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