The transition of the veld from bleak grey to lush green has begun and it started after just 30mm of rain! After each rain event, plumes of steam rise gently from the tree canopy, as if the veld has been holding its breath all this time and is letting out a sigh of relief.

After commenting on climate change in the last newsletter I did further research. Of the 42 years of records we have of the rainfall at Mhlopeni, I compared the average rainfall over the past 12 Years to the previous 30 years average. A reasonable sampling in my opinion.

There is a staggering drop in average rainfall of 169mm. No wonder those gum boots I bought back then are so dusty! If the environment for a species does not exist, that species shall cease to exist naturally. Something we all need to consider. I pray for rain.

Many times, I have been asked as to the value of a share in Mhlopeni? Apart from a National sense of unity and national pride, I usually respond;
Value is in the eye of the beholder, and their reality in value. Nobody notices what is gone already. They only focus on what they see, not looking at what is missing.

Value is subject to viewpoint. Many a fire I have shared has had this topic discussed at length. This can be from a fiscal viewpoint, but that is not our primary value. Land protection and restoration is. Dry valley bushveld is the smallest biome and the least protected in this country.

Mhlopeni is the last protected original piece of the northern variety of this biome. This was first identified by the late Dr. Ian Player. I quote him, “No habitat, no species!”

Our German Students cannot apply “Nature conservation”. They are forced to apply “Landscape re-engineering”.

We are privileged to be able to follow the Conservation route in their opinion, as outside the reserve there are many endemic species, fauna and flora that have become locally extinct. Mhlopeni acts as a genetic reserve that future generations will thank us for.”

The animals that inhabit this wilderness are free of financials due to the shareholders, I have deep respect for this. They are protected, proliferate and spread out naturally. Who is to teach Mother Nature? She has been doing her job for Millenia! Yes, sometimes, in heart rendering moments, they are exterminated on adjacent lands. Many survive! In the eyes of nature there is no asking for forgiveness or mercy, just survival. That is Natures price tag.

Spring sprung and the temperatures bouncing around the day starts with a few layers on and as the day progresses the layers are shed. The hottest day was a whopping 36 degrees, and after the rain we experienced a 9-degree minimum. I need not comment on the bone shakers and Sooth Sayers that do weather forecasts! There was even a prediction for 45mm which turned out to be 5 mm when it arrived. Perhaps I did not have my glasses on? On a prediction of no rain we had 10mm?

As the daylight hours increase. The temperatures increase, for the sake of comfort, the night shift work begins, as the nights and early mornings are pleasant. Afternoon siestas are common to beat the heat! In the background the little solar foot pump can be heard humming the rainwater harvest song. Once again, a very big thank you to two of our shareholders for donating two 5000-liter tanks.

30mm received. Not good as the average for October is 73mm. Hi HO, Hi HO! With the rains come the roadwork and the alien species eradication program begins. With the bees no longer raiding the shower for water, I can take a shower during the day to cool off.

The packs of jackal’s have taken to doing a morning and evening curtain call, each pack taking their own turn. This has probably been triggered by the Impalas, who are all bulging with the new seasons’ babies, with more rain they will lamb. With the weavers in full cry, the cuckoo’s have found their voice, early morning eerie calls of the Burchell’s cuckoo and the Piet my vrou, who has no respect for time! By the end of the breeding season the day and night call of the Piet my vrou will become a “Skiet my nou!”.
I must replant all the mielies as something decided they were a rather tasty morsel. Suspects on the list were Peter rabbit, Sir Fritz van der Vlakvark, Female bush buck, porcupine, monkeys and kudu. Deployment of a camera trap revealed the culprit to be none other than those frustrated noisy weavers! While visiting my neighbor I also noticed his palm trees are completely stripped as well! At least I know that Fencing will be a waste of time! I cannot blame them as there is no green grass till the main rains arrive.

There are also those classic moments, that make life here fun. Going fishing on the Mooi river is one. Having to swim after your fishing rod because it got dragged into the river, because you were distracted by goats trying to steal your picnic lunch, creates endless amusement and while casting into a deep pool the handle on the reel fell off and plopped unceremoniously into the river. At least you are cool thereafter.

Yours in Nature Conservation,
Richard, Andy and Jason.


Traditionally the hot dry wind in Kwa Zulu Natal is called a “Berg wind”. This is due to winds from the west dropping in altitude as they head for the coast. There are new phenomena that have crept in, in the past few years.
Every time we get a North wind, the wind is hot and dry. I have termed it the “desert wind”. The loss of vegetation to the North is astounding. I feel it should be reclassified as desert.

When we do get a south wind it is far cooler, but dryer than before. This is due to the Lumber plantations being cropped and converted to Sugar cane fields. The constant smell of burnt cane is unpleasant, the smoke blankets the land as a smog which affects the solar systems and the regular falling of carbon snowflakes blanket the land. We do not know the consequences of this action or how heavily this will affect Climate change. What I do know is that it is drying out the air and the traditional southerly rainfalls are drastically reduced.

We received 20mm of rain on the first day of spring! Thankfully it came slowly overnight with very little runoff. Alas, yes! The river did not run. However, it has settled the dust, there is water in the hills for my friends and the ground just sucked it all in and the rainwater harvesting has begun. We got 6000 liters, and the faithful old solar borehole foot pump is busy pushing it to the reservoir.

The temperatures have risen, 34 degrees today and the Insect and bird activity has responded. The weavers are very frustrated due to the lack of grass. Most of their activity is amongst the males, arguing about real estate and which branch is theirs.

The roaming camel spiders, solofugae, have started to roam again. The white stinkwoods and Croton’s are budding and blooming and the acacia robusta, Thambotie, Cussonias, Schotia’s and several other species feel it is time for high tea! At least they know better than the weather service, they are older and wiser. Isolated islands of green, yellow and red against the winter grey, that awaits further rain. There have been electrical storms the past two nights which produced a tap or two on the roof, thankfully there is more rain predicted for Thursday night!

The visitors have returned, Yellow billed kites, float around and the paradise flycatchers are flitting through the trees. The lilac breasted rollers and their northern friends have not arrived yet but will be here soon. The crowned eagles are still present, and the monkeys have become ground dwellers, no longer sunning themselves in the morning sun, at the top of trees. While taking some time out between visitors, I was greeted by my fellow fishermen the Fish eagles. Their nest site on the Mooi has now become obvious due to its size. The fish are on the bite, but I am yet to land a decent one for the pot.

Henry, the highwayman, a slender tailed mongoose gave me a good run in front of the car on the way out. He usually runs for 15 to 20 meters in front of the bakkie before ducking to the bush. This time he ran for a full 200 meters. I think he actually enjoys ambushing the bakkie.

The rutting of the Impala is now complete, and we wait for the Christmas babies! Dassie Middens abound on the cliffs again and the white streaks are being replaced by dark ones.

Regards, Andy, Richard and Jason.


Winter has been upon us and there is a current change of the season. I dare myself to pick up the well-worn, sharp Quill, that Joy used. The moths have re appeared, with spring, to help me write this, I thank them.
In all fairness we will all one day be asked, “What did you do to maintain the beautiful garden I gave you?”. Joy, Herman, Frank and Lionel are flying with the Eagles. Their combined effort equates to 160 years of Nature conservation. Truly remarkable. Future generations can only thank them. I do.

For the past month the aloe’s have continued to bloom in an extended bloom of red against the Grey backdrop of winter. August was busy with visitors Including shareholders. However, the rains Have still not arrived yet. 1mm for August is well below average, as we hope for soft forgiving rains in September.

The crowned Eagles have returned and have bred successfully, the monkeys have made themselves scarce due to this. The Ground hornbills have split into two groups, this is very encouraging as they breed only once in about 8 years. As for the Fish eagles, there are now two nest sites with both pairs breeding successfully.

The roads have received back breaking attention, wash a way’s repaired, large rocks removed and with the department of transport, the first 4.2km has been graded and a shale surface applied. A vast improvement. However untested to the downpours we receive. I really do think that the road engineer underestimated the Mhlopeni River. I have had words with him.
Wind erosion has become a factor very apparent in the winter dry season and the August / September windy season. We are trying out sifted Gravel from the river, in a test area. This will not just powder and blow away.
The Alien species eradication program continues. A new method has been developed for the Prickly pear. We heap it and introduce both the cochineal and cactablasta species. This is best done in winter, before the pads can root.

Administration has been a good challenge, the first port of call was to the shareholders, Levies arrears have been addressed and outstanding levies pulled in. We are encouraging shareholders to go for a debit order system by month to stabilize cash flow. We thank everyone that supports Nature conservation. Without the habitat to support the species, the species cease to exist naturally.

We carry on. My projection is not just to survive but thrive. The effort so far cannot be ignored, the success for the veld, incredible. Grass and indigenous hardwoods can be seen in areas where there were previously just pioneer plants. Those who fell in it said, “OH! BLEPHARUS!”
Species that were previously located to the cliffs in hard trodden days, now are semi to adult plants in the bottom of the valley. New Butterfly species have also moved in. The re introductions of endemic species is now spreading outwards.

The Russian entomologists have confirmed the crash in the Riverine acacia to be due to a reduction in water. The beetles have had a party during the drought! The new cycle of plant progression is going to be fascinating. We pray for a wet season. The rains start tomorrow! I am excited.

Regards, Andy, Richard and Jason.

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
Richard is at
Andy is at

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


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

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 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