Enquire Now Book Online

The Samara Story: 19 years of restoration

By Samara on November 17, 2016

We recently celebrated an important birthday. Wednesday 9th November marked 19 years since the Tompkins family bought the first farm that would form the nucleus of Samara, and 11 years since our flagship Karoo Lodge welcomed its first guests. The Samara project has advanced in leaps and bounds since then, so to celebrate, here are some of our milestone moments from the past few years, and a glimpse at our plans for 2017.

2004: First wild cheetah back in the Great Karoo in 130 years


Many of you will remember Sibella, our treasured wild cheetah who defied the odds to become a global ambassadress for cheetah conservation. Born a wild cat in South Africa’s North West province, Sibella’s life nearly ended at the hands of hunters, whose dogs tore away the flesh on the back of her legs, leaving her at death’s door. After five hours of surgery and weeks of rehabilitation at the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Trust, she was introduced onto Samara, the first wild cheetah back in the Karoo in 130 years. During her lifetime (14 years – ancient in wild cheetah terms), she was a record-breaker of note, contributing almost 3% to the wild cheetah population in South Africa through her various litters and featuring in dozens of magazines, newspapers and television programmes across the globe.

2008: First property in South Africa targeted for fracking


In late 2008, Samara was targeted for shale gas exploration using the highly-controversial method of fracking. The process involves injecting a mixture of sand and toxic chemicals into the water table at high pressure to extract shale gas deposits far beneath the surface of the earth. In a water-scarce environment like the Karoo, such a proposal, and the refusal of the company to divulge which chemicals they planned to pump into our waterways, set alarm bells ringing. Consulting a range of experts in the field confirmed our initial fears – that the Karoo could not afford to be exposed to uncertain shale gas development, particularly given the potential devastating impacts on the economic survival and quality of life of rural communities, not to mention the consequences for the Karoo’s fragile environment. For two and a half years, Samara and Derek Light, our appointed lawyer, led the battle against fracking on behalf of the people and biodiversity of the Karoo. We succeeded in demonstrating that the exploration company had not followed due legal process, and managed to get Samara and neighbouring properties excluded from the exploration area.

2010: The establishment of the Tracker Academy


The Tracker Academy, a training division of the SA College for Tourism, operating under the auspices of the Peace Parks Foundation and led by Alex van den Heever, was founded and is hosted at Samara. The one year full-time intensive course into the dying science of tracking, led by experienced trainers including Karel ‘Pokkie’ Benadie, one of South Africa’s 21 Icons, is the first of its kind in Southern Africa. Samara makes its land available free of charge to the Tracker Academy for all its semi-arid practical training sessions and as part of its charitable donation to the Academy, also provides lecturing facilities and accommodation for the trainees – 8 at any one time.

The Tracker Academy endeavours to contribute significantly to the preservation of indigenous knowledge in South Africa by creating passionate African naturalists. Our aim is to empower the custodians of Africa’s environments to preserve the continent’s last remaining wild areas. Pokkie and the Academy are particularly proud that, 6 years on from its inception, almost 95% of its graduates have found permanent employment in the fields of tourism and conservation.

2013: First desert-adapted black rhino in the Great Karoo


In 2013 we received some very special protégés – the desert-adapted subspecies of the Critically Endangered black rhino. In a custodianship arrangement with SANParks, the body that manages South Africa’s National Parks, we provide a home for this highly endangered subspecies which is perfectly suited to arid environments like the Karoo. We are one of only two private reserves in South Africa to house this subspecies, the population stronghold being in South African National Parks and in Namibia. It is a great responsibility, and one we take extremely seriously.

2015: The second generation joins the Samara Team


Samara has always been a family endeavour, and in 2015 we welcomed the second generation into the Samara Team. Isabelle Tompkins, Sarah and Mark’s eldest daughter, is passionate about the Karoo and Samara’s mission. Her involvement brings a youthful energy and determination to our vision of restoring and permanently safeguarding an irreplaceable part of our natural heritage.

2017: The Samara journey continues


Having reflected on Samara’s history, now seems an appropriate time to look to the future. As Samara progresses into 2017, our passion and drive remain steadfast, our outlook innovative, and our objectives ambitious. Our original vision, dreamed up in 1997, remains the same – to restore the starkly beautiful ecosystems of the Great Karoo, the vitality of its wildlife, the drama of its landscapes, the future of its people.

2017 will witness these plans being set into motion like never before. A central focus is on restoring the remainder of the complement of indigenous wildlife. We are currently in discussions to reintroduce a small herd of elephant and bulls; to bring in a pride of lion from the Kalahari – the closest living relative to the now extinct Cape lion; and to acquire a breeding herd of disease-free buffalo. Other goals include reintroducing hyena – both spotted and brown, and further plains game. This will not only offer Samara guests an unparalleled wildlife experience – witnessing Nature’s Greats set against the stark beauty of this magnificent landscape, but will also advance us further along the path towards Samara’s broader goals – what we call ‘the bigger picture’.

We invite you to join us in this journey – to marvel with us as the elephants step into the Karoo veld; to engage with us in the groundbreaking research furthering our understanding of the natural world; to listen with us as our experts in history, astronomy or palaeontology bring the landscape to life; to know that our combined efforts in creating employment have given even one more person a chance at a better, safer, more fulfilling life. There is no feeling more rewarding than watching the sun go down over the iconic craggy tops of ‘Tooth Mountain’, painting the sky pink and gold, and knowing you are contributing to a cause far greater than all of us.

There is so much potential yet to be realised. The Samara story has just begun.


To find out more about our magical part of the world or to book your trip with us, get in touch here, call us on +27 (0) 31 262 0324 or email



Related Posts

Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Johan and Tersia Blignaut
7 years ago

Thanks very nice history summary of Samara, good luck also with your future plans and you will still have our support in the future.As always we are looking forward to our next visit !


Johan and Tersia Blignaut

mavi moya
7 years ago

Thank heavens for wonderful people like Mr. and Mrs Tompkins and family who are trying so hard to save one of the most wonderful corners of our planet. If only there were such people all over the world doing the same thing, saving our oceans and our forests and animals. Thank you Sarah and all of you. Wish I could come back once more to see you. Love and best wishes to you and your staff. Mavi Moya

Comments or questions? Click here to join the conversation.x
Enquire Book Call