In the beginning….
Janet and Rob Cuthbertson bought a previously neglected farm in the Environs of the World Natural Heritage Site, The Isimangaliso Wetland Park ( then known as The Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park) The property is situated at False Bay on the East Coast of South Africa in Zululand. Initially, the venture was to be a “weekend getaway”.
They decided to Restore, Protect and Enhance the property and “give it back to nature”. This vision became their life’s passion. Both are both avid conservationists and they were aware of the Ecological importance of the area, as they had worked with and been inspired by the Campaign For St. Lucia. This quest to save St. Lucia from inappropriate development eventually led to St Lucia being proclaimed South Africa’s first World Natural Heritage Site.
Suni-Ridge Sanctuary is now protected within the buffer zone of this World renowned conservation area.
We began the rehabilitation process:
“We named the property Suni-Ridge after the rare diminutive Suni antelope that had survived poaching on the farm where most wildlife had been snared and killed. Most of the property had been ploughed up to create mono-culture agriculture fields. But approximately 1/3rd of the property still had ancient sand forest vegetation. Sadly a number of the old giant trees such as the Ubombo Wattle were hacked out for trade in timber. Today there are still huge holes visible where tragically, these trees were removed and sadly we refer to them as “tree graveyards”. But all was not lost. We had faith and with determination and the remaining forest provided a seed pool for the mammoth task of restoring our land. Thus we began the slow process of rehabilitation and revegetation of the forest”
In this manner, forest was previously removed from our property
Suni-Ridge Forest Sanctuary is now a flourishing forest and wildlife habitat. It has taken many years of effort, dedication and patience and our perseverance has born fruit: The Sanctuary now supports amazing biodiversity of fauna and flora. There are numerous red data trees, plants and animals, hundreds of insect and butterfly species and over 350 species of birds. Leopard Walk Lodge is now a magnificent refuge for wildlife and a haven of peace and tranquillity for visitors where no hunting or trade of wildlife is allowed
“Where there were once hundreds of snares and abandoned pineapple fields, there is now a wonderful diversity of life that is flourishing – trees that we observed growing from the time they were saplings are now towering canopies and the biodiversity of the reserve is vast. It includes over 350 bird species, numerous mammal species such as wildebeest, nyala, zebra, impala, grey duiker, reedbuck, various species of mongoose and 26 bat species and much more. There are also various red data species that are rare and that could be threatened with extinction should they not be protected. They include the leopard tortoise, rock python, red duiker, suni antelope, pangolin, aardvark, Thonga red squirrel and a number of cat species including leopard and many trees plants and insects, some still to be discovered”
A small selection of the wildlife that now calls Suni-Ridge Home
It was necessary to not use the land while the vegetation was being restored. Firstly we had to provide a waterhole for wildlife.
Gradually grass began to grow in the fallow pineapple fields soon to be replaced by the pioneer hellicrysum bush. This, in turn, provided a nursery for small trees that were planted. Nature helped by enhancing the restoration of vegetation through seed dispersal from birds, bees and wind. Trees such as sickle bush were first to take root and they also provided a nursery for other trees. They would die down when trees such as flat crown and maroela grew taller and cast shade over them. After about 10 years the vegetation grew rapidly with many species of trees being identified.
As the habitat improved, life forms began to return and then flourish. Biodiversity blossomed and although it took many years, eventually the property became a fully-fledged Forest Sanctuary that provides refuge for many species.
We also introduced some species such as zebra
Construction of one of our dams
“Through the years we have observed nature renew herself in the Sanctuary that we have enabled and provided. In the early years we seldom found even one animal footprint. During that time we removed hundreds of snares from the property, then, slowly one by one antelope and other mammal species returned, bird and bat species flooded in and numerous life forms – many that are red data species – moved into the re-vegetating Haven. One by one nature’s life forms returned and today if you listen, feel and experience the ambience of our Forrest Sanctuary, you will understand that it is this biodiversity which above all provides the feeling of spiritual peace and renewal – we like to think it is nature saying “thank you”.”
The project has been supported by many during the years. But more was needed to help sustain the project. Rob is a civil engineer and it was therefore decided that the best way forward would be to build a lodge that would enable the beauty of the area to be shared with others. The name Leopard Walk Lodge was chosen in honor of the leopard that inhabits Suni-Ridge Forest Sanctuary.
Janet also began working with the youth of the area. She set up a farm school near to her farm for junior level children many who are aids orphans. She also developed the “Young Environmental Ambassador” program to encourage environmental education in various Schools in the surrounding rural area.
The surrounding environment remains a passion and apart from caring for Suni-Ridge Forest Sanctuary Janet helps to bring focus to the protection of the Mapatuland Region and its magnificent Isimangalliso Wetland Park, lake St. Lucia. Their proximity to the lake at False Bay is especially significant and she has established a Facebook page to encourage a focus on the importance of lake St. Lucia. – “Save our Lake St. Lucia”