April 2012

Dear Shareholder and Friend of Mhlopeni,

A huge THANK- YOU to all the shareholders who have already paid their levies for this financial year. The New Year has presented a few “challenges” that required fairly rapid response and it was

so good to be in funds to take the necessary action.

Telkom dropped all landline services to rural areas in our part of the world, which meant no telephone calls, Internet messages or access to the Web for information and banking purposes. Their new

policy is to service towns only, which may make sense to them, but has severe adverse impacts on local businesses (and jobs) particularly as cell phone reception is patchy in this rugged terrain. As

first step, we innocently tried using an Internet café in Greytown to receive incoming mail messages, but landed up with a nasty ‘Recycler’ virus in our memory stick, which then invaded our computer

system and took lots of scrubbing with anti-virus measures to eradicate. Thanks Dave and Brad for all your expertise to get rid of that one. It was a bit like catching AIDS!

We then sought out the most appropriate Satellite service provider, to be completely independent of Telkom and made use of a cell phone to maintain rudimentary communications as an interim

measure. Richard took the dogs for a long walk each day in search of a cell phone signal reception area, to send and receive calls. Last week, the Skye-Max system crew arrived and installed all the

equipment necessary to link us to the wide and wonderful Outside World, via the New Dawn satellite.
Please take note of the new e-mail addresses for all future correspondence:

Joy is at joy@mhlopeni.co.za
Richard is at richard@mhlopeni.co.za
Andy is at andy@mhlopeni.co.za

It has been an expensive and mind-bending experience to go “fully digital” but what a pleasure to be able to communicate from the comfort of a desk again, without all those tiny little cell phone

buttons. We will ask Telkom to remove all their poles and cables from the entire property and that will end the era (over 80 years) of their service to this farmhouse. Once the satellite phone instrument

is finally installed, we will also be able to hear voice, over the ether, which will be truly magical. VIVA technology!

The weather is glorious at this time of year. There is an Autumn nip in the air, but days are generally warm and sunny; clear blue skies that make one glad to be alive and living in such a magnificent

landscape. You can feel the serene energy that flows from the mountains, the rocks, trees and the stream, like a blessing. Please take time to share with us, if you can get away from the city and all its

noise.

Rainfall was about a third lower than average, this past season. Late rains replenished the water table and freshened up vegetation. So we enter Winter, in confidence of a better season, next year. It is

simply a part of natural cycles, not a long-term trend.

Good news is that our small and scattered dassie colonies are definitely on the increase. There is a fair amount of territorial calling from the males, particularly on moonlight nights, that we hadn’t heard

for many years and indicates a more settled pattern of behaviour. A pair of Black eagles regularly patrols the valley but so far, there are no signs of any intended nesting activity. New arrivals are a pair

of Fish eagles: we aren’t sure if it is the same one that nests in the Blue gum trees of a neighbor’s farm, on the Mooi river, or a “new” pair seeking a nest site. We recently watched them perform an

elaborate and highly vocal aerial display. Does that mean they want to settle? We’ve never had Fish eagles before!

I have two share blocks to advertise for sale, first to existing shareholders, then to interested “Friends of Mhlopeni” in order to recover the outstanding levies that are several years in arrears and are

the last of the “cheap” share blocks available, on our books. One is from a deceased estate where the beneficiary is un-interested in continued membership; the other shareholder has simply gone

‘awol’ and failed to respond to all my efforts. Please indicate if you are interested, as we need this money for the serious development of Lot A: our Conservation effort for land rehabilitation and

environmental education. It is a good investment for the future of people and land.

Andrew is well advanced with the first structure for the reception site, which has been fully fenced to keep domestic livestock out. In a way, it will be like starting the original Mhlopeni project all over

again, on a smaller scale and although we will use re-cycled materials as far as possible, some things have to be bought new, plus there is local labour to be paid for. Andy is a master of improvisation

and will take up residence, on site, in a small tent, until the first roof is erected to provide more adequate shelter.

During May, he will be joined by a young volunteer from the Perm culture fraternity who will enlighten us on the mysteries of muck and manure, planting by the moon and “no till” technology etc., to

bring the arable land section into productivity. It is an ambitious plan, too long deferred and the time is right to make that “leap of faith” to bring it to fruition. It is extremely heartening to know there are

those of the next generation who are willing to pick up where we have been forced to leave off, to bend their backs, when ours grow weary: get hands dirty and shoulder to the wheel (as we did, in

our time) for the future is theirs. And all the responsibility of what happens to Mankind, this beautiful blue planet with so many environmental problems, will pass on to them in due course. We will be

making compost of a different kind!

Recommended reading: if you can track it down. NOW OR NEVER: Why We Must Act Now to End Climate Change and Create a Sustainable Future (2009) by Tim Flannery
Published by Atlantic Monthly Press, New York ISBN-13: 978-o-8021-898-1
Distributed by Publishers Group West www.groveatlantic.com

Yours in Conservation

Richard and Joy
+ All at Mhlopeni

Newsletter January 2012

Dear Shareholder and Friend of Mhlopeni,

You will be amazed to receive this newsletter, so soon after the last.
I have made two New Year resolutions: one is to improve communications and the second is to complete the things that I have started.

Both of these involve better time management, for you can get so caught up with one thing, that others become neglected and then require massive effort to bring back to order again, creating a tread-mill that just goes on and on. It takes stern will power to make quiet the “butterfly” mind, which has frequently got me into trouble with family and friends. It can be done and I will do my best. But, at least one hour per day must be allocated to something that is purely fun, like writing nonsense or doing a Su-doku puzzle…or it will certainly be the nut-house, for me!

A power switch died on the laptop computer, just before Christmas, and defied all attempts by a local Computer shop to repair (although they still charged for their “labour”). Grandson Brad had a go at it, extracted all the data, then suggested we take it out into the bush and shoot it. The files were transferred to Lizbeth’s old laptop (THANKS LIZZY) and that’s what I am using now. It’s a bit like traveling through a foreign land, without a map, as all the programs are different, but doubtless very good for the brain. Another benefit is the improved Modem, which allows both sending and receiving of e-mail messages, so HOORAY for that. No one has stolen the Telkom line recently, so we are ‘back in business’ without having to incur the expense of a satellite service, just yet.

Good rainfall received during the last month has resulted in astonishing plant growth and wondrous insect activity. There are now 118 species of butterfly recorded from Mhlopeni, which tops most of the KZN Ezemvelo (Parks Board) resorts and is an indication of the food-plant diversity here. Some of the smaller butterfly larvae feed exclusively on lichens, others rely on the presence of certain ant species to successfully complete their life cycles; they are highly sensitive to habitat destruction or pollution, such as acid rain. We simply do not sufficient ‘cabinet space’ to keep the nocturnal moths adequately recorded, they vary in size from that of a small bird’s wingspan to miniscule jewels of only a few millimeters, with antennae three times as long.

The stream is another big indicator of environmental health. Andrew has spent much time, trying to capture the image of the Cape clawless otter at the waterfall, using the new Lynx camera trap purchased last year. We see their droppings (“scats”), tracks and feeding debris of crab bits, but they are so shy of any human presence, a camera is the only way to see them, unless you are very lucky. Likewise, the resident leopard, that leaves “nothing but footprints” in the soft mud when he comes down to drink. The camera is triggered by the body heat and movement of the animal, and records all night-time activity within its range, using infra red light, for later viewing on computer screen. This is very clever, modern technology that is weather proof and non-intrusive.
Getting the camera well positioned and hidden from human eyes is the real trick.

Many thanks to Rob Crankshaw who donated a (signed) copy of “Pooley’s TREES OF EASTERN SOUTH AFRICA” by Richard Boon, for the Mhlopeni reference library. (Published by Flora and Fauna Publications Trust 2010). It is much more detailed than the first edition, with excellent identification keys, clear photographs for field identification and for any tree lover is an absolute “must buy.” With all the colour plates, it must have been costly to produce and sorry, I don’t have a retail price. If you visit the website www.floratrustkzn.co.za there will be full details.

Please never throw out any reference work you may have about birds, plants or anything biological, however outdated it may seem to you. Rural schools have few library books, are far from any municipal libraries and are in desperate need of these books. If we can influence young minds to become interested in Nature and its conservation, much can be achieved and a whole new world opened for them.

Our own library is short of a good reference work on the classification of soil types and profiles, which is essential reading for any student who undertakes a project at Mhlopeni. At the moment we only have the slim volume “Soil Classification” A Binomial System for South Africa, by Dept. Agricultural Technical Services 1977. This book got piddled on by Julie, a pet baby dassie, years ago, before she was ‘house trained’ and many of the pages are barely legible. Some of our farming friends or shareholders may have a suitable book for us (to donate, or to be scanned/photo copied) for study purposes only.

Shareholders who receive the newsletter by post will find the annual levy account enclosed. Please do your best to settle these as soon as you can. It is going to be an extremely busy year, with construction of the new reception and interpretation centre, (including small archaeological museum) on Lot A, to be started. If we could find a suitable sponsor, the facility could be named after him/her?

But, that is just my butterfly mind getting busy again.

God bless and stay safe

Yours in Conservation

Richard and Joy
+ All at Mhlopeni

Newletter December 2011

Dear Shareholder and Friend of Mhlopeni,

It has been a long while since the last newsletter, but YES we are still alive, busy and pleased with the progress made during 2011. Our printer packed in (now replaced) and e mail communications have become difficult since a local farmer installed electric fencing, close to the Muden telephone exchange, to protect his crop of sugar cane. The electronic pulse interferes with all internet connections, send and receive, with a dropping of messages, at the “users” expense. Telkom has been unable to remedy this, to date. We have made enquiries about satellite connection, but the cost is substantial, so we have deferred a decision until the New Year. There is no cell phone reception, tucked away, as we are in the mountains, so even a “smart” phone cannot assist.

The first Spring rains arrived (late) in November this year, after one of the coldest winters we can remember. In fact the weather remains extremely erratic. In June, a freak “twister” wind screamed down the valley, without warning, ripping sheets of iron from the farmhouse roof and toppling the crown of an old Jacaranda tree onto the Nissan bakkie, parked in what we had always thought a “safe” area. There was nothing much we could do as the hail and dark descended, except to be grateful there had been no injury to ourselves or the dogs. What a mess, the next morning! Decades of roof dust spread inside the house, iron sheets and roof timbers scattered… two clear paths of broken and flattened trees showed the passage and velocity of the wind. Awesome!

Fritz did a “patch job” to panel-beat the bakkie back into service, but her distinctly battered appearance made any use of a public road likely to attract the attention of Traffic officers. So we had to keep to farm road use only, to avoid fines for all its other faults. BUT for every Yin, there is a Yang: in September, Richard won a beautiful Chevrolet “Spark –Lite” sedan, shiny bright red, in a local supermarket competition. This gives us a mobility we thought may be lost forever… truly a “Gift from the Gods.” Thanks to Aheers Supermarket who made this possible. The little Sparkie Bug is extremely energy efficient and floats over the dirt road without problem.

Two University students from Germany spent 3 months (August to October) at Mhlopeni to undertake their “internship” for Nature conservation studies, to produce papers on their selected subjects. Christian chose to continue the dassie study, plotting population increases and re-colonization of prime habitat areas, while Stephan tackled a massive task of plant counts on the most degraded areas, where rehabilitation has been slow. Both projects need on-going research and serve as “bench marks” for future study.

As part of preparations for the Big Trail, held by the Wilderness Leadership School at Mhlopeni in November, Andrew participated in one of the Umfolozi trails, the lucky lad! What a truly fantastic experience, to sleep under the stars with only a sleeping bag and small fire between oneself and the predators of the night. Here, we don’t have the “Big Five” (apart from leopard) and one can almost forget how huge an elephant is, or the chill of a lion’s blue eyes, seen across the camp fire.

As an introduction to the ‘wilderness’, Mhlopeni is a first step for those who are too young to be fully exposed to the full hazards of these giant beasts. The trail was an undoubted success; the weather cool and overcast with only 2 thunder/hail storms and all the kids survived 8 days of a really demanding schedule, regardless. They frolicked at the waterfall, slogged over mountain slopes, slept open to the elements, got “lost” in a maze of thorn country, climbed and abseiled, up, over and through. I think the Trail guides were very relieved when all disembarked into their busses. (No broken bones!)

Many thanks to the shareholders for their continued support, encouragement and levies received. Despite prevailing tight financial conditions, most accounts are fully in-line and those who are in arrears have mostly committed themselves to catch up, in due course. There are 4 share blocks that need advertising to existing shareholders, from the Estate of the late Eric Bell (2) and his son, Craig, (2) who is USA based and wishes to sell the shares. No price has been specified. If you are interested, please indicate and we can facilitate the transactions.

Sympathy and condolences go to families of shareholders recently deceased.
Ray Tozer, friend and shareholder of many years and a past Director of unstinting support. He helped to re-introduce the warthogs to Mhlopeni and whenever we see one, or hear a beer can cracked open at sundown, we will remember him.
Phyllis Kriek, a lovely lady, totally dedicated to Conservation education and past donor for the Mhlopeni Pre- School project, we salute her efforts.
Eric Bell, He is now at peace.

Work continues: the camping site at UmVumvu has a new kitchen/boma area almost complete, the old “School camp” at UmVithi has been re-modeled as a small auditorium with benched seating set under the shade of huge White stinkwood trees. UmPhafa camp has hosted most of the visitors and needs some maintenance, and the road access always needs some minor repair after rains. The gabion work done last Winter has captured silt and debris, preventing further soil loss. Best of all, the stream has flowed without interruption, thanks to improved “upstream” management and co-operation.

Best wishes to All, may 2012 be a positive year regardless of any challenges.

Yours in Conservation

Joy, Richard + All at Mhlopeni