Merging Missions

From the moment we stepped foot onto Mt. Camdeboo’s grounds, manager Dave Ward assured us, “It’s not a standard lodge.  We try… to give you a personalized experience.”  The five-star resort, situated near Graaff-Reinet, lives up to Dave’s promise and often surpasses the lofty expectations with which its visitors begin their stays.

When Africa Media arrived for an overnight excursion with Mt. Camdeboo’s genial and capable staff, the private reserve’s finest features were on full display.  We devoted our morning to a series of stops that brought us into close contact with some of the reserve’s most remarkable creatures—among them the sable and the cheetah.  While on the veld, we enjoyed a savory picnic lunch and partook in a game drive that kept us occupied for the duration of the afternoon.  After a miniature lecture at the Boer War battle site contained within the reserve, we scaled one of Mt. Camdeboo’s highest peaks to enjoy an array of refreshments served with a stunning side of South African sunset.  Our evening concluded with a delectable braai consisting of spit-fired warthog, venison potjie, and milk tart, before finally retiring to a spread of the resort’s luxury suites.  Indeed, Mt. Camdeboo is not your standard lodge: it stands apart for a singular commitment to the experiences of its visitors and its inhabitants.  And on the horizon, big changes may be on the way that would even further optimize the enjoyment of Mt. Camdeboo’s human visitors and resident animals alike.

Early in our interview, Dave made passing reference to the possibility of a merger with neighboring reserves Samara and Asante Sana.  When I probed to unearth more information about the current state of negotiations, Dave shared with me that “[t]here’s a pretty good working relationship between all three of the reserves, and… I think we’re working towards an agreement where we drop the fences and we create a mega-reserve, which will benefit the animals that are here more than anything else.”  Dave speculates that such a merger would afford the reserves’ wildlife an ample 50,000 hectares in leg room, while expanding the geographical range available to tourists.  In addition, each existing reserve possesses unique attractions that would contribute to the strength of the new reserve’s offerings.  “We, for instance, have bushman paintings that maybe people could visit,” Dave noted.  “We have a Boer War battle site.  Once those fences are dropped, we have elephants that will then be coming across from Asante Sana through the whole area.”

According to Dave, if they were to combine their resources, the reserves would almost certainly achieve the capacity necessary to accommodate a particularly alluring addition: the lion.  “There’s the possibility of introducing lion into the area,” Dave excitedly commented.  “[W]ith a mega-reserve, we would then have enough game on the area, as well, that could then be utilized by the lions.  We wouldn’t be hammering a particular specie in introducing it.”  And if the reserves were to incorporate new creatures, they would be able to depend upon one another in their management and supervision of the wildlife.  Already, the reserves collaborate to a considerable extent.  In what Dave described as “very much a hand-washing relationship,” Mt. Camdeboo occasionally relies on Samara for its airfield, while all three reserves “assist each other with information regarding poaching or potential poaching [and] would… work more hand-in-hand” if the merger were to take place.

The folks at Mt. Camdeboo take pride in their substantial progress as an independent outfit.  Individually, Dave deems the resort itself a success story in the realm of environmental restoration.  When asked what he considered to be the reserve’s greatest accomplishments to date, Dave marveled, “I think basically taking original stock farms and transforming them from overgrazed areas where there was a lot of erosion… taking out all the internal fencing, creating a habitat for game, reintroducing… things like the rhino back onto the veld as well, introducing cheetahs back into the area, I think those are the biggest milestones really.”  But moving forward, Dave and his colleagues recognize the vast market potential that exists in aggregation and diversification.  “At the moment, we market ourselves as a five-star resort, but with potential, within the next year, we might look at a ‘glamping’ type of outfit that may be coming at maybe three-star, and look at a different market.”  He continued, “So the same thing with Asante Sana.  They would do their own thing.  It would really just be that we’ve opened the environment up and then have transversing rights over the whole area.”

At this stage, Dave remains confident that the merger will come to fruition.  To state it simply, the move just makes sense.  As we wrapped up our conversation, Dave offered his final assessment on the negotiations: “I think that is something that we’re all thinking of, because it’s the natural, it’s the next progression from here.  Everybody’s doing it and trying to create big reserves, instead of little pockets.”  Until then, Mt. Camdeboo is doing just splendidly on its own, but the potential of this mega-merger is certainly an exciting prospect for all of us to entertain and anticipate.

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