Tuli Region & Tuli Game Reserve - Safari Information
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the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo rivers is a land of big
vistas, big skies, giant trees and great herds of game. Rich
in history and mythology, it is a place where the present echoes
with footsteps of the past and stirs the imagination, making it difficult
to leave and impelling one to return. The greater Tuli region,
which encompasses the Northern Tuli Game Reserve, is bounded by the
Motloutse, the Shashe and Limpopo rivers in the northeastern corner
of Botswana and the southwestern part of Zimbabwe.
The region has a variety
of landscapes, which fall into several broad categories... Beautiful
riverine forests along the river banks and watercourses, particularly
on the banks of the Limpopo, Motloutse and Shashe rivers, Karoo
sandstone outcrops forming picturesque hillocks and buttresses,
dolerite dykes - the most spectacular being Solomon's Wall -
and Mopane savanna presenting vast vistas with clean horizons,
magnificent sunsets and no sign of human habitation or excroachment. (1)
of the Tuli Region
area is rich in history and prehistory. Early Stone Age
peoples roamed these parts and sheltered in the sandstone caves
and overhangs, their hunter-gatherer lifestyle interrupted by
the arrival of pastoralists in the 11th century, which heralded
the start of the Iron Age. Across the
Limpopo river, adjacent to the reserve, is the newly proclaimed World
Heritage Site of Mapungubwe, which emerged as southern Africa's first
kingdom in AD 1220. The people of this
ancient dynasty established five satellite cities, one of which is
situated in the reserve near the Motloutse river and is known locally
During the 1800's
area saw the ruthless ambition of the Matabele chiefs, Mmzilikazi
and Lobengula, as well as that of Cecil John Rhodes of Britain. It
witnessed the rule of Khama the Great, grandfather to the first president
of an independent Botswana, the intransigence of President Paul Kruger
of the Transvaal Republic, and several of the opening conflicts between
Boer and British forces during the Second Anglo-Boer War.
1890 and 1902 Tuli
became the stage for numerous disputes between the two powerful African
chiefs, Logenbula and Khama, and endless spats between the unyielding
political personalities of Rhodes and Kruger and of various
military confrontations between their two nations. Tuli
was by all accounts an inhospitable land of dense bush, rocky
outcrops and swamps with biting insects and wild animals; yet
it was an area in great demand by all.
During this time,
the Tuli was also a popular hunting ground for the famous 'Great
White Hunter' Frederick Selous and others of his ilk. Like
the rest of Africa, it too was systematically raped for its wildlife
by ruthless traders and hunters, greedy to harvest its great stores
of ivory, pelts and furs.
Today Tuli has shrugged
off its turbulent past and is a successful game reserve, with thriving
herds of elephant and antelope, giraffe and zebra, and it is shortly
to become a core area for a huge Transfrontier Park. (1)
Southwest of the Shashe river the borderline between Botswana and Zimbabwe forms a semi-circle known as the Tuli Circle. This demarcation originated as a result of a severe epidemic of rinderpest (lung disease) which affected the Bangwato cattle herds of Botswana in 1891. The British South Africa Company (owned by Cecil John Rhodes) were concerned that their cattle at Fort Tuli on the Zimbabwean side of the Shashe river would catch the disease and consequently, King Khama III of Botswana granted a 12-mile radius of land on the Botswana side, which was to be a "no-go" zone for cattle, in order to prevent the disease from spreading to Rhodes' herds.
of Northern Tuli Game
The Northern Tuli Game Reserve was established over a period of years
during the 1960s, during which time wildlife was extremely scarce in
the area. This was primarily due to the region having been used
as a farming area for many centuries. The land was cultivated for
crops as early as AD 900 by tribal pastoralsists
and elephants and predators viewed as a threat to the planted fields
and livestock. The acceleration of wholesale hunting during the
1800s and then the final division of the Tuli area (or Tuli Block) into
farms by Rhodes' British South Africa Company in 1920, further depleted
both the land and the game.
As late as the 1960s the
region was still being degraded by agricultural pressures, cattle crossing
over the border to graze, and poachers from South Africa shooting anything
they could find. To this day white and black rhino, roan and
sable antelope, brown hyena and wild dog remain extinct in the area. There
would not be any giraffe either if they had not been successfully reintroduced
In 1964 the various landowners
in the northern Tuli area formed the Limshapo Game Protection Association
in an attempt to organize conservation in the region. The first
game warden, Adrian Boshier, a man who had lived for years in a cave
in the area, living off the land and learning the ways of the bush,
was employed and by 1966, Boshier could report that elephants and general
game had started to return.
In the late 1960s the owners
of the 35 farms in the area went a step further and pulled down any
fences that existed to allow for the free movement of wildlife, sunsequently
forming the Northern Tuli Game Reserve. The reserve extends over
an area of 71,000 hectares, making it one of the largest privately
owned game sanctuaries in Africa. The reserve's conservation
mission now extends to the support of the proposed Transfrontier Park,
which will straddle Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe. (1)
The reserve is bounded in
the east by the Shashe River and in the south by the Limpopo River.
The former constitutes the border between Botswana and Zimbabwe and
the latter the border between Botswana and South Africa. The south-western
boundary is bordered by the Motloutse River, while the remainder of
the western boundary consists of a double foot-and-mouth disease control
fence. The northern boundary is comprised of a semi-circular unfenced
cut-line which demarcates the Tuli Circle Safari Area in Zimbabwe.
Within the Northern Tuli Game Reserve there are several privately owned
pieces of land of which Mashatu Game Reserve is the largest, covering
approximately 30,000 hectares. Animals can move freely throughout the
reserve, as well as between the reserve and Zimbabwe. Although
there is a fence between South Africa and Botswana, there is certainly
animal movement between these two countries as well.
The dream of a Transfrontier Park in this region is not a recent one:
General Jan Smuts first considered the idea in 1922, when he was instrumental
in forming the Dongola Botanical Reserve along the Limpopo river. During
the 1940s the reserve became a wildlife sanctuary and ws renamed Dongola
National Park. It was at this time that the idea of joining the
park with similar areas in neighboring Botswana and Zimbabwe was mooted. The
National Park, some 190,000 hectares in extent, was duly proclaimed in
1947, but the proclamation was repealed a year later following a change
in government in South Africa. In 1994 the idea for the Dongola
National Park was reconsidered and an agreement was signed for the creation
of a sanctuary in South Africa the following year, which gave impetus
to tentative plans for a wider Transfrontier Park.
The proposed Limpopo/Shashe
Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA) will cover 4,872 square kilometers,
of whicg 53 percent will be in South Africa, 28 percent in Botswana
and 19 percent in Zimbabwe. The area has a rich biodiversity,
spectacular scenery and several Iron Age sites of great archeological
importance. The region is home to a significant population of
elephant, as well as all the major predators and has the potential
to become a "big five" game area. (1)
Viable populations of lion,
leopard, and cheetah are still prevalent and a population of 1,400
elephant exist within the region. The resident elephant population
of approximately 600 within the Northern Tuli Game Reserve is the largest
population on private land in Africa. The area includes 19 Red Data
Book mammals and 26 Red Data Book plant species, as well as several
Red Data Book bird species - including the Black Eagle.
this TFCA has the potential to be a significant sanctuary for wild
dog, black rhino and elephant, and for 16 other Red Data Book species.
Wild dog and elephants, in particular, will benefit from the larger
area of the TFCA. This TFCA, with its' wealth of wildlife and scenery
and its' cultural/historical assets, has the potential to become a
major new outhern African tourist destination.
Tuli is a semi-arid region, with rain falling in the summer months between
November and March, although the rains tend to be erratic and there
are frequent summer droughts. Temperaatures can drop below
freezing during winter, but start to climb rapidly at the start of
spring in September, when hot and dry winds blow from the east.
The vegetation varies greatly:
riparian woodland occurs along the banks of the Shashe, Motloutse and
Limpopo rivers, where mature trees of ten meters or more form a thick
canopy. An open, woody community of shrubs and saplings occurs
along the banks of the smaller rivers, while by far the most dominant
vegetation type is Mopane veld.
The Nyala-berry tree (Xanthocercis
zambesiaca) is also known locally as the Mashatu tree. It
occurs in the alluvial soils along the many watercourses and many specimens
range in age from 300 to 600 years. The tree can reach a height
of 30 meters and its rounded canopy, supported by a massive trunk,
is evergreen. The origin of the name Mashatu is not certain,
but is most probably derived from the Shona word for python, which
seem to favor the trees. (1)
Tuli is sometimes called
the Land of Giants, for it populations of elephant, lion, leopard,
cheetah, giraffe and eland. Apart from its resident giants, Tuli
hosts an impressive array of animals. In addition to the common
plains game like wildebeest and zebra, there are troops
of monkey and baboon, as well as populations of steenbok, the timid
duiker, grysbok, impala, common waterbuck, bushbuck, and warthog. Also
present are aardvark, aardwolf, bat-eared fox, African wild cat, spotted
hyena and black-backed jackal.
The permanent pools in the
Limpopo river harbor crocodiles and all the waterways are home to a
variety of indigenous fish.
Wild dogs and raon antelope,
and tsessebe have been reintroduced on the South African side of the
river and the Tuli area has a great diversity of bird life, with over
350 species having been recorded to date. (1)
is home to the
last free-ranging, flourishing African elephant population on private
land south of the Zambezi River. They are called the Central Limpopo
Valley elephant population or more commonly, the Tuli elephants.
But this was not always the case. As far back as the early Iron Age people
have been hunting elephants for their ivory. During the 1800’s
many a hunter ventured to the banks of the Shashe and Limpopo rivers
in search of ivory. Herds of several hundreds of elephants are described
in these old hunting stories. Elephants were merciless hunted by people
like Coenraad De Buys, which was the first white man known to have hunted
in this area. From the scanty information available he appears to be
a fearless hunter killing elephants at close quarters with an ancient
Soon after the hunters, the traders
arrived on the scene exchanging guns for ivory with the local headsmen
and chiefs. David Holme, a trade explorer, penetrated the area as
far as the Shashe River. The Boers were not far behind with Petrus
Jacobs killing 200 elephants on one expedition only. Rousleyn Gordon
Cumming, a man known through history as an animal slaughter came
on the scene during the years 1846 – 1848.
Cumming conducted two expeditions into the area hunting between the Shoshong
and Motloutse Rivers and along the Limpopo River.
By 1855 elephants were so scarce that
hunters such as Baldwin, Oswell, Finaughty and Selous had to venture
much further north. By the time F. C. Selous led the Pioneer Column
into Mashonaland in July 1890 the country was depleted of elephants.
For the next 50 years no elephants were observed from the Motloutse
River to the Shashe River.
In 1940 Dr. Z. Nel became the first landowner
to sight the return of these giants to the area. Elephants were moving
into the area from the north and west. In 1956 Bechuanaland had established
a game department with the task of controlling elephants within the
tribal and irrigation areas. An operation that eventually accounted
for 1 800 elephants. During this time Rhodesia had started its culling
operations and Transvaal farmers on the Limpopo River were accused
of shooting indiscriminately. Once more hounded by the gun and a diminishing
habitat the elephants retreated back into the Tuli enclave – there
was nowhere else to go.
From then onwards the elephant numbers
within the reserve increased steadily with elephants moving in from
the north and the west. In the 1960’s a Tuli landowner counted
300 elephants within the reserve. During the 70’s reports of
a vast increase in elephant numbers and subsequent habitat change were
received. Cries for the reduction in elephant numbers started to be
heard. Tree species diversity was declining and many large trees could
be seen damaged by elephants. This trend continued through the 80’s
and early 90’s. To make matters worse a
severe drought threatened the area throughout the 80’s and 90’s.
The area was changing dramatically - grass plains were making way for
desert sand conditions and huge trees along the rivers were dying either
due to elephant damage or a lack of water.
It is during this time period
due to the extended drought that several properties changed hands and
several farms reverted back to wildlife. This opened up new areas to
the elephants and a split in the elephant population where observed.
No fences exist in the area to limit
elephant movement and the elephants move freely between the three different
countries. In the early 1990’s
elephants were observed for the first time in areas that they were absent
from for many years. Elephants crossed the Shashe River and a resident
herd established itself on two privately owned farms on the Limpopo River
in Zimbabwe. Elephants also moved further up the Tuli Block and a herd
established itself in the Platjan area. Reports of elephants crop raiding
as far as Selebi-Phikwe were received and after the completion of the
Letsibogo dam a small herd of elephants established itself in the area
around Mmadinari, much to the consternation of local farmers.
survival of these elephants outside the reserve is doubtful while their
continued existence within the sanctuary will depend on the support
and cooperation of all concerned. Without the knowledge that makes
ecological management possible the Tuli area could become a derelict
landscape inhabited by the pathetic remnants of these giants.
Historical information obtained from Mr. Clive Walker.
(1) Information adapted from and used
with the kind permission of Roger and Pat de la Harpe, from their
lovely book, Tuli
- Land of Giants.
More information on
Tuli and the de la Harpes' work can be found in their book and on
their website http://www.africaimagery.com/.
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