The new narrative of ecotourism is about far more than simply viewing animals in their natural habitat.
It’s experiential, it’s immersive, and more than anything, it’s about the visitor to African shores feeling like their stay has made a difference. More and more safari operators are giving guests the chance to go behind the scenes as it were, in order to see – and more importantly to participate in – the work being done on the ground to save Africa’s wildlife and her wild spaces.
Marataba has long been one of our favourite reserves.
Only a few hours drive from Johannesburg, malaria-free, and blessed with fantastic game viewing, it has practically sold itself. Now however, Marataba are spearheading the way a bush visit should be conducted; their Conservation Camps are allowing guests the opportunity to actively participate in the reserve’s conservation efforts.
Rhino poaching has been an ever-growing problem across Africa for years, and South Africa has been particularly hard hit. For too long however, there has been a distinct disconnect between what is being done to protect the species and the guests who are able to view rhinos in the wild. Marataba have realised that by making their rhino conservation efforts accessible, viewable, and most importantly, experiential, people will be far more aware of what it takes to both monitor and protect the species.
Understanding a cause enables one to get behind it far more effectively.
Both white and black rhinos occur at Marataba; a mixture of clearings and thornveld provide adequate habitat for both species (white rhinos are grazers and prefer more open terrain; black rhinos are browsers and prefer thicker vegetation). A proper understanding of the behaviour and movement patterns of the individuals across the reserve can go a long way towards informing anti-poaching and conservation efforts, and so an individual recognition system using an ear notching pattern has been implemented at Marataba.
The way we see ecotourism going in the future is the kind of offering coming out of the Marataba Conservation Camps; the three-day Rhino Conservation Safari.
During a rhino registration and identification procedure, guests will help immobilise and notch the animal and insert a DNA microchip into the horns and body. Tissue is collected and the DNA is submitted to the RHoDIS database (Rhinoceros DNA indexing system), a national DNA database.
It’s one thing to watch a rhino from the comfort of a game drive vehicle. It’s a completely different experience to touch one’s bare skin, to feel its breath on your hand and to play a part in an operation that will directly contribute to the survival of its species.
More and more experiences like this are becoming available in the ecotourism sector. We are firm believers in the idea that the more connected a person can feel to a place, a species, or even an individual animal, the more likely that person is to become invested in whatever maintain’s that entity’s future.
It’s not only the Rhino Conservation Safari that is offered at the Marataba Conservation camps. Guests can assist in fence patrols, elephant or cheetah monitoring, and a host of other activities that will help give a far more enriching understanding about what conservation really involves.
At the end of the day, that’s exactly what it should be about.