Plans are underway to establish a 120 000 hectare central escarpment game reserve, which will be South Africa's fourth largest. File photo: Leon Lestrade

KwaZulu-Natal - A prime KwaZulu-Natal nature reserve is losing money and needs a rescue plan, or to be sold.

Its owners, the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (Wessa), have appealed for advice on how to turn the 600-hectare nature reserve, uMngeni Valley near Howick, into a viable operation.

The conservation NGO is seeking ways to turn it around, or find investors, because it “can no longer afford to maintain it on a sustainable basis”, according to Pieter Burger, Wessa’s KZN regional chairman.

“Wessa seeks advice, ideas and proposals from experts, including consultants, hospitality and tourism specialists and property developers in relation to the economic utilisation of uMngeni Valley for the benefit of Wessa and the successful proposer.”

Burger said Wessa would consider “the total sale” of uMngeni Valley.

In recent years it had become increasingly clear that the costs of uMngeni Valley might “jeopardise the financial health of the whole of Wessa”.

But he stressed that the preservation of uMngeni Valley for conservation remained Wessa’s prime objective.

He said the annual operating costs of the reserve alone far exceeded its income.

“The bottom line,” said Burger, “is that if Wessa were to include more than mere preventive maintenance, such as the much-needed road construction and repairs, the replacement of game fencing, the refurbishment of camps, the purchase of vehicles and equipment, the employment of game guards and additional staff to manage the reserve and combat ongoing poaching, the costs would be three to four times the minimum amount we are currently spending.”

In the late 1970s, hundreds of Wessa members contributed to buying uMngeni Valley.

The aim was to support environmental education and conservation.

Hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren and adults from all over the world have benefited from it. - Daily News