Elephants return

Massive operation relocated herd to private game reserve

AFTER more than 170 years, elephants are back in the Bathurst area.

MAJESTIC BEAST: Kester, who weighs six tons, is the big bull of the elephant herd introduced at Buffalo Kloof Private Game Reserve Picture: BRYAN SMITH

The gentle giants have been reintroduced to the area at Buffalo Kloof Private Game Reserve, which borders the Waters Meeting Nature Reserve.

The reserve is about 14 500ha in extent with plans to extend to 22 000ha. It is a family-owned business operated by Warne and Wendy Rippon. The area last had elephants roaming freely over 170 years ago.

Bryan Smith of Talk of the Town accompanied Sunshine Coast Tourism manager Sandy Birch for a tour of the reserve last week.

“Apart from the incredible beauty of the reserve, the thing that strikes you the most about owner Warne Rippon is his absolute passion the farm, wildlife and conservation,” Birch said.

PASSION FOR NATURE: Warne Rippon, co-owner of Buffalo Kloof Private Game Reserve Picture: BRYAN SMITH

In April, Warne relocated 14 elephants – 10 females, two babies and two bulls from Shamwari and Kwandwe game reserves.  “This was a massive task involving huge trucks, cranes, vets, helicopters and the like. The relocation was successful and the elephants are content in their new environment,” Birch said.

Warne and Wendy bought the original farm many years ago, and subsequently purchased adjoining farms culminating in the reserve as it is today.  In 2010 Warne started seriously developing the reserve by building a number of water holes, a massive new dam, road infrastructure and improving the veld.

“We were shown areas of the farm where the veld has been improved by adding lime and phosphates, which changes the pH levels in the soil, allowing natural grass to grow – favoured by browsers,” Birch said.

The range of game on the farm is impressive – one of things Warne does is to breed buffalo and roan.  Buffalo from the Eastern Cape are highly sought after because they are TB-free.  The game are sold at various game auctions.

“The condition of the animals on the reserve is fantastic,” Birch said. “We saw such a wide variety of game – nyala, springbuck, sable, giraffe, mountain zebra (nice to see), impala, elephant and buffalo.”

Of course, having elephants around results in some damage to the bush, as they uproot trees and eat the roots. On the plus side, they love prickly pear, which will help to eradicate patches of this invasive species from the reserve.

PEEK-A-BOO: The reserve has plenty of other game, like this shy giraffe Picture: BRYAN SMITH

The farm is pristine and natural and has beautiful valleys, panoramic views, cliffs, river (the Blaaukranz River also flows through a portion of the farm), and open plains.  There are also historic settler homes on the farm – the original stable has been converted into accommodation.

The reserve is not accessible to day trippers at this point, but Warne is planning to build lodges for photographic safaris in the future.

“It was a moving experience to stand beside Warne when we spotted Kester, the big male elephant who weighs six tons and stands 2.9m high at the shoulder. Warne’s passion and respect for this incredible animal was palpable and one couldn’t help but be drawn into the awe of the moment,” Birch said.

“From a tourism perspective it is incredible to see elephants roaming freely in this beautiful environment.”


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