Desert Keeping: conservation in the Karoo

04.08.23 04:30 PM Comment(s)
You might see the Karoo as a vast vista of sand and nothing much. But in fact the desert is a vibrant environment for both fauna and flora – a fascinating encapsulation of the past and an enduring future. There is so much that has survived all the perils of cataclysmic change and the invasion of human activity. But for all that, the desert remains vulnerable to both climate and humanity. And therefore, even though it seems to nurture a powerful heritage without effort, it is in fact in danger of losing its astonishing signature at any given time.

Conservation in the Karoo is a dedicated and busy discipline of many people and organisations. Holding on and shoring up the tenacity of Karoo is as vital as promoting its great silence, extraordinary scenery and sense of peace. Currently, many projects are engaged in preserving the life of endangered animals and plants.

Springbok, Wildebeest, hippos and rhino

A new nature reserve, the Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve established by PC Ferreira in the heart of the Karoo, has given nature a chance to revive its original landscape and inhabitants. Ferreira realised that the loss to the environment suffered generations ago when the last Seekoei River hippos were shot in the late 1700’s, needed desperately to be redressed.

Being a conservationist at heart he decided to take action and initiated a hippo re-introduction project in 2000. It would eventually take 6 years for this project to bear fruit, but in 2006 a small hippo breeding group was eventually released on the conservation territory. The goal of the reserve is to restore the Seekoei River valley back to its pristine, wild and natural state where wildlife and humans can thrive together and prosper.

Karoo Seekoei Rivier Nature Reserve

Flushed with the success of his first conservation programme, PC Ferreira thought, why stop there? Why not have the entire Seekoei River as a conservation area? This ambitious initiative will eventually encompass an area of 450 000 hectares in size, from Kompasberg (near Nieu Bethesda) in the south all along the Seekoei River to the Doornkloof Nature Reserve where the river exits into the Vanderkloof Dam.

This project has partnered with the Northern Cape Department of Environment and Conservation (DENC), and the first phase of the project, consisting of 5 private landowners (representing 35 000 hectares) is well underway toward formal proclamation. In another innovative venture, Ferreira has launched the Karoo Rhino Anti-Poaching Programme, offering visitors the opportunity to assist game rangers with the observation and safeguarding of wild rhinos.

The Drylands Conservation Programme

Working with landowners, communities, and other partners, the Drylands Conservation Programme operates in the vast inner areas of the Karoo to sustain and restore the ecological integrity of the dryland’s significant biodiversity.

The approach of the organisation is both innovative and science-based. Approximately 60% of South Africa is classified as semi-arid and could become affected by climate change and proposed and possibly unsustainable developments – and so the sharing of knowledge for greater sustainability is essential to improving ecosystems and benefiting human communities.

Magic Hills and the fabulous veld

At the Magic Hills recently established reserve, extensive veld rehabilitation has been underway for a number of years. A priority is to re-introduce Karoo grasses and native succulents back into degraded areas. Once rehabilitation has been completed to a satisfactory level, more and more fences will be dropped to expand the reserve to allow greater numbers of wildlife access. Plans are being developed to expand the reserve to 42 000 hectares – a vast area in which both visitors and wildlife will be given the freedom to roam.

The results of the reserve owners’ vision have been extraordinary; landscapes that had barely a blade of grass in 1997 have recovered. The bright orange earth is now offset by pockets of green. Some of the indigenous species that have been re-introduced had been locally extinct for many years, including cheetah, elephant, black rhinoceros, lion and herds of eland, hartebeest and springbok, as well as the return of the vulture and the leopard.

The story of Sibella the cheetah is an example of one such successful conservation practice. Rescued from horrendous cruelty, no one was sure that Sibella would survive once rehabilitated and released. But she was a fighter and proved herself a capable hunter in the wild. In addition, she managed to successfully rear no less than 19 cubs in four litters. Her bond with her human saviours was strong, and she would present each litter to her human friends when they were old enough to leave their den. Sibella outlived most cheetahs in the wild, dying of natural causes in 2015 at the ripe age of 14.

The Nama Karoo Conservation
  • A land of hardy shrubs, the Nama Karoo supports some of the most productive arid lands in the world. It is home to many plants with strong survival instincts. The plant diversity is startlingly high, with species numbering well over 2000. And after good rainfalls in spring, the veld can paint vivid portraits with breath-taking sweeps of colour. 
  • A 100 years ago, springbok migrations several million strong would pass through every decade or so. Those great herds have gone, but there are a number of game farms with as many springbok milling about as you might see sheep on other productive farms.
  • Starting south of Bloemfontein and straddling 40% of South Africa’s land mass, the Nama Karoo might appear rather empty, but under current conservation imperatives livestock and game farmers are protecting greater sections of their land from overgrazing, and as a result, indigenous plants and animals are beginning to return. Not only will you enjoy the acrid scents of wild rosemary, camphor, lavender and sage – but there are also increasing opportunities to view cheetah and wild springbok.

Heuningland: African & Karoo tours to stir the heart and lift the soul

We are proudly South African and have a fervent love of the Great Karoo, its people and its unique vegetation and animals. We are passionate conservationists of nature and would like to share our knowledge acquired through years of travel and touring experience. We are therefore able to offer custom-designed and distinctively different tour options:
  • Hiking/camping trails or guided self-driving tours through the ancient landscape of the Karoo.
  • Tailor-made safaris to any destination in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, and Botswana.