Theater of Cruelty

Private game reserves – a business concept for species conservation

SOUTH AFRICA / About. 500 South African game reserves represent a spectacular marketplace. But after thirty years, Shamwari Private Game Reserve, for example, today has seven luxury lodges, an explorer camp, a learning centre, a rehabilitation station for young, abandoned or injured animals – and not least a police unit to combat poaching.


All photos: © Eckhoff

Thinking of escape is pointless and also disloyal. Today we can talk about escape from all the crises: Ukraine crisis, energy crisis, inflation crisis, pandemic crisis, democracy
crisis. Not to mention a topic that is closely linked to a crisis that "everyone" eventually refers to – the climate crisis. Its twin crisis is called the annihilation of the species and also has a more accusatory label: ecocide.

Searching for hope has led me to unexpected territory. To the south Africa and to private business – companies that make a mammoth effort for species diversity: the private game parks.



South Africa's ecosystems were on the verge of total destruction when the first game reserve, Imfolozi Hluluwhe, was established in the province of KwaZulu-Natal in 1895. The park is 960 km² and the genetic home of all the world's white rhinos. In 1898, the Kruger National Park appeared on the map, South Africa's largest game reserve, with an area of ​​20 km². Anyone who wants to experience the world's most iconic animal species up close – elephant, lion, rhinoceros, cheetah, osprey, wild dog, leopard – often travels to South Africa and other countries in southern Africa. Until the middle of the last century, however, they had had to search more than one needs to do today. The soil was impoverished by poor farming methods and the consequences of wars; natural habitats were eradicated; wild animals were competitors to cattle, they were carriers of diseases and were slaughtered in droves.

To recreate nature

In the 1990s, in the small town of Port Elisabeth on the southern tip of Africa, a businessman was sitting one day wondering how he could find a place nearby where he and his family could enjoy life in their spare time. He discovered some farms nearby that were for sale and bought them, a total of 11 hectares. But he quickly realized that to enjoy nature here, he had to recreate it, depleted as it was through unsustainable farming methods. He tore down fences and built an intact ecosystem step by step. First, a healthy plant life had to be in place. The herbivores could then move in, and thus also the predators.

#Adrian Gardiner# is the founder of Friends Private Game Reserve, one of the first of its kind in South Africa. Now, after thirty years, Shamwari has seven luxury lodges, an explorer camp, a learning centre, a rehabilitation station for young, abandoned or injured animals and a police unit to combat poaching. Gardiner's "cottage in the country" has proven to be a model enterprise in terms of species diversity and animal protection.

The anti poaching patrol, in Mfolozi NP, South Africa

The poachers

Among more than 325 employees there are some of a very special caliber. One of them is Rodney Visser, a mild-looking man who is responsible for the fight against snipersno. "One must be aware that every day approx. 58 people here in South Africa. Who gets upset over some dead rhinos? Here we are talking about huge profits with low risk." In the years 2013 to 2017, the number of people killed annually was rhinoceros in South Africa of over 1000. In recent years, the number has been decreasing, not least to the relief of game wardens who protect them with their lives at stake.

The horn is chopped off with an ax – then the animal burns with its skull open.

The poachers usually come after dark. Usually the animal is hit by bullets from a Kalashnikov AK-47. Often the victim does not die immediately, and the horn is chopped off with an ax and machete. Not infrequently, parts of the skull are included, to prevent a single gram of the precious horn from being lost. The animal is then embalmed with its skull open. Within hours. All because a single horn on the Asian black market is worth more than gold, diamonds and cocaine, as according to Chinese (superstition) it is supposed to have miraculous healing powers.

According to Chinese (super)belief, the horn is supposed to have miraculous healing powers.

Rodney has twenty-seven years of experience in criminal law enforcement and concentrates on preventive actions. He collects information about the criminals and maintains close contact with the local population. In emergency situations, he disposes of a helicopter. And then he has Anja.

Anja Truter

The guardian angel

Anja Truter's office could hardly have been more beautiful on this spring day: red soil, lush green trees, yellow meadows and fragrant herbs. Some secretary birds strut past. As it is, Anja has to slow down for crossing giraffes. Anja Truter is a boyish young lady in shorts and a green ranger shirt. The job is to be a guardian angel for the reserve's animals – she looks after them, keeps an eye on them – morning, noon and night. The day begins before sunrise, at four o'clock, and ends at sunset around six o'clock. She works on foot, in her Land Rover, with camera traps – always alone among wild animals. She counts them regularly, collects a lot of data which she then evaluates.

Truter is a boyish young lady in shorts and a green ranger shirt.

Today it is above all about the missing rhino W 55. Now she has observed several rhinos through the binoculars, but no W 55. That makes her extra vigilant. Any place where rhinos stay is today a potential crime scene, she knows that. Even in European museums, horns are stolen from stuffed animals.

Anja stops for a short picnic break. It is needed after hours on bumpy terrain. She says: "It also happened in Shamwari. Two rhinos were killed. I was the one who found them..." Here the voice breaks before she continues: "I walked around the animals and saw that their limbs were stiff. Actually, I knew they were dead, but I waited a long time for them to wake up and get on their feet." Among her colleagues, the young game warden is known for being rather headstrong, which has given her the nickname Bhejie – little black rhinoceros. (The white rhinoceros is peaceful, while the black one is rather aggressive.) What she means to her employer was clearly expressed when Anja once hinted that she could actually imagine doing something else – get some cows, run a small farm. Shamwari's chief ecologist O'Brien retorted curtly: “Yes, that's a good idea. We'll bring your cows here.”

A few days after my excursion with Anja, a message appears: “This morning we were out looking for W 55 again. I found him. Unfortunately he was dead. There had probably been a fight, probably with another male or perhaps with an irritated female with a calf. He was injured by a horn in his left front leg. Possibly the heart or a lung was pierced. I am relieved that he has been found and that we can determine the cause of death." Between the lines it says: Thank goodness he wasn't killed and abused.

Namibia and ecotourism

Trophy hunting does not exist in Shamwari Reserve; only cameras are used here. Thus, the reserve has also won many awards, several times the World's Leading Conservation Company. Trophy hunting is often what some would call a necessary evil in the private game reserves. But it costs money to rebuild nature and bring back animal species that had disappeared. Not to mention what resources are needed if one wants to tackle extensive conservation projects.

Only cameras are used here.

#Erindi Private Game Reserve# in Namibia is another of the reserves in this category. It stretches over 70,7 hectares of untouched wilderness and offers ecotourism to anyone who can afford it. After four years of trophy hunting in the establishment phase, Erindi now finances its entire operation solely with the income from guests. The luxury factor is high.

You can choose from many types safarivarieties, be served gourmet meals and otherwise relax with one sundowner on the terrace, with a good view of the waterhole, where elephants and antelopes often come to drink. Erindi has eleven projects for the protection of nature and endangered species – including wild dog, cheetah, elephant, leopard, lion, pangolin and hyena.

The reserves

The reserves (about 500 in South Africa) represent a spectacular marketplace. The goods transport of four elephantis from Erindi to the neighboring farm Mount Etjo Safari Farm begins with the veterinarian in the helicopter who finds the animals and anesthetizes them. A well-trained crew then crane loads them onto trucks and drives them the forty-six kilometers to the buyer's property. Under minimal stress, the giants wake up in their new home.

And then it is not least about money. The price for a white rhino can be between NOK 85 and NOK 000. Supervision and passports also cost at least NOK 185 annually, according to a spokesman for Balule Nature Reserve.

The travel and conservation company Africa Geographic shows the importance of private game reserves in southern Africa with some figures: Game farms employ more than three times as many employees as livestock farms. The game farming industry controls more than 20 million hectares of land, more than all national parks combined.

Statistics from Wildlife Ranching SA show that a game farm of approx. 2700 hectares which are aimed at ecotourism and biodiversity, on average are home to 45 mammal species, 266 bird species, 43 reptile species, 29 grass species and over 100 other tree and plant species.

The game farming industry contributes approx. 20 billion rand (equivalent to approx. NOK 11,2 billion) to South Africa's economy.

In the mid-20th century, wildlife lacked an economic value. With the private ones , in the reserves, species diversity in southern Africa has reached a level that gives hope. Thus it is perhaps the case that the last rhinoceros has not yet been born.

Ranveig Eckhoff
Ranveig Eckhoff
Eckhoff is a regular reviewer for Ny Tid.

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