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Top 10 conservation experiences: South Africa

Safari with purpose

When you hear the word ‘conservation’, what do you think of? Energy saving light bulbs? Perhaps the relocation of endangered wildlife or maybe schools being built in rural communities? Well, conservation is all of those things – and more. It’s a huge topic and there are hundreds of fascinating initiatives across Africa that we could talk about for hours. But what’s become clear over recent years is that you, our guests, want to get involved and understand the bigger picture of conservation.

What goes on behind the scenes, how wildlife protection really works or how local communities and lodges work together to make things happen. Plus understanding how your safari impacts the lives of people (and the wildlife) changes the experience from simply being a spectator to an active participant. So, from a long list of lodges in South Africa we give you our top to get more out of your safari (or, indeed, to give more back!). Many of the lodges can also be combined in an itinerary to create a fully, conservation-led trip – visit our trip builder to start designing your own.

“Being conscious and interested in how your safari impacts the lives of people (and the wildlife) changes the experience from simply being a spectator to an active participant.”

Black Mambas at Pondoro Lodge Kruger Conservation in South Africa
Spend time with the women on the front line of anti-poaching in the Kruger

1. Meet The Black Mamba anti-poaching unit

Pondoro Lodge, Kruger

A stay at Pondoro Lodge is all about immersing you in nature, with even the lodge seemingly part of the trees that stand on the banks of the Olifants River. Protection of landscape and wildlife is not only a passion of the staff, but also of their guests who are becoming increasingly curious to learn more about the work that goes on behind the scenes. During any visit to Pondoro, you can now not only meet the famous all-female anti-poaching unit, The Black Mambas, but also spend a few hours with them learning from their presentation and chatting to them about everyday life. You will, without a  doubt, come away with your jaw dropped and a much better understanding of the devastating rhino horn trade – and a huge respect for these incredible women.

Combine a visit to the Black Mambas at Pondoro Lodge with a trip to Vic Falls and Mauritius for some R&R in our route The highlights of Southern Africa. Or personalise the route to your dream.

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Singita School of Cooking Conservation in south africa
Take to the kitchen with students of the Singita School of Cooking programme

2. Cook up a storm at Singita’s Community Culinary School programme

Singita Lebombo Lodge, Kruger

A stay at any of Singita’s fabulous lodges across Tanzania, South Africa and Zimbabwe counts as one of the most wonderful safari experiences out there – and each is also bursting with education and conservation programs that will have you whipping your notepad out! Most of the lodges have a wide range of projects underway ranging from anti-poaching patrols, wildlife research and land management, to sustainability efforts through recycling, solar power and ethical sourcing. And, if that wasn’t enough, several community development schemes too.

But there is one standout programme that has our hearts at Timbuktu: the Singita Community Culinary School, an internationally-accredited cooking course led by acclaimed South African chef Liam Tomlin. His aim is to give young, enthusiastic chefs the opportunity to learn the tricks of the trade in the kitchen, with a view to becoming the next generation of head chefs at the Singita lodges. Guests are welcome to join students on the gleaming work surfaces and cook together, bringing community development to life. Not just something to take home to your table but also something to talk about around it, this experience is a highlight for everyone who takes part.

For a true taste-bud tingling trip, combine a stay at Singita Lebombo in the Kruger with a trip to the Cape Winelands and enjoy the best of South Africa’s chefs.

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&Beyond Phinda Mountain Lodge Conservation in South Africa
Guests at &Beyond Phinda assisting with an elephant collaring

3. Take part in an elephant collaring conservation project

&Beyond Phinda Mountain Lodge, Zululand

Phinda Private Game Reserve boasts a variety of habitats and high density of game in its magnificent tapestry of landscapes. From mountain ranges to woodland, to pans and rivers, it’s also right next to the unspoiled beaches of the Indian Ocean. In the heart of this wilderness &Beyond Phinda Mountain Lodge, a place of true conservation and a passion to give back. If it’s wildlife you’re interested in, there’s the chance to participate in an animal conservation project, which involves being a part of an expert helicopter darting, an elephant capture, as well as assisting with the collaring.

Guests also have the opportunity to visit projects in the surrounding Mduku and Mnqobokazi areas, including the school, creche, clinic and craft market. The lodge works hand in hand with the people in these communities and this is a personal and extraordinary insight into the lives of those living in close proximity to wildlife. One thing’s for sure, you’ll leave feeling humbled and with plenty of stories to share with friends.

Create a dream bush and beach safari with a stay at &Beyond Phinda Mountain Lodge in South Africa followed by some R&R and diving in Mozambique.

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Thornybush 1000 herb and vegetable garden Conservation in south africa
Support the ‘1,000 herb and vegetable garden’ initiative at the local primary school with a stay at Thornybush

4. Take your taste-buds behind the scenes of the ‘1,000 herb and vegetable garden’

Thornybush Game Lodge, Kruger

If ‘farm to fork’ is your style of eating (or just eating in general!), Thornybush Game Lodge is the place for you. For the past four years, Thornybush has been supporting nine green-fingered ladies in an initiative to grow quality herbs, vegetables and edible flowers that are then sold to local game lodges (including Thornybush) and to the immediate community. The goal is ultimately to nurture the garden, located at a local primary school, into a self-funding, independent business that will sell fresh vegetables to a wider community, promoting sustainable careers and creating jobs.

As well as the herb and vegetable garden, Thornybush supports the local school, Hananani Primary School. Part of the proceeds of your stay go toward supporting electricity bills and recently, the building of a computer lab to encourage technology in education.

Get creative with your safari-designing and combine a stay Thornybush Game Lodge in the Kruger, with Madagascar, using the route Lions & Lemurs as a starting point.

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Jaci's camp Conservation in south africa
Participate in rhino anti-poaching activities at Jaci’s camp

5. Get involved in a helicopter darting of elephant and rhino

Jaci’s Safari Lodge, Madikwe

If you have a passion for wildlife and want to get involved on the ground, Jaci’s Safari Lodge offers a selection of specialised conservation safaris. Nestled in the malaria-free Madikwe Game Reserve you’ll find the opportunity to join an expert team of vets, helicopter pilots and field rangers to microchip rhino, collar elephants, brand lions, gather information and track Africa’s endangered species, particularly the African wild dog. Just thinking about that list had us breathless!

Jaci’s has also partnered with not-for-profit ‘Stop Rhino Poaching’ to raise awareness over the plight of the rhino, particularly the black rhino, and a part of every guest’s lodge fee goes directly to rhino anti-poaching projects.

For an on-the-ground experience of endangered wildlife protection, stay at Jaci’s Safari Lodge before spending some time in beautiful Cape Town or on the beaches of Mozambique – you’ll need some R&R after all that excitement!

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Grootbos flora and fauna Conservation in south africa
Surround yourself with extraordinary flora and fauna of Grootbos and their conservation programmes

6. Become an expert in flora and fauna of the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve

Grootbos Garden Lodge, Garden Route

If you ever find yourself on the Garden Route, do yourself a favour and pop into the stunning Grootbos Private Nature Reserve. The 2,800-hectare area is of unprecedented biodiversity in the Cape Floral Kingdom and although you won’t find the Big Five wandering the landscape, the rolling hills carpeted with colourful wild flowers is take-your-breath-away beautiful and more than makes up for it.

In the centre of it all is the Siyakhula Organic Farm, established in 2009 by the Grootbos Foundation. Siyakhula provides skills development programmes for women in the communities along the Whale Coast, including training in organic agriculture, sustainable animal husbandry and beekeeping (our favourite programme!). The farm employs a dedicated team of full-time staff who produce vegetables, herbs, fruit, honey and delicious preserves that are sold on to the lodges on the reserve. As a guest of Grootbos Garden Lodge, you can wander around the garden, learning a little more about the projects and then discover the 760-plus species of plants. And after all that outdoor exploration, head back to the lodge for a mouth-watering meal made from the produce you’ve just inspected. Fab!

Make your Garden Route safari one to remember and add Grootbos Garden Lodge to your route. Fresh vegetables, incredible community programmes and a beautiful setting – what’s not to love?

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Peech Hotel Conservation in south africa
Bring the conservation efforts to the city with a stay at Peech Hotel

7. Stopover in eco-conscious style in Joburg

The Peech Hotel, Johannesburg

Conservation is most often associated with nature and wildlife, but there are also great initiatives happening in South Africa’s cities. Johannesburg is one of the most common stopover destinations and the chances are, you’ll find yourself here at some point on your trip. But don’t abandon your conservation credentials yet! The Peech Hotel is a great way to feel like you are travelling with a purpose and their energy conservation and recycling schemes are streets ahead of other places in the city. Your stay will also contribute to a fantastic initiative just around the corner called Little Eden which provides education for disabled and handicapped children. And if you would like to donate further, Peech matches all donations on a Dollar-to-Dollar basis.

If you still need some persuasion, the Peech is also a signatory of The Tourism Child Protection Code of Conduct. The mission of the initiative is to create awareness around the sexual exploitation of children through the tourism industry and has been incredibly successful over the past few years.

For a conscious stop-over, add the Peech Hotel to either the beginning or end of your South African journey. Quite simply, a great hotel, doing great things, in the heart of Joburg.

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Star for Life programme Thanda Safari Lodge Top 10 conservation in South Africa
A stay at Thanda supports education programmes for young Zulu communities in wildlife protection and HIV awareness.

8. Learn about Zulu culture and the projects Thanda are involved with

Thanda Safari Lodge, Elephant Coast

Thanda Safari Lodge is bursting with conservation initiatives, but what makes it different to others is that everything is underpinned by a genuine and far-reaching commitment to the Zulu people. The understanding is that if the local Zulu people are benefiting in some way from the reserve, they will be more likely to conserve and protect both the natural resources and the wildlife in the area.

As a result, Thanda began ‘Star For Life’, an HIV/AIDS awareness, education and prevention programme that empowers young Zulu with information and motivation to take decisions that will reduce their risk of contracting the disease. Thanks to funding, the project has been rolled out over 40 schools in Zululand and now reaches over 100,000 children with its message – “AIDS-free, that’s me.” Part of the proceeds from your stay at Thanda will go directly to ‘Star for Life’, or one of their other community projects, and you’ll leave with a deeper understanding of the issues that go with living so close to a protected wildlife area – fascinating…

Thanda Safari Lodge is located on the Elephant Coast, part of South Africa’s incredible Kwa-Zulu Natal region and our route, Explore Kwa-Zulu Natal, couldn’t fit the bill more perfectly if you’re looking for an adventure here.

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Cape Cadagon Ingongo Conservation in South Africa
Meet Mavis Ngcongolo and get involved in her extraordinary work with children in Cape Town

9. Meet Mavis, who opened her home to 70 vulnerable children

Cape Cadogan Hotel, Cape Town

Take a moment to give back to Cape Town’s communities at the Cape Cadogan Hotel situated on bustling Kloof Street. The hotel is committed to enriching the lives of people in need and has a partnership with Matchbox, a non-profit organisation with a mission to improve the lives of young children in underprivileged communities, particularly in Mfuleni, an informal settlement on the outskirts of the city. Take the case of Mavis Ngcongolo who opened her home to 70 vulnerable children. With the support of Matchbox and the Cape Cadogan she was able to transform her house into an educational space for all ages, and provide a place for the community to hold events and gatherings. Enquire about visiting Mavis whilst you are staying at the Cape Cadogan and prepare to be humbled and amazed by her passion and enthusiasm.

No visit to South Africa would be complete without a few days in Cape Town and a stay at the Cape Cadogan will immerse you in the city’s history, culture and sense of community.

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Wildlife protection Tswalu conservation in South Africa
Visit an array of conservation projects in the incredible Tswalu Reserve

10. Get behind the scenes of conservation projects and understand what it takes to run a reserve

Tswalu Motse Lodge, Tswalu Kalahari

The Tswalu Kalahari Reserve is South Africa’s largest private wildlife sanctuary, covering an area of over 100 000 hectares in the Northern Cape, just on the border with Namibia. ‘Tswalu’ actually means ‘a new beginning’ and there is no doubt that conservation is at the forefront of the reserve’s ambition. The flora and fauna of the dry, desert land is unique and very under-examined and the Tswalu Foundation was established in 2008 in an effort to raise funds for research projects and ongoing studies of the unique area. Today, guests at Tswalu Motse Lodge may visit any of the projects and the guides in the reserve are knowledgeable and passionate about the conservation in action. You’ll leave with a much deeper knowledge of all that goes on behind the scenes and the true commitment that it takes to run a reserve…

Our route Grapes and Game Parks in South Africa, allows you to stay in both Tswalu Kalahari and Madikwe for a good dose of conservation in action, before heading to Cape Town and the winelands for a spot of R&R.

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