The South African Rugby Legends Association (SARLA) recently joined forces with the Manyoni Private Game Reserve and the Zululand Conservation Trust, to take a stand against poaching and provide food and support to local communities in Mandlakazi, Northern KZN. This impressive team effort was helped along by food provided by SARLA’s charitable partners, SA Harvest and The Domino Foundation.

The Mandlakazi community in KwaZulu-Natal has a proud history dating back to the early 1800s, when they were allied with the legendary King Shaka, who founded the Zulu Nation. Today, the Mandlakazi community comprises several villages bordering the 23,000-hectare Manyoni Private Game Reserve (formerly the Zululand Rhino Reserve). These villages include Vungama, Nkhukweni, Sekane and Manyoni.

The Mandlakazi community has an established history of farming cattle, maize and fruit. But food security and stable income remains a challenge for many community members. This could not be ignored by the Manyoni Reserve’s management team, who are closely connected to the people surrounding the Reserve.

Karen Odendaal, Managing Director at the Manyoni Private Game Reserve says, “Without the involvement of our local communities, the reserve would simply not be able to function as successfully as it does today. We owe it to them to help wherever we can, and we are extremely grateful to have SARLA and their partners onboard to help”.

Odendaal continues, “Our approach to helping the community is twofold. We are providing essential foodstuffs and support to the Mandlakazi people and creating valuable awareness of the importance of anti-poaching poaching in the reserve – especially of rhinos”.

In late January, a group of SA Rugby Legends visited villages around the reserve to lend a few helping hands to the community, donating much-needed food provided by SA Harvest and The Domino Foundation. The Legends also participated in a rhino dehorning exercise on the reserve, to help draw attention to the important anti-poaching work that is being done in the area.

The dehorning was a coordinated effort with world-renowned wildlife vet Dr Mike Toft. Once darted by Dr Toft from a helicopter, time was of the essence for the on-site team and the Rugby Legends to get the rhino to a clearing and begin the dehorning process, as well take organic samples and check the rhino’s vital signs – all while ensuring that the rhino was positioned in such a way that its internal organs were not damaged. This was where the Rugby Legends’ muscle was put to very good use.

Dehorning helps the Reserve protect its highly endangered rhino population. In fact, dehorning is considered one of the best methods to ward off potential poachers. The dehorning process, however, must be repeated every 12-24 months, as the horns grow back eventually. Every rhino is carefully monitored by the reserve conservation team.

Ian McIntosh from SARLA comments, “This initiative was very close to our hearts as it is making an impact on two equally important counts; the stability and future of one of our most endangered and valuable indigenous species, and on the survival of a valued local community, who have been an important part of the fibre of our nation for over 200 years”.

He concludes, “We hope to see the people of Mandlakazi and the precious natural resources around them thrive for decades to come”.