• Kev Thomas Writes

A Sad Indictment

Double Drift Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, used to be called the LL Sebe Game Reserve. Back then in pre-1994 South Africa, this particular geographical part of the Eastern Cape was located in what was known as the Ciskei. An independent South African government created African Homeland. There were others too, and in total, ten. They were; Transkei, Bophuthatswana,Venda, Gazankulu, KaNgwane, KwaNdebele, KwaZulu, Lebowa, and QwaQwa. These homelands were each designed for specific black ethnic groups.

I first went to the Ciskei in mid-1984 when I joined ULIMOCOR (Ciskei Agricultural Development Corporation) as a wildlife manager and professional hunter. At the time I had no idea how dynamic the tiny homeland's wildlife utilisation program was. President LL Sebe had a profound belief in the importance of tourism to his tiny nation. It had no other viable form of revenue generation, aside from limited light industry on the outskirts of East London, and agriculture. This latter, limited to dairy, sheep, and goats.

What the Ciskei did have was habitat diversity. An important factor when it comes to wildlife. The coastline wasn't very long, and was situated between East London and Port Alfred. The Great Fish River formed the country's eastern boundary, and the succulent valley bushveld found along the coastal belt, amongst dune forest, and then spreading inland along the Great Fish River, was ideal habitat for a variety of plains game species. Most important of these species were the East Cape kudu, and the Cape bushbuck. Historically too, the Fish River valley had been home to elephant, black rhino and buffalo. Hippo populations had also thrived in the river. Over time, we reintroduced buffalo, hippo and rhino back into the LL Sebe Game Reserve.

Above: The Cape bushbuck thrived in the succulent valley bushveld (a classified habitat type) found in the Ciskei's LL Sebe Game Reserve. The life size mount in the photo is of an exceptional trophy.

Above: East Cape kudu also thrived in the Ciskei's LL Sebe Game Reserve, and like bushbuck, were popular with sport hunters, making them a valuable source of income.

Ciskei also had two other dynamic game reserves. Furthest north was Tsolwana Game Reserve, situated between Queenstown and Tarkastad. In the country's centre, slightly north of Fort Beaufort was Mpofu Game Reserve. We lived at Tsolwana Game Reserve, and for nearly seven years as Regional Manager Ciskei north, I managed Tsolwana, and from our base there the Ciskei safari operational program across the three reserves. Each reserve also had a resident manager heavily committed to our overall program of wildlife utilisation on a sustainable yield basis. Our senior manager based in Bisho, and one of the architects of the Ciskei wildlife program was the late Charles Tinley (ex Natal Parks Board).

Charles elder brother John (ex Natal Parks Board), was our Mpofu Game Reserve manager and specialised in bow hunting. The resident PH at LL Sebe was Mike Bunge (who later, after independence became manager) and the manager, a Ciskein, Wandile Mzazi. Other managerial staff who'd also joined the Ciskei program were Phil and Pat Cripps, and later, Charles and Flo Donaldson. After South Africa's independence in 1994 the independent homelands were dissolved and absorbed back into the South African provinces they'd originally been part of. Ciskei became part of the Eastern Cape, and the game reserves part of the Eastern Cape Tourism Board. Mzazi became the Bisho based senior manager with the East Cape Tourism Board for the old Ciskei and Transkei game reserves.

By the late 1980s the wildlife division of ULIMOCOR had undergone a change and become the Ciskei Parks & Wildlife Resources Board. Our overall program included seasonal sport hunting. The scientifically based quota of game put on the market each season (April to September) was the result of ongoing ground counts, and helicopter aerial counts. The surplus game to each reserves carrying capacity was offered in two categories. Firstly, old non-breeding trophy males, and mature males surplus to requirement. Secondly, what were termed 'venison packages'. These were made up of a mix of prolific breeding species like; warthog, impala, springbok, blesbok, and mountain reedbuck.

A venison hunter could purchase a package of say;

  • 2 x Impala females & 1 x Impala male.

  • 2 x Mountain Reedbuck females & 1 x Mountain Reedbuck male.

  • 2 x Springbok females & 2 x Springbok males.

  • 1 x Black Wildebeest female.

Venison packages obviously varied seasonally, and species wise from game reserve to game reserve. Readers should bear in mind too, that the Ciskei had in the region of 30 antelope species. Anti-hunters are quick to be judgemental about hunting in our modern era. However, all we were doing was using the sport hunter as a paying management tool to cull our surplus species. Because we had no major predators in our game reserves, the rifle had to become the regulator. Wildlife in a fenced game ranch environment cannot migrate long distances to better feeding grounds once a food supply is exhausted. The only way to take pressure off the food bank is to reduce numbers. Our reduction program included game capture for live sale.

Above: Where there are no major predators, and in a fenced game ranch environment prolific breeding species like warthog, have to be kept at population levels the land mass is capable of sustaining. Virtually the only way to do this is by using the rifle as the regulator.

Above: Junior hunter courses run under the auspices of the East Cape Game Management Association formed an important feature of the Ciskei's wildlife policy.

Ciskei also had a dynamic school wildlife education program, and a junior hunter program through the auspices of the East Cape Game Management Association. Education of youth on matters associated with wildlife management in the African context was considered a priority by us. The Ciskei also became a bespoke safari venue for international clientele, who saw value for money coupled to 5-star service in our tiny nation.

Above: Youth education in wildlife utilisation in the African context was considered a high priority in the Ciskei, and was ongoing. In this photo taken in the 1980s at Tsolwana Game Reserve, Mr. Compton Ngetane, assisted by Zooks Khambi, both part of our management team, deliver a lesson to youngsters.

Monies derived from paying sport hunters were ploughed strait back into our wildlife conservation programs across the three game reserves. In addition to African game, we also had a dynamic exotic species program on a 8,000 acre landmass belonging to the Amaqwati tribe. One of the other areas monies derived from sport hunting was channelled into was land reclamation. Much of Ciskei's game reserves comprised badly eroded land. This had come about decades before, when the land was still white owned commercial farm land. Overstocking with livestock in a marginal area not suited to cattle ranching had led to the bad erosion.

Above: An aerial view of soil erosion in the Ciskei's Tsolwana Game reserve circa 1984.

Above: Stone build gabions retain soil during the rains and help stabilise erosion dongas. This was an ongoing program across the Ciskei's three game reserves throughout the 1980s.

Above: At Tsolwana Game Reserve we also constructed game pens to temporarily hold live captured game for auction. The construction of these game pens like all other reserve development was financed by income earned from paying sport hunters.

Above: In Africa, cattle are symbolic of wealth and sought after grazing is always at a premium. During the Ciskei era, we allowed Chief Hinana's Amaqwati Tribe emergency winter grazing in Tsolwana Game Reserve. It was a symbiotic relationship because we identified areas where we wanted the cattle to graze, and aside from the cattle getting much needed nutrition, they also removed the tick burden from the reserve's grassed areas. You can't dip wildlife but you can dip cattle.

Where Has It All Gone Wrong?

Twenty-six years after South Africa's independence I received a bit of a shock. Because I'd been actively involved in the safari industry, over the years I'd obviously followed the directives of the various South African conservation agencies. These directives introduced some years after independence had far reaching consequences for the game ranching industry. In the main, they were concerned with biodiversity. In simplistic terms meaning if a species hadn't historically belonged in a specific geographical area it had to go. This spelt the immediate death knell for many species, and for the Ciskei's once dynamic exotic species program. Not to mention the live capture of game for sale program because if the species in question didn't belong, the authorities merely stopped issuing transportation permits.

In 2000, and after Zimbabwe's ZANU PF government's reckless and ill-planned land grab, we returned to South Africa's Eastern Cape. As things transpired, I ended up getting offered and accepting my previous managerial post at Tsolwana Game reserve. This time under the East Cape Tourism Board because the Ciskei was no more. Sadly, what had once been something to be proud of had degenerated into a corrupt, incompetent organisation. The corruption involved black and white, with the safari operator at the time being the worst culprit. A concerted effort had been planned to try and force me out by way of intimidation and deliberate false accusations. A well-planned smear campaign.

The reason was because the East Cape Tourism Board had decided to market a percentage of the annual wildlife quota themselves. To do this, they employed me because they didn't know how to do it. However, they only told me this after I'd accepted the post. Ian Wilmot Safaris had the game reserves seasonal quota at the time (he'd originally taken over from me when we returned home to Zimbabwe in 1990.) Wilmot obviously felt peeved as he no longer had a 100 percent huntable quota. It's a long nasty story of corruption in high office, fully explained in a chapter in my semi autobiography Shadows in an African Twilight (2008). The chapter (25) is titled White and (Black) Mischief in the Eastern Cape Safari Industry. (The book is available on and for South African buyers although I can supply if necessary. It is also available on Amazon as an Ebook for Kindle devices).

The success and proud days of all three Ciskei game reserves is now a thing of the past. Long forgotten as distant memories. It's very sad in a way. More so for the wildlife than anything else. A few months ago a good friend sent me some photos he'd taken during a brief visit to the old LL Sebe Game Reserve, as mentioned earlier, now called Double Drift Game Reserve. They're a sad indictment of the continued gross inefficiency in the Eastern Cape Tourism Board's reserve management. The photos also aptly illustrate what happens when a well-managed, well regulated, scientifically based game reserve hunting program is stopped.

Above: Bathroom facilities vandalized in what was client accommodation at Double Drift Game Reserve.

Above: More destruction at Double Drift.

Above: Kudu skulls amongst others, left to rot. Many of these have been recovered from poachers snares.

Above: More kudu skulls. These animals if put out to sport-hunters could've earned valuable revenue by way of trophy fees and daily rates. Instead they're being hunted and shot by reserve game scouts with absolutely no income being derived. What had been a model game reserve in modern wildlife utilisation is no more. Thanks to incompetency and corruption.

36 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All