Ligwalagwala Conservancy, Mpumalanga
Ligwalagwala is a co-operative reserve, one of the only reserves involved, since the late 1990s, in reintroducing lions in small reserves in the Mpumalanga region. Ligwalagwala lies just outside Hectorspruit, about half an hour away from the Malelane and Crocodile Bridge gates into the Kruger National Park, a beautiful conservancy that offers a typical ‘bush’ experience.
The 15 000 hectare conservancy of Ligwalagwala combines a group of privately owned game farms and farmland belonging to the local Matsamo community that forms part of a green belt linking the Kruger and a game reserve near Barberton. Ligwalagwala originally came about as part of a project to reintegrate a group of lions that had escaped the Kruger, and to subsequently measure how successfully these lions were reintegrated into their natural environments, in a bid to monitor their long-term behaviour following release.
The lion project took ‘problem’ animals and re-established them where normally animals such as these would have been shot, particularly those lions that had killed local stock animals - notoriously difficult to re-introduce. The lions were only reintroduced after a number of years of absence. By that stage they were separated into two prides – the Lowhills / Masibambisane pride and the Gazebo / Masgobe pride - with ten and eight lions in each pride respectively. In both of the prides, reintroduced and separated only by a tar road in the reserve, one male and one female have been tagged to monitor behaviour.
Ligwalagwala rivals the likes of Timbavati and Sabi-Sabi with its exclusive game lodges and effortless access to big game that include the rhino, leopard and buffalo. But what gives it the edge is that it is run by several families of the Matsamo tribe as part of an economic upliftment programme.