An organization with a vision for wildlife coexistence.
WORDS SHELLEY VAN RENSBERG AND JEREMY DRAKE
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The term ‘bush luxury’ is a paradox that can sometimes be misused by hoteliers when promising to connect their guests with the natural environment.
Achieving the ultimate wilderness experience, while also giving travelers the sort of creature comforts they might come to expect from a new hotel in downtown Manhattan or Paris’ 7th arrondissement is not easy. But when it is done well, the key ingredients are authenticity and a true commitment to conservation.
At Shamwari Lodge, on the breathtaking Eastern Cape of South Africa, bush luxury is not a paradox but a passion. It is especially personified in the story of two lioness sisters - Maggie and Sonjia - who once languished in captivity, but found a new home at the Lodge’s famous Born Free Big Cat Reserve.
While theirs is not a comfortable story to tell, it does give context to the incredible forces that exist within the African tourism industry to create an environment and private game reserve, where humans and rescued wild animals can thrive alongside each other and rediscover the beauty of the natural environment together.
Click the video to learn more about the Biomes of Shamwari
The journey to freedom for Maggie and Sonjia began in 2013 when they were first confiscated from a circus in Germany after an inspection by authorities revealed infected wounds that had been left untreated for months. They were transported to the famous Natuurhulpcentrum, a wildlife rescue center in Belgium for rehabilitation before international wildlife charity the Born Free Foundation - founded by British actor Virginia McKenna - heard of their plight.
Born Free aims to stop the exploitation of wild animals living in captivity.
Once these two lionesses were finally in the arms of caring conservationists, their lives changed forever.
Once these two lionesses were finally in the arms of caring conservationists, their lives changed forever. At age eight, they felt grass under their paws and they experienced the sights and sounds of Africa in their new home, the Born Free Big Cat Sanctuary at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.
Maggie and Sonjia take it easy at the Born Free Big Cat Sanctuary.
It is at Shamwari that they would also become a part of a pride for the first time, meeting Jerry, a lonely male lion who had been rescued from a Romanian zoo back in 2007.
The transformational partnership between Shamwari and McKenna’s Born Free Foundation has provided a peaceful life to more than 40 big cats since 1999. These cats, which have been kept as household pets or rescued from circuses around the world, are not able to survive in the wild.
At Shamwari, they were given a home and are cared for in eleven bush enclosures.
A black rhino can weigh up to 3,000 pounds.
The heart of Shamwari
Conservation and care for all wildlife is at the heart of the Shamwari guest experience. Today the lodges on the grounds and the surrounding bush represents the very pinnacle of African lodge experiences for travelers.
Shamwari is home to five of South Africa’s seven biomes, making it a destination unlike any other. But it wasn’t always a piece of protected land. It welcomed its first guests in October 1992 after 17,000 acres of land was acquired and rewilded on the breathtaking Eastern Cape of South Africa.
Shamwari’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre imbues its guests, who come from all over the globe, with real-world conservation knowledge.
At two bespoke facilities, sick and injured wild animals are treated and cared for, before being released back into the wild. With 25 years of accumulated experience, there is an abundance of knowledge and expertise to draw from and share with guests everyday.
Click the video to see the Shamwari Elephant Experience
According to Joe Cloete, CEO at Shamwari, private game reserves play an important role in Africa, but are heavily reliant on income from guests. Tourism funds these important projects more than anything else, particularly long-haul international visitors, who tend to stay longer and spend more.
“Conservation is expensive and the margins are thin, but by supporting privately funded projects such as Shamwari, visitors really are contributing to conserving our environmental heritage,” says Cloete.
To remain at the cutting edge of conservation, the Shamwari team introduced a YouTube channel during South Africa’s hard lockdown. Dubbed Shamwari TV, its aim was to keep the reserve top-of-mind with virtual safaris and videos showcasing the Shamwari project. What started as a survival tool, has turned out to be one of the organization's most successful ventures, now with subscribers all around the world.
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Shamwari employ over 325 local staff.
Shamwari normally features seven luxury lodges and one explorer camp, two different education and rehabilitation facilities and most importantly, it employs over 325 local staff.
The lodges and accomodation options at Shamwari are uniquely distinct from one another, and perfectly balance regal opulence and everyday comforts with a true African wilderness experience. Take for example Long Lee Manor, where this newly redesigned lodge boasts Edwardian styled suites and a rim-flow pool with views that disappear into the bush.
Luxury meets the African bush.
Each lodge is different, meaning something for every traveler.
These overnight adventures are paired with private safaris through the reserve. Organizations and charities like Shamwari exist to help mistreated wildlife in captivity, but they also transform all of us into champions of conservation during our next vacation.