Our Partners and Collaborators

Mthethomusha Nature Reserve

Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA)



Navigating Conservation and Community Dynamics: The Challenges at Mthethomusha Nature Reserve

Mthethomusha Nature Reserve, situated within the Ehlanzeni South Region, has recently been at the center of a complex conservation challenge. Managed by the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) and owned by the Department of Land Reform and Rural Development, this 7,500 ha reserve is leased from the Mpakeni Community. It encompasses the communities of Mpakeni, Luphisi, Zwelisha, and Daantjie, all under the Mpakeni Tribal Authority.

The decision to develop Mthethomusha as a nature reserve was made in 1986 by the Mpakeni Tribal Authority. Unlike provincial reserves such as Loskop Dam, where the MTPA acts as a custodian, the agency here operates more as a stakeholder with a mandate to manage the reserve as per the partnership agreement with the community. The core objective of this management is to foster sustainable consumptive and non-consumptive use of natural resources, benefiting the Mpakeni community while preserving the area’s biodiversity and ecological integrity. Ecotourism has been a crucial element in delivering these benefits since the reserve’s inception.

However, recent events have created upheaval in the reserve’s management, ecotourism, and community relations. The community has been fueled by misinformation and grief over a poacher’s death, who was part of the tribal family, and was shot by an outside poacher. Even after legal investigations, the community mistakenly blamed and retaliated against the reserve’s anti-poaching rangers. This misdirected anger led to the burning down of a lodge and aggressive actions against the wildlife, requiring WeWild Africa to conduct emergency interventions under extreme hostility, even necessitating the use of bulletproof vests.

WeWild Africa conducted various interventions with the rhino and elephants of this reserve.

For the rhino rescue at Mthethomusha Nature Reserve, WeWild Africa took an unconventional approach. Due to intense community hostility, we used helicopters to safely herd the rhinos out of the reserve and onto a tar road, where we could then dart and capture them effectively.

The elephants, on the other hand, broke out of the reserve’s boundaries into the village. The community members, acting on their own, shot at the elephants with low-caliber rifles. These shots were not fatal, and inflicted severe injuries on the elephants. Faced with this dire situation, WeWild Africa had to conduct emergency operations to euthanize the injured elephants, a heartbreaking but necessary action to end their suffering. Nevertheless, thanks to our rapid response capabilities, we were often able to arrive in time to successfully chase the elephants back into the reserve. To date, we have managed to save approximately 70 elephants through these immediate interventions.

The challenges at Mthethomusha Nature Reserve extend beyond immediate wildlife rescue and management, requiring a concerted effort to raise funds, re-fence the reserve, and re-engage meaningfully with the Tribe. These steps are critical to not only prevent future elephant breakouts, but ensure the reserve remains a thriving ecosystem rather than reverting to overgrazed, unmanaged cattle land, which would be a significantly less productive use of such a biodiverse area.

The broader issue of underfunding is not unique to Mthethomusha. It is a common problem faced by many reserves throughout South Africa. This situation underscores the importance of developing sustainable models that balance ecological preservation with the socio-economic needs of the surrounding communities.

In the case of Mthethomusha, the stakes are high. Without proper management and community involvement, this biodiverse haven risks degradation, losing its potential as a conservation and ecotourism site. Therefore, our efforts are not just focused on short-term solutions but also on laying the groundwork for long-term sustainability, ensuring that Mthethomusha remains a vibrant, productive environment that benefits both its wildlife and its people.

Working together with the local tribe and the provincial government, while upholding our wildlife conservation goals, will undoubtedly be a challenging journey. However, it is a necessary path to establish long-term, sustainable, and revenue-generative businesses for the reserve.


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The work carried out by WeWild Africa is only possible with the support of individual donors like yourself. You can join us and help us to rescue wildlife, rewild animals, and restore landscapes. 


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