Tuesday, 30 November 2010

I flew here on the SA equivalent of Squeezyjet, except that the seats were both more comfortable and allocated. I am spending a week at the Hopewell Game Reserve, which Chris Oliver, one of the friendly parents at Wellington had a major share in until recently. This is about 5km inland, 80km east of Port Elizabeth and 30km west of Alexandria. My purpose is not so much to see animals, although that is always a bonus, as to develop a greater understanding of the sort of issues that such enterprises are designed to address.
My hosts are Tania and Francois de Villiers and I am basically shadowing Francois as he works. He is Afrikaans first language but that is not obvious and he has been very generous in allowing me to ride shotgun as he tours the reserve in his 4x4. The reserve has any number of ‘bok’. Bushbok, buntebok, eland, impala, waterbuck, hartebeest and others I have forgotten. It also has zebra, giraffe rhino and elephant.  At the top end is a pair of cheetah. Evidently this part of the world is full of such small concerns but many are game ‘farms’, as distinct from ‘reserves’. Their origins are interesting. Back in the 60s and 70s the game had been shot out of the cattle and sheep ranches which dominated the region. These were low productivity outfits, with some grazing in amongst a whole lot more bush and game animals were viewed as pests. The growth of the international game viewing and trophy hunting market in the 1980s caused a change of approach. Instead of eking a living out of cattle, farmers fenced off areas and stocked them with grazing game animals. The upshot is that there is now far more game in the Eastern Cape than there ever has been. It is not altruism that has caused this so much as pure economics. Tourists pay £2500 for a luxury week at a private reserve. Hunters pay £1000 to shoot a waterbuck bull and will want a different species on each of the 7 days they stay.  If the land yields more cash for keeping threatened animal species ( exempt from the hunter’s bullet, if not the poacher’s ), then that is the pragmatic solution. The farms rear game, provide for the hunters and sell surplus animals. The reserves buy the game and cater for the voyeurs.
Through no particular fault of anyone’s, there is not, actually, that much for me to do. Francois is about to leave the reserve, as a result of the new owner’s views, which differ markedly from Chris Oliver’s. The existing co-owner, Bruce Little, is moving from the house I am staying in to another one on the reserve, which is in the process of being extended. He is living at his main domicile in Grahamstown while all this is happening. There are no paying guests here until 2011 and the future planner suggests there won’t be many of those either. So I am going to take some walks on the land outside the reserve, do some cooking, as I am self-catering and read some books. It will be a slow week but at least it will be a warm one. News of snow and freezing conditions in the UK does much to make me feel I am in the right place.

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