The Ithala Complex (incorporating Ithala Game Reserve) is home to a number of significant plant and animal species, including the Lebombo cycad, Pepper-bark tree, elephant and black and white rhino. It also encompasses the northern extremity of the Mistbelt Grasslands; a corridor that is under considerable threat from overutilization and land use change.
The northern boundary of Ithala Game Reserve is the unfenced Pongola River. Of concern is the reserve’s growing elephant population which is frequntly crossing this river into community lands. Without directed intervention, stress on these landscapes will result in the deterioration of valuable ecosystem services, which includes carbon sequestration, fresh water resources, grasslands and wetland areas, and biodiversity with plants and animals of environmental, traditional and economic importance. This will have significant consequences for biodiversity within the Greater Itala Complex as well as for the local communities that depend on the ecosystem services for survival.
In the 2013 Securing the Provision of Ecosystem Services in the Greater Ithala Complex project (funded by the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund) social ecologists engaged with local communities to identify and protect landscapes which have high biodiversity value, and that are significant to them for the delivery of ecosystem services. Building on these relationships, ACT has been working with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the Kenchaan Foundation and Humane Society International (HSI) to find sustainable solutions for the Complex, particularly regarding elephant range expansion. HSI is generously funding a 4 year programme which seeks find viable and long term solutions for wildlife in the Reserve and the establishment of sustainable communities around the protected area through integrated land-use planning and the building of strategic partnerships.