Category Archives: General Updates

Conservation Game Reserve

We have spent a delightful week at The Garden Route Game Reserve which has been established for 12 years by private owners who have an enthusiasm for wildlife and conservation. It was started as in an attempt “to restore an area of once degraded farmland to its former glory and stock it with game and vegetation that previously occurred there” prior to the crop farming. (http://www.grgamelodge.co.za/about-us/our-history/ ) The reserve operates with an emphasis on sustainable utilization and long term conservation of the “natural habitats and the rehabilitation of already degraded lands.” (ibid) It employs 65 staff, the majority of whom are from the local community.

Best practice for game reserves incorporates private sector investment and local communities. The aim being, to wherever possible, involve the local community in wealth creation through tourism, skills and training and to involve the local communities directly in the benefits of wildlife tourism and the protection of the natural environment.

The Garden Route Game Reserve not only operates game drives for ecotourism, it also invites individuals and groups such as ours to participate in many of the activities and workings of the reserve, as an opportunity to educate and participate in tasks that are necessary on the reserve. This is an excellent educational opportunity – to be a part of sustainable development in the making.

There are many aspects of sustainability on the reserve. The elephant feces are used on the large vegetable garden, which grows produce for a local soup kitchen. Wood that is torn down from trees by the elephants is collected and given to local senior citizens in Albertinia, a town a few kilometers away. Perhaps in the future the elephant dung will also be used to fire a sustainable heating system for the volunteer house. Another fuel related possibility in the near future is the use of biodiesel in the farm vehicles and game drive vehicles. There is also a proposal to create a “green zone” around the volunteer house; however, this will incorporate solar or wind energy, which at this time is still very expensive. The goal is to include the lodge area as an ecologically sustainable operation.

The lodge presently has a significant social capital by employing local people, and natural capital in the rehabilitation of the land and the animals. To include all of the Big Five animals on this reserve, it may never be able to be fully sustainable, since the land area of 3,000 acres is not sufficient for all of the varieties of animals.  For example, the lions need to be fed since they would reduce their prey population below sustainable levels. A lion requires 10,000 acres to sustain itself. The reserve also breeds cheetahs in captivity to help with the gene pool for cheetah rehabilitation. It is the fastest land animal in the world but it is losing the race for survival. From approximately 100,00 last century to 7,500 now, cheetah breeding is necessary to avoid extinction.

Whether a visitor is here for a day or a week or a month, the impact of conservation education is significant. We have certainly been extremely fortunate to have participated in this volunteer experience.

 

Sore Thumbs, Smelly Bomas, and Smiling Faces

We have been doing some hard work over the past two days. Fixing a road sounds easier than it actually is and building a buffalo boma can also include hammering your thumb (which by the way happened to me frequently).

As it had been raining like crazy for the past few days, the roads on the reserve were full of potholes and puddles. Yesterday, we spent two hours of our morning filling those holes and puddles with rocks as some of the girls sang Miley Cyrus songs. This gave a whole new spin to the fun that we were already having. We had a good time building the roads as cheetahs watched us from behind some distant bushes. Lasagna for lunch made the muddy start to the day totally worth it. After a delicious lunch, we went ahead to collect firewood for the locals. Evan, Bongani and I spent more time “sword fighting” than actually collecting wood. The girls were less than impressed. We soon started working on the buffalo boma. Kat had to show me how to saw wood (in my defense, it’s actually way harder than it looked).

This morning we started the day with a game drive with Hannes (one of the park wardens), who took us on a detailed tour of the reserve. This guy really knows his stuff. Today we learned the following: lions can mate way too many times over a 4 to 5 day period; giraffes attack by ‘necking’ (when they whip their heads to the side with a very powerful swing); rhinos pee a lot and ostriches are probably the dumbest animals on two legs and can maintain their maximum speed of 70 km/h for 30 minutes. Then we planted trees. Evan and I grew attached to ours, so we named them. Edward, Vincent, Herbert and Frank are going to grow into strong acacia trees. After that, we resumed our work on the buffalo bomas before cleaning the elephant bomas. That was great. My nose had never been exposed to more gruesome smells before in my entire life. We then fed the elephants (don’t worry, we washed up), and hung out by the fire before dinner. We’ve done some hard work, some of it a bit smelly, but I think we all enjoyed it. The hot outdoor showers are doing wonders and we are experiencing less and less rain each day. The people are awesome, the food even more so. A sore thumb is a small price to pay for the “awesomeness” of this trip. Can’t wait to see what happens next.

~ Ngabo N.

One week down…

Sunday was a travel day for the EDGE team as they shifted camp to the Garden Route Game Lodge, which will serve as their base camp during the Big 5 volunteer program. For more information on volunteering opportunities at the lodge, please click here.

The town of Knysna has a population of approximately 55,500 people and 75% of them live in an extended township. Spending two nights there (the second night with four of the girls on the team) was a cultural education and we met some lovely people. We were welcomed into the choir practice, given books so that we, too, could sing, and then we sang for them – the school hymn and an attempt at Calon Lan. After we walked back to the home of our hostess (also a community worker, owner of a daycare and all round woman who is well-respected in her community), we talked and listened to wonderful stories of life in the township. What was lovely was that our hostess and her sisters were raised by wise parents who encouraged their daughters to achieve success in whatever way they desired. Despite being raised during the times of apartheid, their parents thought that it was best to not focus on what they could not achieve; instead, to focus on having a good life, respecting family values. Township life is certainly not the goal of most people, but many who live there focus on making the best of life that they can. Hardship happens, and that is a reality, but we met many friendly people, who wanted to chat and ask us about where we are from. There are many levels of living conditions, some come from informal settlements (the children from the Rondevlei School), to solid brick and mortared houses. Our team will see more of the township life when we visit Cape Town – more of the urban variety of this lifestyle.  This experience allows the team to know that Gratitude is an important aspect of E.D.G.E. leadership.

~ Jenny F.