As custodians of 58 000 hectares of vastly diverse and sensitive landscape within the Little Karoo, responsibility is bestowed upon us to preserve and develop sustainably. Conservation management is the foundation on which Sanbona was established, and will always be a priority. Sanbona has been a pioneer of conservation, reserve development and eco-tourism of this scope within the Western Cape. Our dedicated Wildlife Department consists of:
- Wildlife veterinarians
- Conservation managers
- Security operatives
- Field staff
Together, we manage our unique ecosystem and ensure that we achieve our objectives, while preserving and refining the ecological, commercial, and social integrity of the area.
The vegetation of Sanbona consists of three biomes; Fynbos, Succulent Karoo and Thicket, of which the first two are globally recognised ‘biodiversity hotspots’, defined as ‘regions that contain at least 1 500 species of vascular plants (> 0.5% of the world’s total) as endemics, and must have lost at least 70% of their original habitat.’
Vegetation is the natural result of a myriad of environmental parameters that can be most easily explained by the interplay between geological formations and rainfall. The Warmwaterberg Mountain Range comprises the oldest geological formation on Sanbona and is part of the Table Mountain Group, a sedimentary rock that develops into acidic, nutrient poor soils. The Fynbos biome thrives on these acidic soils on the Warmwaterberg. The geology on the rest of the Reserve comprises mudstones and siltstones of the Bokkeveld and Witteberg Formations that form nutrient rich, clay soils derived from shales. The Warmwaterberg bisects the Reserve and creates a rain shadow on Sanbona. The nutrient rich soil in the south of the Reserve which receives a higher rainfall supports the critically endangered Renosterveld vegetation of the Fynbos biome. North of the Warmwaterberg the average rainfall drops dramatically and the vegetation shifts to the more arid vegetation of the Succulent Karoo biome. Arid Mosaic Thicket of the Thicket biome occurs throughout the Reserve, and is the driest of all the Thicket vegetation types.
250 years of agricultural impact on the Little Karoo has also left its mark and influences the conservation management objectives of today, and will for many years to come. Fences, road networks, overgrazing, trampling and ploughing all leave scars on the landscape and the Wildlife Department must attempt to facilitate natural rehabilitation of the vegetation. This is achieved by combating soil erosion, halting the spread of alien invasive vegetation and managing the impact on vegetation by game. In a semi-arid environment such as Sanbona, this process cannot be achieved quickly, although we are establishing the fundamentals.
A priority for the Reserve has always been the re-introduction of species that once naturally roamed through the Little Karoo. Although historical records are used, re-introducing species to their natural range must take into consideration the suitability and extent of the available habitat and the presence of potential competitors. Due to the change in vegetation type, some areas may no longer be suitable for the habitat requirements of certain species.
The process of returning the large herbivore and predator species has taken many years and is still ongoing. The Wildlife Department researches the ecology of the animals within their new environments to ensure success and sustainability of the processes. The impact of predators on their prey as well as herbivores on vegetation must be studied, measured and monitored continuously to establish the correct ecological balance that will ensure a productive, self-sustaining ecosystem on Sanbona for years to come.
A number of flora and fauna species that occur on Sanbona are of Conservation Concern, as described in the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species. One important species demanding attention is the Riverine Rabbit.
Sanbona is one of two protected areas with a population of riverine rabbits that provides sufficient space and diversity for ecological processes to function naturally. Sanbona has become a major role player in the conservation of this species in the Little Karoo. The highly elusive Riverine Rabbit is the 13th most endangered mammal in the world. The Wildlife department continually monitors the population and shares information gained with CapeNature and the Endangered Wildlife Trust.
The presence of a healthy Riverine Rabbit population on the Reserve is confirmation of the vital role played by the private sector in biodiversity conservation.
RESEARCH AND MONITORING
Over 55 percent of the Little Karoo is moderately degraded and only 18 percent in a pristine condition. Lower soil nutrients and loss of palatable plant species are results of this degradation and the challenge is developing the correct balance between improving soil and plant quality, herbivore densities and predator populations in order to facilitate the rehabilitation of the ecosystem.
The Wildlife Department is continuously and actively involved in various internal monitoring and research projects, and also facilitates external research associated with and conducted by various institutions.
We strive to not only care for our environment of great species diversity and richness, but also to ensure the safety and security of our guests and staff. Our anti-poaching and security unit of well-trained personnel continuously patrol and monitor; and strive to ensure our protection.
Due to the topography of the landscape, roughly 5000 hectares of the mountainous western area of the Reserve are virtually inaccessible and stochastic management approaches are adhered to, ensuring a Wilderness philosophy. These unspoilt areas can only be explored on foot.
Due to its commitment to conservation, Sanbona is managed by its own strict ecological principles which are supported by CapeNature. Sanbona has entered into a Stewardship Programme with CapeNature. As a result of this agreement we will receive perpetual Protected Area status.
“Within the context of conservation, stewardship means wisely using natural resources that you have been entrusted with on your property, protecting important ecosystems, effectively managing alien invasive species and fires, and grazing or harvesting without damaging the veld.”
The ethos behind the management philosophy of Sanbona Wildlife Reserve is to ensure that the Reserve is sustainable in the long term on three fronts: Financial, Ecological and Social.
We are granted an opportunity to conserve and protect this land on ground level, maintaining the ecological integrity of this diverse and sensitive landscape for generations to come.
Conservation efforts within Sanbona are linked across all aspects of the Reserve. Sustainability and responsible utilisation are foundations for our day to day management at our lodges, administrative buildings, staff villages and workshops. To assist our endeavours to be as effective as possible, we at Sanbona have partnered with the world renowned and respected Wilderness Foundation and their Green Leaf Environmental Standard (GLES) programme.
This programme was born out of a need to ensure that within the African Tourism Industry, a process was put in place which focused on environmental best practice, with the end goal being the achievement of sustainable tourism. Having researched global environmental and sustainable measurement standards, the GLES designed a structure that would enable tourism properties to be graded on, thereby making them aware of a broad spectrum of criteria.
Sanbona constantly strives to comply with and improve on the Green Leaf measures. Throughout all aspects and departments of Sanbona, processes and infrastructure are in place to help us run as ecologically sound a tourism experience as possible. The main considerations are; effective water and energy usage, including the capture of rainwater and the use of wood from alien plant species for fire places. Waste management includes the recycling of raw materials, composting of food waste and the filtration and use of grey water for irrigating lodge gardens. A final but equally important aspect is the education and upliftment of local communities and staff.
The aim of Sanbona, using the GLES, is to reduce the effects of consumption on our environment and improve upon environmental management and awareness in an eco-friendly manner, by addressing the direct impact of the Reserve on the environment, reducing our carbon footprint and improving the environmental education of owners and consumers alike, towards realising ways of enjoying the tourism product without compromising quality and experience.
HISTORY OF SANBONA WILDLIFE RESERVE
In 1998 Linton Projects (Pty) Ltd. conceptualised the establishment of a private nature reserve, 27 000 hectares in extent, named the Cape Wildlife Reserve. This reserve was concentrated in the south and west area of the Warmwaterberg and was envisaged to operate a resort complex within a private nature reserve. 39 individually owned lodges along the banks of the Kalkoenshoek River were proposed, and permission was granted for the development in January 2000.
This endeavour, however, was not financially successful. And in 2002 the reserve was acquired by a private company. It was extended to the north and east, incorporating land adjoining the Warmwaterberg Forest Reserve and towards the Anysberg Nature Reserve. Altogether, 19 agricultural farms, previously utilised for wheat and lucerne crops, domestic animal production (cattle, sheep and goats), game farming, recreational farming, and tourism were bought. The reserve size was increased to over 58 000 hectares, forming what is today, Sanbona Wildlife Reserve.
The focus was shifted from private lodge development to the creation of exclusive five star accommodation for nature based tourism.
Tilney Manor was opened in 2002. Tilney is an original farmhouse dating back to 1898 and is named after Thomas Tilney. He was born on 15th July 1816 in North Shields (then called Northumberland) England. A successful marine captain, harbour master and, finally, a magistrate in the Cape Civil Service, he eventually became the Resident Magistrate of Swellendam, and passed away in 1899. Today, Tilney Manor bears his family name and still falls within the jurisdiction of Swellendam Municipality.
In 2009 two new lodges, Gondwana Family Lodge and Dwyka Tented Lodge, were completed, adding to the historical Tilney Manor. Dwyka is set in a magnificent horseshoe bend of a dry riverbed with a breathtaking view of the cliffs that protect it, while Gondwana family lodge is a modern thatched two-story lodge with awe-inspiring views of the Bellair Dam and the distant picturesque Anysberg Mountains.
In 2011 ownership was assumed by Dubai World Africa and the reserve was restructured under the Shamwari Group.
In 2012, a seasonal Explorer Camp was initiated, a two day walking safari with luxurious tents as accommodation, giving a sense of how the original safaris were enjoyed. The location changes each summer in order for repeat guests to truly get a sense of this unique Karoo wilderness area.
In 2015 Sanbona was purchased by the Caleo Foundation, a non-profit, conservation organisation – the birth of a new beginning for Sanbona Wildlife Reserve then began. Existing conservation projects will continue and be enhanced to ensure the vital protection of this pristine Karoo wilderness area.