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  • Writer's pictureRyan Honary

My Conservation Safari in South Africa

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

On June 10th, I went on a 1-week life-changing experience for a conservation safari to Phinda, South Africa. First, we landed at an airstrip in the middle of the African bush. The land was so beautiful and so full of life that it was overwhelming at first. It is an entirely different experience to see animals in a zoo, compared to in the wild within their natural habitat. It's much more interesting in the wild, and also very unpredictable as you never know what's around the corner. Right as we began to drive to our hotel, we immediately saw a great amount of wildlife and there was no part of the drive where there was no animal in sight.

We would start our game drives/safaris from before sunrise through late morning, and then again afternoon through the dark. It was absolutely out of this world to see how balanced nature is in its natural state and the very wide range of animals and ecosystems. Personally, the most exhilarating experience was the walking safari, where I learned how to track animals on foot by using their footprints, feces, sounds, and much more.

The region we were in, however, wasn't always like this. This beautiful land was destroyed by overgrazing and over-farming. Most of its wildlife was wiped out because of hunting. Rhinos, Alligators, Elephants, Lions, and Cheetahs, for example, were completely wiped out of this region. To make the situation worse, the animals weren't hunted for food or for protection. They were hunted to make jewelry and clothing or even just for fun.

In 1991, around 75,000 acres in this area were reclaimed by an international group of buyers and went under protection. All farming and hunting stopped. The soil and plants gradually recovered and animals were slowly reintroduced to the region. Even our hotel was designed to blend into the mountains with a minimal environmental footprint. There are no walls or fences around the hotel to prevent the free movement of animals and the usage of no plastic bottles and more renewable energy sources really help their cause. While we always had to be cautious and alert, especially after dark, there had never been an incident for any guests. This hotel was proof that any hotel can be eco-friendly, while also being beautiful and practical, with all the amenities of a full-service hotel.

Now after 30 years, the region is revitalized. Animals and plants are found scattered all throughout the area. There was so much wildlife that our car was frequently forced to stop so the animals could cross the road. Thanks to all the dedicated rangers, trackers, scientists, conservationists and volunteers who work there 24/7, there are 7 diverse and thriving ecosystems in this region alone. These efforts have been good for the people involved as well since hundreds of jobs have been created for the locals. This region is also a good return on investment for the landowners. The value of the land from its purchase in 1990 to today, has provided a return well above 20% per year over 30 years. That's much higher than the return from local agriculture and farmlands. It proves that restocking agricultural land with wildlife, managed on a sustainable basis can be much more economically viable than agriculture.

In essence, the story of this region is a complete success. It proves the Planetizen concept since a group from various countries came together and created a thriving ecosystem where humans can live in harmony with animals and the environment, and actually benefit from it. In fact, the motto in Phind was "care of the Land, Wildlife, and People." I now feel much more optimistic and motivated than I ever have been.

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