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Ithala Game Reserve - History Of Ithala

Ithala Game Reserve has a rich history of occupation dating back to the Middle Stone Age. The area provided iron ore and wild olive wood used in local Iron Age smelting operations. The San also used the region, leaving their rock art in several sites in the eastern part of the reserve.

The Zulu wars and the reign of Shaka saw many people seeking refuge in the caves found along the cliffs of Ithala. Traces of this refugee occupation are still to be found. Prior to its proclamation as a Game Reserve in 1972, the land had been in white ownership since 1884. In that year, the Zulu King Dinizulu granted more than 1.1 million hectares of land in northern Kwazulu-Natal to 800 Boers in recognition of the fighting services of 115 volunteers. The area became known as the "Nieuwe Republiek"

Game was abundant before the arrival of the white settlers. However, intense pressure for hunting by the settlers and the Rinderpest epidemic of 1896 had a drastic impact on the local game populations. Here too, as in other Zululand reserves, the antinagana campaign, which was waged from 1919 to the early 1950's against the disease carrying tsetse fly resulted in thousands of animals being shot.

Gold was discovered in the early 1900's. The Wonder Mine on the farm Wonderfontein near the Pongola River began to be developed in 1905. It was sporadically mined with little success from 1910 until 1933, producing a total of 147kg of gold. Some 3km southeast of Wonder Mine on the farm Vergelegen, more reefs were discovered in 1911. The Vergelegen Mine opened in 1913 and renamed the Eureka Mine in 1914 produced 129kg gold by 1915, when it was closed. It reopened as the Ngotshe Mine in 1943 and operated intermittently until 1967, producing only 8.3kg gold.

Most of the farms in the Ithala area were used as labour or tenant farms, and drastic overgrazing by livestock gave rise to extensive soil erosion, which is still visible today. When Ithala was proclaimed, it initially covered 8 000 hectares. Conservationist considered the new reserve important due to the dramatic variety of habitats represented within it. The damaged veld was left to recover while the reserve was fenced and game re-introduced. As the 25 mammal species had become locally extinct, records from the former Pongola Reserve a few kilometers away helped conservationist to determine which animals had occurred in the area.

By 1982 Ithala had been extended to almost 30 000 ha. The reserve has since become one of Kwazulu Natal's major wild life destinations 23 Mammal species were re-introduced including white and black rhino, buffalo, kudu, tsessebe, red hartebeest, eland, giraffe, leopard, cheetah and brown hyena and more recently, elephant.