White lion breeders, leopard friendly, 4×4 trails, platinum mines, wildlife sanctuary and ecotourism.
Sixteen years ago Deon and Ankie retired from the corporate life in the big city and bought a good sized farm in the Mokopane area. Their goal, to preserve this small spot of habitat for who ever naturally lives here. This includes an elusive leopard and a long list of mammals and birds, and species of trees and grasses.
As I sit in the bush writing surrounded by bird song and squawks I’m infinitely grateful to people like Deon and Ankie. This morning as I emerged from the tent four hornbills were flying from tree to tree obviously scouting out our campsite.
A duiker (really small antelope) came running past during lunch and the dusty trails evidence the nocturnal activity with a criss cross of prey and predator spoor.
If you’re not into sharing you’re out of luck because ants, the occasional bee, large beetles and of course a spider or two like the water source of the outdoor shower and toilet. Maybe that’s where “ants in your pants” comes from?
Driving in to the Mountain Sanctuary we followed a dirt road between two high game ranch fences. Along the one the same sign is posted at frequent intervals… “Free roaming lion“. We come to find out that there truly are lion across the fence, white lion to be exact. White lion being bred for… well, neither Deon or Ankie where quite sure, but know they sell them and that just a few weeks back a group of Peace Corp volunteers visited to pet the lion cubs.
They of course like me think… canned trophy hunting.
Across the mountains to my right a platinum mine is planned right in the lowlands a crucial wildlife and water catchment area. Deon and his fellow naturalists are fighting this, however, it is a tough battle as the consultants hired to do an environmental impact study are being paid by the mining company… duh! And the politicians and the company owners have a very ‘close’ relationship as well.
“Leopard friendly” is more than an amusing sign. It really means that on this farm leopards are safe. Deon tells us that to this day surrounding farmers continue to shoot leopard on sight or trap them and then dispose of them. Why? Because they kill calves.
Thabaphaswa Mountain Sanctuary is not only a secluded ecotourism attraction, but an operating Nguni stud farm. When Deon first started farming sixteen odd years ago he lost several calves to a leopard. However, instead of going after the leopard he determined that they must learn to coexist with this predator. He protected his cattle and calves. First by moving cows about to give birth to a safer area and second when the calves were older keeping them in a leopard proof kraal at night and sending herders out with them to graze by day. Since implementing this strategy he has only lost one calf to their resident leopard.
Cattle farms have reduced significantly with many farmers in the area converting to game farms, stocking their property with antelope and wildlife trophy hunters are willing to pay thousands of dollars to kill. That’s why the numbers of certain antelope has increased… not with the intention of preserving them in their natural ecosystem but to be exploited for trophy hunting purposes.
Deon tells us, that the latest rage is to genetically alter the color of certain species to make them more attractive to the ‘discriminating’ trophy hunter. Impala with black faces, yellow wildebeest or black springbok to name a few.
Amongst all this going on around them Deon and Ankie have created an ecotourist destination for those who can be without electricity and cell phone or internet access and simply want to lose track of time and rejuvenate in nature.
When the sun comes up we get up. When we’re hungry we fix a meal. When we feel dirty we take an open air shower, even the toilet is open air and two have views… No magazines needed. And there’s plenty of time to sit and watch and listen. The most fascinating turns out to be the weaver birds building their nests.
Because Deon restored a series of dams there is year round water for all who enjoy this piece of mountain and valley space.
Thabaphawsa Mountain Sanctuary is truly an oasis for wildlife and ecotourism. A place where human and animal (or bird) alike can breath easy and free amidst the onslaught of exploitation in the world near or far.
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