• May 2018

The challenge of disease-free buffalo

In 1997 &Beyond was eventually granted permission to introduce buffalo to Phinda…

By 1995, a great deal of the animal reintroduction into &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve had been completed. However, research into the history of the area revealed that this particular region was once home to thousands of free-roaming buffalo. The large and heavy buffalo play an important role in land management too. Because of their size and weight, they break up the soil, stimulating the recycling of nutrients back into the grounds. As Phinda was made up of degraded farmlands where the soils had been depleted, buffalo would be instrumental in improving the carrying capacity of the land. &Beyond decided to take on the challenge.

Buffalo carry diseases that affect cattle, so, in order to protect cattle farmers, their movements are strictly controlled. Legislation at the time did not permit for the establishment of new buffalo populations. However, after six years of negotiation with national veterinary authorities and consultation with local farmers, in 1997 &Beyond was eventually granted permission to introduce buffalo to Phinda. No sooner was this in place than bovine tuberculosis was discovered in the buffalo population at nearby Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, from where we had planned to source our buffalo. Reluctant to give up on our vision for buffalo, we simply pioneered a new protocol to ensure that any animals released onto our land were disease-free. This involved the movement of the animals to Phinda, followed by them being placed in specialised holding pens known as bomas for twelve to eighteen months. During this time, each buffalo underwent a succession of blood tests to ensure that they were TB-free.

At last the momentous day came when the buffalo were released onto the reserve and Phinda finally had its Big Five in 1998. The reserve herd has grown so well that Phinda now has over 300 buffalo, with well over a thousand tuberculosis-free animals relocated to other wildlife areas.

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