Wildlife In the iSimangaliso Wetland Park

Thonga Beach Lodge
Lake Sibaya has 100km of untouched shoreline and, at 70 square kilometres, is South Africa’s largest freshwater lake. The lake falls within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, now a World Heritage Site, and the Ramsar Convention assures its international conservation status.

The lake’s diverse flora provides a variety of habitats for birds, mammals and aquatic life. Research reveals that hundreds of years ago the lake was once connected to the sea and with the natural closure of the estuary, numerous fish and aquatic creatures were trapped in a fresh water environment.

Lake Sibaya contains the second largest population of hippopotamus and crocodile in KwaZulu-Natal and is an important breeding, feeding and roosting area for a host of bird species. Surface water in the surrounding coastal plain often disappears completely during dry spells, making the lake the only source of permanent water for birds and mammals.

The wetland also supports many of the rural people of this region, who in many cases are totally dependent on the water resource and its associated flora and fauna. Good management, careful conservation and controlled use of resources make Lake Sibaya an example of the concept ‘wise use in action’.

Lake Sibaya and its feeder streams support eighteen species of fish. The fauna reflects a marine origin and has close affinities with tropical forms. A freshwater goby (silhouetta sibayi) is almost endemic to this water system, as very few records of it have been received from other localities.

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Thonga Beach Lodge Turtle Tracking

Thonga Beach Lodge, South Africa, offers nightly turtle tracking activities from 1 November until 28 February every year. These tours can be done either on the back of an open game viewing vehicle or on foot. The turtle drive can only be done close to low tide and both tours are done at night when the turtles come out to lay their eggs or the hatchlings make a dash for the sea. The turtle drive can only leave one hour before low tide, so this can mean some very late nights, but seeing these magnificent creatures on our remote beaches is always worth the effort.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park has awarded Thonga Beach Lodge the opportunity of conducting turtle tours along its treasured coastline. In order to preserve the delicate balance of nature and the natural nesting patterns of the turtles, a strict policy is in place allowing for as little disturbance to the turtles as possible. Our experienced guides will ensure that you have opportunities to view and sometimes photograph these magnificent creatures, but without disrupting their cycle of laying their eggs on our beaches.

Turtle Drive
During the ‘turtle season’, iSimangaliso Wetland Park have allowed Thonga Beach Lodge only one 4×4 vehicle to conduct turtle tours, once per night. This is timed carefully with the low tide between the months of 1 Nov to 28 Feb.

The vehicle can carry a maximum of 10 guests at one time, so space for the turtle drives is restricted. We try our utmost to let everyone who wishes to do a turtle drive have the opportunity of doing one during their stay. Due to the popular demand for these tours guests staying less than 3 nights might not get the opportunity of doing a turtle drive. Those unable to join a turtle drive can always join on the turtle walk. The drives are charged per person and cannot be pre-booked.

Turtle Walk
Thonga Beach Lodge also offers the opportunity of tracking the turtles on foot. This is a wonderful alternative or compliment to the turtle drive. Our guided Turtle walks are complimentary and guests are welcome to go on as many of these walks as they wish. There is no limit to the number of guests walking at one time.

Research has shown that the mother returns to the same beach and that eggs are laid within metres of where the mother emerged as a hatchling years previously. Guests can view the turtles as they are laying and every precaution is taken to ensure the turtles are not disturbed.

These magnificent creatures return to the Maputuland coastline every year, having swum the length of the African continent, and return to the beach where they hatched.

There are a number of different turtles found off the coast of Maputuland but only two of these lay their eggs on the Maputuland coast: the leatherback and loggerhead turtles. Thonga Beach Lodge has also recorded the only known nesting by a green turtle along the South African coast, however this is incredibly rare.

Due to the conservation efforts of the KZN Wildlife since the early 1960s lead by Dr George Hughes the turtle population along the Maputaland coast is stable however worldwide these turtles are under severe threat. In 1966 only 5 leatherbacks nested on the Maputaland coast, today there are more than 90 leatherbacks that nest. The loggerhead turtles that nest along the Maputaland coast now number in excess of 500 nesting females, thanks to conservation efforts.

The turtles lay their eggs along the sandy beaches of Northern KwaZulu-Natal mostly at night. As with crocodiles, the temperature of the eggs dictates the sex of the hatchlings 20-24 degrees celsius produces males, while 29 degrees celsius or more results in females. Clutches laid in mid-season will produce both sexes.


Common birds of Thonga and SIbaya Lake/Kosi Bay


Dark capped bulbul Sombre greenbul


Yellow bellied greenbul Livingstons turaco
Purple crested turaco Green backed camaroptera Olive breasted sunbird Collared sunbird
Southern boubou Red chested cuckoo Natal robin Brown scrub robin
Chorister robin Yellow billed kite White fronted plover Burchells coucal
Grey waxbill Forest weaver Pigmy kingfisher Collared sunbird
Palm nut vulture


Green twinspot


Narina Trogon




Reed cormorant


White breasted cormorant Water thick knee


Saddle billed stork


Wooly necked stork Grey heron Purple heron Goliath heron
Black headed heron Black winged stilt Rufous napped lark Cape longclaw
Rosy throated longclaw Whiskered tern


Caspian tern


Whaling cisticola


Common ringed plover Kitlitz’s plover


Three banded plover
Whitefronted plover Common sand piper Ruddy turnstone Yellow billed duck
Red billed teal Western osprey African finfoot Greater flamingo
Pied kingfisher Malachite kingfisher Crowned hornbill Trumpeter hornbill
African fish eagle Martial eagle Hammerkop Spurwinged goose
Wattled lapwing Blacksmith lapwing Pied avocet Red knobbed koot
Little grebe Egyptian goose Black collared barbet White eared barbet
Speckled mousebird


Lemon breasted canary Dusky indigo bird


Pels fishing owl