Reserve, the Tembe Elephant Park and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, made up of four wetlands of international importance. These parks and reserves are among the best in Africa and offer unique opportunities to see the Big Five as well as many rare and endangered species. Scuba Diving and birding are popular recreational activities.