The three main aspects of any African safari are the game-viewing, the accommodation and the food.
But the main reason why tourists go on safari is to view game and, as an inbound industry, we should try to remember this as there is sometimes a risk that we allow other, less significant, factors to determine where we send our clients for their safari experience.
By Vernon Wait.
Since the sale of Lalibela Game Reserve to new owners in late July 2016 and the acquisition of additional land (read more here), the reserve now stretches over 8,555 hectares (approximately 21,140 acres), with the Big-5 area now being some 7,000 hectares combined with the adjacent breeding area of some 1,500 hectares.
Lalibela is unique in the Eastern Cape in that it has substantial areas of savannah grassland, the vegetation type with the highest carrying capacity for herbivore grazing. This is a very significant asset because it means that Lalibela is able to sustain vast herds of plains game and this, in turn, determines the number of predators that Lalibela can have. Lalibela has the densest population of free-roaming predators in the Eastern Cape.
To determine the ideal carrying capacity of game on the reserve, based on the five flora biomes found here, Lalibela recently commissioned a team of game management experts. Their analysis determined the ideal numbers of various species of game. There have been significant purchases of game which have been introduced to both the “Big-5 area” as well as in the new breeding area.
Additional to the game repopulation programme, Lalibela also has embarked on a long term project that aims to eradicate alien invasive plant species and re-establish the endemic flora (read more on this aspect here).
“To date an additional 19 Cape buffalo have been purchased as well as over 200 black wildebeest, 42 zebra and numerous kudu, giraffe, impala, and blesbok. This is an on-going process and we have a while still to go with more game purchases in the pipeline. We have a plan and a vision that we are working towards” said Rob Gradwell, MD of Lalibela.
“Our conservation vision is to have the flora and fauna at Lalibela in equilibrium with itself. Because of this pro-active game management approach and the large areas of savannah grassland which sustain dense populations, game viewing is always excellent at Lalibela and this is reflected in the reviews that we get from visitors,” concludes Gradwell.
Being curious about Rob’s statement regarding visitor experience reviews, I had a look at Booking.com, which encourages their customers to review properties that they stay at. Guests are asked to rate their experience by giving scores out of 10. With 113 reviews, Lalibela has an aggregated score of 9.5, which is excellent when compared against the six other, similar properties in the area. Since game-viewing is the principle reason for guests visiting game reserves, a logical conclusion of the high overall ranking of 9.5 is that the game experience at Lalibela is of a superior standard.
TripAdvisor reviews are also a good barometer. I had a look at some of the comments and the quality of the game viewing experience is certainly a common thread, which backs up the high Booking.com score. Comments like “We saw lions roaring in the dark, elephants, buffalo, rhino, hippo, deer (sic), antelope, giraffe, cheetah, zebra and lots of other animals…”; “… the experience of seeing the big five is inexplicable…”; and “What can one say apart from the statement that words and photos cannot capture the beauty, spirit and peace of this reserve, both the landscape and the wildlife.”
“There is an old proverb: ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’”, says Rob Gradwell “After all, you don’t know the quality of something until you have experienced it yourself. So why not contact Lalibela and do just that.”
About the Author: Vernon Wait is an owner of Pembury Tours – a leading SATSA accredited tour operator established in 1996, offering tour itineraries across Southern and Eastern Africa. For more information visit www.pemburytours.com