‘Ultimately conservation is about people. If you don’t have sustainable development around these parks, then people will have no interest in them, and the parks will not survive.’
– Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa
Most game reserves and safari lodges in South Africa have significant programmes in place to help conserve Africa’s precious, rare and endangered wildlife. Much of their focus lies on investing in people who live around reserves and concessions – people who, more often than not, may have little access to basic resources, education or even running water. There is a belief that successful conservation in Africa relies on the participatory relationships between tourism establishments and their neighbouring communities, meaning a portion of your travel budget goes directly to helping conservation and community projects.
Here is a list of our favourite initiatives championed by lodges and hotels in South Africa:
1. Ngala’s sustainable Hippo Water Rollers
One of the hardest realities faced by many communities in Africa is the lack of suitable access to clean and safe drinking water. Many women and children walk considerable distances every day to collect and carry containers of water – a physically demanding task, especially for elderly residents and people living with disabilities.
The Ngala Private Game Reserve has, along with its community development partner, created a sustainable barrel-shaped water container that can be pushed and pulled along the ground by an extended handle. These Hippo Water Rollers have a capacity of 90 litres or 24 gallons and are designed to withstand the rough terrain of the rural areas around Ngala. To date, more than 1 200 Hippo Water Rollers have been distributed in the surrounding communities, making life a little easier for the residents.
2. Thornybush and the Thousand Herbs & Vegetable Garden
Since 2014, a co-operative of nine entrepreneurial women have been renting a portion of land from a high school in a rural area just outside the Kruger National Park. They grow quality herbs, vegetables and edible flowers which they sell to local game lodges like Thornybush, several retailers and their community.
Thornybush Game Reserve and a variety of donors have assisted these exceptional entrepreneurs with essentials like business strategy, sales and marketing, logistics and infrastructure, and other support. They’ve also helped to increase the garden’s shade-cloth coverage, built washing and packing facilities, a cold-storage building and an on-site retail store. The goal is to help grow their garden into an independent and sustainable business that can serve a growing client base.
3. Ellerman House’s ArtAngels
This extremely luxurious boutique hotel in Cape Town runs an annual charity event to raise funds for the Click Foundation, an organisation that focuses on improving literacy in Africa by rolling out online phonetics-based English programmes in underprivileged primary schools. Every year, Ellerman House undertakes an auction of limited, fine art pieces donated by some of South Africa’s leading artists.
Through this initiative, Ellerman House has raised more than a million US dollars for the Click Foundation and, in 2017, launched a sister ArtAngels event in London.
4. Camp Jabulani’s rescued elephants
This fabulous Relais & Chateaux accredited lodge just outside the Kruger National Park has a heart-warming conservation success story. It all started in 1997 when a 4-month-old elephant was rescued from a muddy silt dam – severely injured, dehydrated and abandoned by his herd. It took a full year to nurse him back to health and he was aptly named, Jabulani (meaning ‘to rejoice’ in the Zulu language).
In 2002, Jabulani was joined by two rescued adults (who would have been killed for meat) and was immediately adopted by the matriarch, Tokwe. By 2018, the herd had grown to 15 elephants, all cared for by a team of devoted and passionate keepers. Guests at Camp Jabulani can interact with the elephants and learn about the values of responsible conservation. The camp runs fostering programmes in which anyone can donate towards caring for a specific elephant in the herd.
5. Grootbos’s Siyakhula Organic Farm
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve is more than just a luxury holiday destination near the southern tip of Africa. Set in the heart of the 2 800-hectare reserve lies the Siyakhula Organic Farm, which was established in 2009 by the Grootbos Foundation. Siyakhula has provided skills development programmes for the women of local communities along the Whale Coast. These programmes include organic agriculture, sustainable animal husbandry and beekeeping.
The farm employs a dedicated team of full-time staff from the local communities who produce vegetables, herbs, fruit, honey and delicious preserves which are sold to the lodges on the reserve.
6. The Peech Hotel and Little Eden
This cosy-but-chic hotel in Johannesburg aims to have a small impact on the environment and a large one on the community. Its responsible tourism policy pivots on energy conservation, recycling and community aid. Not only is The Peech a certified Fair Trade Tourism hotel, but it is also a signatory to The Tourism Child Protection Code of Conduct – a global initiative that protects children from sexual exploitation in travel and tourism.
The hotel is also a devoted supporter of Little Eden, a non-profit organisation that provides care for children and adults living with intellectual disabilities. Guests are invited to add a small amount per night to their room bills, which is then matched by the hotel and donated to Little Eden.
7. Sabi Sabi and The Dreamfields Project
The long-standing Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve believes that successful conservation in Africa relies on benefitting neighbouring communities. One of the community programmes supported by Sabi Sabi is The Dreamfields Project, an initiative that raises funds to invest in soccer facilities and equipment for schools in rural areas and informal settlements. The project distributes full sets of kit (balls, pumps, uniforms, boots, shin pads and whistles for coaches), and builds welcome playing fields in the communities. It also funds netball kits for over a dozen schools in the communities around the Kruger National Park.
8. Jaci’s rhino and wild dog conservation
Jaci’s Lodges are situated in the malaria-free Madikwe Game Reserve, one of South Africa’s biggest private Big 5 reserves. It is a haven for endangered species like African wild dog – a group of six were introduced in 1994 and have grown into a flourishing hunting pack. Jaci’s Lodges have taken a particularly strong stand to help with the plight of another endanger animal; rhino conservation is made possible through active participation in various anti-poaching activities like foot patrols, guarding, and driving awareness among guests at their lodges.
Every visitor to Jaci’s Lodges is obliged to pay the nominal Madikwe Guest Conservation Contribution. These funds go directly to the reserve’s anti-poaching initiatives and give guests the opportunity to help protect endangered animals like wild dogs. The plight of African rhino poaching is a critical one, but fortunately many areas like Madikwe are carrying the torch for conservation.
9. Cape Cadogan and Injongo Educare Centre
This boutique hotel in Cape Town is part of the MORE group of hotels and its social investment organisation is committed to enriching the lives of people in need. They aim to provide sustainable, long-term assistance to local communities like Mfuleni – an informal settlement about 40km or 25mi from Cape Town’s city centre. Cape Cadogan is in partnership with Matchbox, a non-profit organisation that helps to improve the quality of life and learning for young children living in underprivileged communities.
Mfuleni’s Injongo Crèche was founded by a courageous and determined woman, Mavis Ngcongolo, who opened her tiny shack to create a loving environment of support and protection for about 70 vulnerable children. Thanks to MORE and its support of Matchbox, Mavis and her team opened the Injongo Educare Centre in 2013. This facility has evolved into more than just a day-care centre – it provides a space for students to do their homework, prepare for exams and undertake photography workshops. Mavis also offers sewing courses for unemployed parents, sells coffee and snacks, and offers the space for religious and cultural events. All Cape Cadogan’s guests are encouraged to visit the inspirational Mavis at Injongo.
10. Thanda Safari Lodge and the Star of Life Project
Located in a private Big 5 reserve in northern Zululand, this member of Leading Hotels of the World focuses on the socio-economic and developmental needs of three tribal communities around the reserve. Thanda aims to preserve Zulu culture in the region and supports various community upliftment programmes.
One such programme is the Star of Life Project. Launched as a school-based HIV and Aids prevention programme in 2005, Star of Life empowers young people with information and the motivation to make decisions that will reduce their risk of contracting HIV. With an ‘AIDS-free, that’s me’ mantra and extraordinary funding from donors, Star of Life has reached more than 100 000 children to date.
Investing in socio-economic development and education in communities highlight the value of tourism, and empowers people to consciously contribute towards keeping animals safe from poachers and making visitors to magical Africa feel welcome. As guests of these lodges and hotels, seeing how your safari directly impacts the lives of people in need is one of life’s most rewarding moments.