‘The world as first seen by the child becomes his lifelong standard of excellence, mindless of the fact he is admiring the ruins of his parents.’ – William Stolzenberg
All thanks to acclaimed science journalist William Stolzenberg who ten years ago, introduced us to the concept of rewilding in his book, Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of the Vanishing Predator. It’s a powerful and compelling book that builds on one simple ecological truth: predators matter. It’s a value that cuts to the core of rewilding too, in that this progressive conservation approach seeks the large-scale restoration, connection, and protection of natural processes and key wilderness areas, to facilitate the reintroduction of those apex predators and keystone species that define biodiverse habitats.
With this mind, we celebrate the indomitable passion and determination of Mark and Sarah Thompkins of Samara Private Game Reserve in South Africa – for their ambition to rejuvenate the once magnificent plains of Cambedoo in the semi-arid Great Karoo have been realized. ‘A hundred years ago this area was like the Serengeti of the South in that it bore witness to the large migrations of wildebeest, eland and quagga (now an extinct type of zebra) that roamed these plains in search of new pastures,’ explains Sarah. ‘Herds of elephant moved through verdant river systems, black rhino were plentiful and the predators – Cape lion, leopard, cheetah, spotted hyena, even wild dog – accompanied the melee of prey species across this breath-taking landscape.’
‘Our dream was always to amass enough land to create a self-sustaining ecosystem that could carry game: the herds of antelope that used to inhabit this area, and the predators to keep the balance that helps maintain these fragile environments,’ explains Mark. But in order to do that they had to first remove all internal fences, eradicate all alien vegetation and let the land rest for a decade before they could begin to reintroduce indigenous animals to the area. This kind of personal vision and financial commitment is a gargantuan undertaking and one that while still in its infancy has taken the best part of twenty years.
Despite this, in just two decades, Mark and Sarah have managed to repair a century’s worth of destruction. In 2004, the first wild cheetah for more than 130 years was reintroduced to the reserve; followed by the desert-adapted sub-species of the black rhino in 2013, and the Cape Mountain zebra in 2015. Another historic milestone followed in 2017 when a founder herd of six elephants was reintroduced, as was the triumphant return of the first free-roaming lions in June this year. ‘The reintroduction of the lion has succeeded in transforming Samara into a Big Five game reserve,’ says Sarah with pride. ‘But for us the real measure of Samara’s conservation success is the number of species that have returned of their own accord, deeming the environment an attractive habitat.’ Leopard was first seen in 2014 and is now regularly spotted in camera traps, while the recent discovery of ten Cape vultures on the mountainous grasslands section of the reserve was particularly gratifying. ‘These endangered birds of prey are seen as critical determinants of healthy ecosystems; there’s no better affirmation that we are doing is right.’
And with Samara Private Game Reserve today constituting the third largest protected area in South Africa and an internationally recognized Global Diversity Hotspot, the Tompkins family have much to be proud of. And yet for them, it’s still early days. ‘For our family, Samara is a lifelong commitment and one that will outlive us all. So we invite you to come and visit, bring your children, your parents, your friends – and help us to create something bigger than all of us.’
If you would like to visit the magnificent Samara Private Game Reserve in the Great Karoo of South Africa, Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.