When creating and launching the Nyumbani Estate concept, it was paramount to all of us involved that we find somewhere really special to be our home. Southern Africa is awash with private National Parks, Game Reserves and concessions but for Nyumbani the search was exhaustive. We wanted to ensure that our home was an outright “special place” … special to those of us who work here, and special to those of you who will live here. We found that place … nestling between the small town of Hoedspruit in Limpopo and the majestic northern arm of the Drakensberg mountains. It is known as the Blue Canyon Game Conservancy and if ever there was a place that be called the “garden of Eden”, it is this beautiful and tranquil place we now call home.
The reserve boasts a diversity of flora and fauna fit to grace our TV screens in a David Attenborough natural history epic. What’s more, the reserve up to now has resisted the temptation to over commercialise the location and so offers the most peaceful and tranquil place to either live, or to take a magnificent holiday in the African bush. With only 3 lodges currently existing on it’s 15,000 hectares, one of the things you can be guaranteed is that when you go out on safari here, you and your Ranger will have the place to yourself. Imagine that, a place in the heartland of South African wildlife conservation, adjoining the Kruger National Park, where you can roam to your hearts content and never see another soul. It truly is magical and an opportunity to stay here in the Blue Canyon is every naturalist’s dream.
At the onset of the new millennium, the Blue Canyon Conservancy was born in the mind of conservation visionary, Mr Trevor Jordan who shared that dream with his trusted friends and neighbouring landowners. Together he believed they could create something special. He had long maintained a vision to join the Kruger National Park in the East with the Drakensberg mountains to the west. In essence this dream would allow for the free movement of Africa’s iconic species from summits of the Drakensberg mountains to the surf of the Mozambiquan beaches. What an amazing concept!! As a Game Ranger new to the Lowveld myself, I remember many years ago sitting and listening to him outline this conservation vision, not some whimsical ideal, but a genuine determination and steel eyed stare underpinned his passion for the concept. You could not help walking away feeling inspired, your brain spinning from the possibilities of the creation of wildlife corridors that would allow the recreation of historic elephant migratory paths which had long ceased to exist due to the incursions of mankind into these wildlife regions. In the intervening years, Trevor has become a trusted friend … and I don’t believe for one minute that this will be an idle dream. Already he has spearheaded the introduction of white rhino, black rhino, elephant and lion. As we seek to conserve the wild areas on our planet, conservationists need to be bold, they need to dream and they need to dare!! In doing so, Trevor and those like him across South Africa have created iconic wildlife conservancies such as Thornybush Game Reserve, Phinda Game Conservancy and other legendary conservation strongholds that have become legendary the world over.
The creation of the Blue Canyon Conservancy was the first step in the dream to create what could become one of the largest and best protected wildlife refuges in Southern Africa. Trevor was joined by Dr Joos Scheepers and the Steinberg family, two of the largest landowners in the vicinity and together they, as the reserve’s “Founding Fathers” began the process of creating the conservancy as we know today. Other landowners were won over and dropped their internal fences and today we see the results of their collaboration, and a conservancy that is set to become the jewel in the crown of South African Conservation. The conservancy membership is a dynamic body of landowners with a determination to succeed but it is going about doing so in a steady and ecologically sensitive manner. The members are supported by Tim Parker of Game Management Services, who executes the actions required from the conservancy’s long term strategic plan, and Mr Kevin Leo-Smith the founder of Phinda Game Conservancy and Conservation Africa who is providing on the ground ecological consultancy, having made his own home on the conservancy itself. It is in Tim’s hands that the ecological biodiversity of the reserve rests first and foremost. Veld management strategies and the management and introduction of species are the core responsibilities of Tim and his team. Added to that is the responsibility for protecting particularly the endangered species on the conservancy, especially as the wave of butchery, brought by the poaching syndicates satisfying the demands of the Far Eastern markets, continues to cripple the Limpopo province’s wildlife populations. With the community “coming together” of all our law enforcement agencies and anti-poaching units the task has been made far more unified than previously, if not any easier.
So what of it’s fauna, after all, that is the main purpose of anyone’s visit to this nirvana. From 2008 onwards, the conservancy began to flourish. The Trustees began with the introduction of a lion pride from Madikwe game Reserve in North West Province, and an elephant family group from the Sabi Sands Game Reserve. Later this year we will introduce our second elephant herd from Thornybush Game Reserve which then delivers a firm foundation for a vibrant population of these magnificent creatures. Aside from guaranteeing memorable elephant encounters, these animals will be a huge aid to the ecological management of the reserve providing “natural bush clearing” in those areas that need it most. Our modest lion population has continued to enjoy the “fruits” of their new location as general game numbers across the reserve are very healthy, providing all our predators with nature’s larder in abundance. Retaining a modest lion population in the early years has allowed other predators to prosper without undue persecution from this apex predator. Wild dogs have become a regular sighting on the reserve and their numbers grow streakily as the BCC continues to provide ample potential den sites in a safe and protected environment. When one considers that this is perhaps the most endangered carnivore in Southern Africa with a national population of just over 400 individuals, to have a resident pack that we can enjoy viewing of on a regular basis is indeed a privilege.
What of the elusive leopard?? The Blue Canyon has an excellent record at being able to share these sightings with guests and residents often enjoy their sundowner drink watching these beautiful cats soak up the last rays of the sun. Through the efforts of those people fortunate to work daily in the reserve, a number have begun to become habituated to the presence vehicles allowing for some very special sightings. Certainly on a par with those in the legendary Sabi Sands Game Reserve, and without the crowds!! Tim Parker has been using the population as the study population for his masters qualification and has thus gained a deep insight into the territorial behaviour of our core population of leopard. Our hyaena population will be a subject for my next blog, but that, said the past 2 years have seen impressive growth in core population as well as ample opportunity to watch these creatures at play around den sites scattered across the conservancy. With a controlled lion population we are seeing these iconic (albeit somewhat misrepresented animals) grow in numbers and provide an ecologically significant nutrient recycling service to the reserve.
I could wax lyrical about the mammals of the Blue Canyon for a long time, but the inherent beauty of the reserve extends well beyond the key species detailed above. I’m certainly no major force in the world of birdwatching, but already as I’ve travelled around the conservancy I’ve personally tallied over 200 different bird species and my list keeps growing month to month. A true birdwatchers paradise that we are so keen to share with the world.
All said and done, from a personal perspective whilst many a reserve or region can boast amazing mammal and birdlife, for me it must have it’s own distinctive and inherent beauty. It is here that the Blue Canyon Conservancy really comes into it’s own. In all honesty, when making direct comparisons with other Lowveld reserves, none can compare with the sublime beauty of the Blue Canyon. For some people it is the dramatic western skyline of the Drakensberg which every evening provides a stage for one of the most spectacular sunsets in South Africa. For others, the tree diversity alone is what sets it apart. The Northern sector of the reserve is home to the most spectacular riverine areas, with river banks lined with huge Fig and Jackelberry trees. Walking trails and “two track” vehicle trails wind their way through some of the most beautiful and peaceful African landscape. It’s a bush lovers paradise, peaceful and barely travelled by the wildlife tourist. For me, the end of a days work is always celebrated with a cold drink at one of the reserves spectacular dams, all of which at some stage of the year carry a healthy population of very vocal hippos! It’s one of life’s greatest pleasures!
All of us associated with Nyumbani are excited to be a part of this wonderful “Eden”. We are proud to be working with our colleagues on the Board of Trustees for the Blue Canyon Conservancy and we share the excitement of delivering upon the long term strategic aims of the conservancy. It’s a huge responsibility to dedicate oneself to the preservation of wilderness areas. We live in an age that has exploited huge areas of our planet to accommodate the ever increasing pressures of a human population explosion. It is rare indeed to see such dedication and passion for the development of a region purely for the preservation wildlife. Understanding the balance between conservation and the need for it to pay for itself is never an easy challenge. But doing it in a sensitive manner is an art form which the ‘Founding Fathers” of the BCC have sketched out in their constitution. The new conservation architects of the Blue Canyon Conservancy are ensuring that one day their vision not only becomes a reality, but sets the benchmark across Africa for the harmonious interaction of wildlife with both residential owners and tourist visitors. It won’t be without it’s challenges, but thanks to the vision of the “Founding Fathers” and the determination of the current landowners, there will be a future for Africa’s iconic wildlife …. and the Blue Canyon Conservancy will be that home.