Communities in northern KwaZulu-Natal have been urged to stop cutting and stealing game reserve fences after a group of elephants escaped from the iThala Game Reserve.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife said the elephants had escaped on Wednesday and were now far away from the reserve.
Helicopters had been arranged to herd them back, but the pilot was waiting for the weather to clear.
Elephants often escaped through two separate routes, it said.
“The first one is the Phongolo River and the second is an area known as KwaBanakile where the community removed the fence and prevented Ezemvelo officials doing their work.
“Ezemvelo will continue to engage the community to allow the erection of the fence along the Phongolo River and appeals to the community to report those who remove the fence and threaten Ezemvelo officials when they do their work.”
The community was also asked to contact Ezemvelo if they saw elephants that had escaped.
KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Services board chair Lydia Johnson said those who cut and stole the perimeter fencing of Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park (HiP) were adding unnecessary costs, delaying the completion of the refencing project and placing the lives of innocent community members at risk of being attacked by dangerous wild animals.
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Johnson, accompanied by other members of the board, made her appeal during a community meeting on Wednesday.
Ezemvelo said the meeting had been attended by community structures, including local traditional leaders, local board members, the Corridor of Hope co-management committee and Yakutat Four Trading owner Bongani Cele.
Yakutat Four was tasked with erecting an 11.5km perimeter fence at HiP.
According to Ezemvelo, there have been several incidents where the fence was cut and stolen or poles were destroyed over the past six months.
“When the board was appointed, it faced angry community members after the much-reported escape of lions from HiP.
“There were sporadic protests which threatened conservation efforts in the area.
We, however, managed to find each other and have achieved a lot working together,” Johnson said.
“I appeal to all structures to work with us again during this fence erection project.”
A new fence of more than 4.5km has been erected.
Johnson said an 11.5km fence would be erected along the Cengeni gate.