Woman Conservationist in The Kingdom of the Zulu
American philanthropist and conservationist whose formative years were
spent in the African bush, returned after 35 years to establish a
wildlife sanctuary on behalf of her foundation, Khumbula Thina Trust,
which means "Remember Us" in the Zulu language.
The Trust was
initiated and funded by Fleur Wales-Ballie in 1994. With the Trust's
intentions to protect and nurture "The Land....Its People....Its
Wild....". Fleur has taken the bull by the horns and set herself up in
The Kingdom of The Zulu to oversee the process of the Wildlife
The 6,200 Acre Khumbula Thina Mountain
Sanctuary is situated near Bayala, a remote part of The Kingdom between
Hluhluwe and Mkuze. An ex-beef cattle farm originally over-run with
Triffid weed (Chromolaena odorata) and heavily encroached with Sickle
Bush (Dichrostactiys cinerea) as a result of overgrazing and with many
areas of erosion caused by cattle trampling, it was still selected by
Fleur and purchased by the Trust in Y2000. Over the years, a determined
Fleur, alongside a dedicated team of game guards and contracted local
community members, have set about changing this ecological "desert"
into a well-established and bountifully protected area for the Flora
and Fauna of the region.
While the trust has funded numerous
environmental and community upliftment projects in South Africa in the
past, it was the personal invitations by both Presidents FW de Klerk
and Thabo Mbeki respectively, for her to join South Africa in its post
apartheid reconstruction that facilitated the Trust's idea to own its
own piece of The Wild "for the purpose of maintaining it for the
benefit of current and future generations," explains Fleur. "I was
concerned that in the new government's drive to uplift the previously
disadvantaged people through the building of houses, schools and the
creation of work opportunities, it would mistakenly neglect its
wildlife and protected areas. I wanted to make sure that this did not
now that the Preserve is established, Fleur has turned her attention to
the local community. The local communities have close ties with Khumbula Thina Trust.
Work opportunities on the Preserve are available for the people.
Managers and field rangers are being trained as part of the upliftment
and development of the community.
For the first time in the
history of the area, the Trust has appointed a member from the Zulu
Community as manager of the Refuge.
Khumbula Thina Trust
donates funding to support HIV councilors. It envisions a school, a
church, and a communal meeting hall for the community.
On occasion Fleur
meets with the Amakozi, the Kings Council of Chiefs to discuss the communities wellbeing.
does not allow any hunting or culling in the sanctuary, an unusual
philosophy in an area that sustains itself through hunting packages
offered to local and foreign tourists.
When the trust bought
the property, Fleur set about immediately with the building of an
infrastructure. This included the immediate priority of providing
comfortable accommodation for her permanently employed game guards and
maintenance staff. To do this, local builders from the previously
disadvantaged communities near the Sanctuary were employed on a
temporary basis. Sustainable use of natural resources are a
major aim of the Trust. Where possible, some of the material used to
build the accommodation was collected from the sanctuary.
"Some people tend to
shake their heads when I tell them this," says Fleur. However, in the
long-term vision of the Sanctuary we want to have wildlife accustomed
to the harmless presence of humans so that Visitors & Volunteers who
visit or work in the Sanctuary respectively, can have a closer and more
educational interaction with our wild inhabitants. It will be a
rewarding experience for these visitors."
have a river on the northern border of the sanctuary. The surface of
its bed is normally dry. We source two types of sand for the building
process from the riverbed, one for the cement, and the other for the
plaster. We make sure that we do not damage the environment where we
collect the sand," says Fleur.
Overgrown and eroded access
roads in the sanctuary have also been upgraded. One of these measures
is the utilization of the numerous small rocks and dead aloe stems that
abound in the sanctuary area. Where erosion gullies have been found,
rocks and aloe stems have been placed in the gullies. When rains have
fallen, however little, the rocks and stems have impeded the water and
soil runoff and, over time, the soils have filled the gullies. Some
of the previously heavily eroded areas are now covered with thriving
grass and any moisture that falls is able to penetrate the soils
instead of running off.
"As the aloe stems decompose in
the erosion gullies, they also provide valuable organic matter to the
soil for the germination of the grass seeds," relates Fleur proudly.
Indigenous Fig Tree & Impala Lily
inherited a complex system of concrete watering holes with the purchase
of the old cattle farm. Some of these had to be found using old aerial
charts of the region, so overgrown with weeds was the property. While
these existing manmade waterholes are a boon for the game, they proved
quite a management headache for Fleur and her staff until they came up
with some ideas to reduce problems.
some game like to drink straight from these concrete watering points,
we found that due to the approximately 50cm high walls of the points,
small animals struggled to access the water. In addition, animals such
as warthog and bush pig which enjoy a good wallow in the mud, could
not do this at the concrete points," explains Fleur. "So we cut minute
grooves out of the top of each point's wall where, by controlling water
flow out of the ball valves in each point, small quantities of water
flow out of the water point via the groove. This water flows into an
artificially created wallow, and animals such as snakes, including
pythons, birds, porcupines, duiker, the rabbit-sized suni antelope,
among others, can have access to water at their own level and for their
Another problem associated with the concrete
watering points was the rapid accumulation of algae that made the water
less palatable. To counter this, Fleur and her game guards caught seed
populations of Mozambique tilapia from a central reservoir and placed
them into these concrete points. The tilapia has set about feeding on
the algae, resulting in a significant decrease in its spread and an
increase in the clarity and freshness of drinking water for the game.
The tilapia also act as a source of food for birds like kingfishers,
and insects such as water beetles and dragonfly larvae. Unless the
watering points dry up, all the tilapia should not die out as they do
have refuge from predators in the piles of rocks that have been placed
in the watering points to allow any animals that fall in, to clamber
"One of the developments on the property that I am
most pleased with must be the Triffid weed eradication and Sickle bush
thinning program," says Fleur. 'When the trust first bought the farm in
Y2000, the exotic and mostly unpalatable Triffid weed covered
approximately 50% of the property's grazing, especially in the valleys.
I employed thirty local women on a contractual basis to chop the
Triffid weed down. But it just kept growing back. I didn't want to use
poisons to eradicate it, so the ladies and I spent 5 years pulling out
every single Triffid weed plant by the roots. To date there has been no
re-growth. Each year, however, after the summer rains, the seedlings
must be dispatched effectively. The seeds blow in from neighboring
farms where conservation is not carried out in as aggressive a manner
as it is on the Sanctuary.
Triffid weed plants were left to decompose on the soil surface,
providing organic matter to the soil, while also providing ground cover
for the re-establishment of grazing grassland, and promoting rainfall
penetration into the soil. The indigenous Sickle bush, while providing
browse material for many game animals, had also encroached heavily on
the Sanctuary's grazing areas as a result of the original cattle
overgrazing the veld. Fleur and her team set about thinning the numbers
of this thorny plant, not eradicating it, so that grazers could also
access more grassland. The piles of thinned Sickle bush are not burnt,
but also left to decompose. These piles are providing a habitat for
birds, reptiles and rodents, thus increasing the biodiversity of the
sanctuary. Of most importance, the Sickle bush has provided a haven for
the grass seed to germinate, and thus cover areas left denuded after
the removal of the bush.
Fleur does not receive any financial
reward for her activities. She is only following a dream set by herself
and her like-minded American peers. In South Africa, where jobs are
scarce and wildlife is under threat from poaching, drought and
urbanization, people like Fleur should be valued for their input, not
despised. While lacking in formal conservation training, Fleur makes up
for it with passion and a willingness to learn more about the nature
and the people she loves. She only hopes that she, her Trust and its
Wildlife Sanctuary can make a positive difference in her Community.
'We need to work together for the good of us all; people and nature,'
South Africa to study aviation in the United States in 1970, Fleur
received her Commercial, Instrument, Instructor, Dispatcher, Engineer,
and Airline Transport Licenses. Flying many types of airplanes around
the world, she also became the first woman in the world ever to qualify
for a Pilot/Engineer License on the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet.
In 1980, Fleur
married famous heart surgeon, Dr John Gillespie, who pioneered and
designed the first heart-valve and and heart defibrillator. Several
years after the passing of Dr Gillespie Fleur married Hon. Richard K
The Hon. Mr. Cook was a former member of the Banking
Committee in the US Senate; was an adviser to President Richard Nixon
and Lobbyist to Congress: and, before his retirement was a Senior
Vice-President for the Lockheed Corporation.
accompanied her husband, Richard, on visits to the White House, the
Pentagon, the US Senate, and numerous and varied functions which would
normally surround the political climate of Washington. Richard, until the time of his passing,
continued to advise the US Administration in office, whether Republican or Democrat.
During a celebration on the release of
President Nelson Mandela from prison, held at the South African Embassy
in Washington DC, Fleur and Richard had occasion to chat briefly with
the then South African President, FW de Klerk. Fleur outlined the
future plans for her Foundation in Southern Africa to President de
Klerk, who then suggested that she return to South Africa to implement
her conservation ideas in the country of her birth. In addition, when
current South African President, Thabo Mbeki, was inaugurated in 1999,
he called on all expatriates to return to South Africa to take part in
its reconstruction. Fleur and Richard were also at the function where
President Mbeki made this request, and so Fleur then decided to take up