While the Abelana Game Reserve brand is a recent addition to South Africa’s tourism industry and the African safari landscape, the land itself has been under protection for quite some time. In fact, it was first proclaimed as a “nature reserve” in 1958 and was then known as the Solomons Reserve. Until then it had been a collection of mostly cattle farms.
A series of different owners took charge of the land until the Mashishimale Community successfully claimed it back in 2010. After a number of years the community felt that conservation was the way forward for the land and in 2018 entered into a new partnership where job creation and beneficiation could be enhanced. The community receives an annual rental and in addition, we pay a levy of R100 per guest bednight directly to the community.
Covering 15,000ha of rich, bio-diverse biomes, the reserve was named Abelana – which means “to share amongst each other” in the local vernacular – and includes spectacular riverine bush along the Selati River which holds permanent water thanks to a series of weirs that were constructed in the early 1950s.
The first task was to consolidate the reserve, removing internal fences and generally cleaning things up, as sadly the reserve had not been well-managed. The reserve management plan was updated and work began on addressing the conservation of the land under protection. The existing anti-poaching team was bolstered and an armed canine reaction unit was introduced. The perimeter fence was improved, as was the road system with additional ecologically sensitive two-track game drive routes created.
In September 2019 we undertook an extensive game count and introduced new lions on the reserve to improve the genetics of the existing population. Additional species introductions have included sable and tsessebe which appear to be doing well.
Throughout this time we moved ahead with our commercial lodge planning, developing a small tented camp – Abelana Safari Camp, offering walking trails and horse safaris – and Abelana River Lodge, a 20-suite luxury lodge on the banks of the Selati River.
Job creation was one of our main objectives as it’s one of the key drivers that ensures the Mashishimale Community benefits meaningfully from its land. Sustainability is important to us, as is empowerment through positive procurement, so we outsourced our laundry and our staff transport to local community companies. In addition, all of our waste is being removed from the reserve and recycled by a community company. We have our own water bottling plant, so no single use plastic bottles are used, which means guests don’t pay for bottled water, still or sparkling.
Our plans extend to the future, beyond the current lockdown, when we hope to be able to consider developing community vegetable farmers to supply the lodges with fresh produce. Plans are also advanced for establishment of the environmental educational centre where local school children can learn about the ecology and history of their land and the benefits and career opportunities that exist on their doorstep.