South Africa is known worldwide for its spectacular national parks, but what is less widely known is the number of private game reserves that have abandoned cattle and crops to concentrate on conserving wildlife (see Terry Anderson’s article in this issue). As early as the 1960s, some farms moved out the cattle, tore down the fences, and began to host visitors intrigued by the chance of seeing lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and Cape buffalo.
After some 40 years of experience, these reserves can report that the switch has provided a host of benefits. The returns have been 1500 percent greater than if the owners had continued with farming, and employment has increased 2500 percent on these private properties. The success of the early pioneers has had a domino effect as other private landowners gave up conventional farming and turned to wilderness preservation. Now 25 farms belong to the umbrella Waterberg Conservancy, which enables them to combine efforts on fire protection, security, eradication of alien species, and a host of other land-reform projects.
Another sign of changing times is the varying interests of current tourists. Big game species are not necessarily the biggest draw. Many come to see the vast variety of birds, rare plants, and even the delicate rock art created by the Bushmen up to 10,000 years ago.