What started as a family farm has developed into a landscape-scale project to heal degraded land and restore extirpated species. We have had the great privilege of being guided by some of South Africa’s finest ecologists at SANParks and Nelson Mandela University, and an international family of conservationists around the globe who have given us their love, support and advice. Our aim over the next year and into the future is to take our conservation dream to a platform of reality by driving ecological corridors in this semi-arid region of South Africa that we love so dearly.
Thank you to our guests, partners and friends for helping us to protect this area over the past two decades. The Great Karoo is a magical place, yet it has often been overlooked in favour of more ‘sexy’ destinations. Indeed, one might call semi-arid areas the ‘poor cousins’ of the conservation world, wilderness areas that have seemingly been forgotten. They do not seem to capture the public imagination in the way that a rainforest or marine reserve does – yet they have their own special beauty, and perhaps most crucially, they are just as vulnerable to the risks facing ecosystems around the globe: from climate change to human-wildlife conflict.
Because of the nature of threats the natural world faces, conservation has no alternative but to think big – reduced rainfall and drought conditions affect entire landscapes, not merely individual reserves. The Sneeuberg mountain range within which Samara sits holds the watersheds for many settlements downstream. Its mountain grasslands are a carbon sink, its Spekboom thickets a source of pollination, and the region holds species of plants that are found nowhere else on earth. Our ultimate goal is to link together a corridor of conservation areas spanning 3 million acres. Size builds resilience in a rapidly changing world.
In formulating our wishes for 2019 and beyond, we have been compelled to reflect on the year that was – indeed, on the 21 years that have been – and to acknowledge the huge strides we have made since our humble beginnings in 1997. Although there will always be more to do, there is much to be proud of in Samara’s journey thus far, and we are hugely thankful for our passionate and dedicated team that has put in so much hard work to achieve our goals. In evaluating our successes, the challenges we have faced, and the obstacles that remain to be overcome, we are reminded of the power of positive thinking, of determination, of faith and of courage.
The late desert philosopher, and father of our friend Lucia, Sir Laurens van der Post wrote some words which are fitting in this critical time as our planet sits at a juncture between implosion and survival. They remind us that each one of us, everyone in the world, can make a difference.
“I hear people everywhere saying that the trouble with our time is that we have no great leaders any more. If we look back we always had them. But to me it seems there is a very profound reason why there are no great leaders any more. It is because they are no longer needed. The message is clear. You no longer want to be led from the outside. Every man must be his own leader. He now knows enough not to follow other people. He must follow the light that’s within himself, and through this light he will create a new community.”
- SARAH & MARK TOMPKINS, FOUNDERS, SAMARA PRIVATE GAME RESERVE
Reintroducing the first cheetah back into the region in 130 years
Sibella, whose life has been immortalised by Nat Geo WILD, was introduced to Samara in 2003. She has done more to increase the population of wild cheetahs in South Africa than any other individual cheetah, and her progeny are spread across many reserves and national parks in South Africa. In 2018, her last remaining daughter Chilli gave birth to her second litter – Sibella’s ‘grand-cubs’ – passing on her extraordinary bloodline to another generation.
Symbolically recreating ancient elephant migratory routes
In October 2017 a small family group of elephants arrived at Samara as our founder herd. Two magnificent mature bulls followed suit in November 2018. Samara is located on an ancient elephant migratory route from the coast, and re-introducing elephants to the Plains of Camdeboo, the first in 150 years, was a symbolic and emotional moment for us. These translocations were co-sponsored by the Friends of Samara Trust and the NGO Elephants, Rhinos, People.
Returning the first lions to the region in over 180 years
In November 2018, after a lengthy reintroduction process, the first lion in 180 years to set foot on the Plains of Camdeboo arrived at Samara. The area was once home to the ‘Cape Lion’, a large black-maned subspecies which is now extinct. Early European explorers like Francois Le Vaillant describe their fear at travelling across the Plains of Camdeboo at night as these impressive beasts roared their presence to all who would listen. Restoring these apex predators brings an exciting new dimension to Samara’s conservation efforts.
Reaffirming our commitment to our local community
Without the involvement of people, conservation has no meaning. We have always viewed our community as an integral part of what we do. Samara is not only one of the largest employers in the region, but we also contribute to several local projects. We have supported the Vuyani Safe Haven, a centre for neglected children in Graaff-Reinet, since 2010 through fundraising and our annual Christmas Party. In 2018, Father Christmas aka Reserve Manager Alan Feldon was on hand to delight the 30-odd children in attendance.
2018 also saw the start of what we hope will be a long-running event for the youth of Graaff-Reinet. Initiated by Procurement Manager Anneley Gradwell, the Samara-sponsored Heritage Day Football Tournament took place on 23rd & 24th September. It brought together young men from underprivileged communities in a round-robin soccer tournament, which you can read more about here.
The Tracker Academy, a division of the South African College for Tourism, which has been hosted at Samara since its inception in 2010, celebrated its first female graduates this year. The Tracker Academy is an NGO which trains disadvantaged rural people in the traditional skills of tracking. Around 94% of graduates have gone on to gain employment in the tourism and conservation industries. Several have found work at Samara, as assistant elephant monitors, as trackers and in the case of Benedict Phepheng, as a fully-qualified guide.