|Old farmstead - Phinda 'returning to the wild'|
CC Africa - [now &Beyond] was formed to facilitate the purchase of land - properties hitherto farmed for cattle, sisal & pineapple. The land was mostly degraded & purged of wildlife. This newly-formed reserve was called 'Phinda Izilwane' - Zulu for 'return of the wildlife' & the wildlife has, indeed, returned. [The conservation / community-upliftment success-story is almost too good to be true, in fact]
In 1991, Phinda hosted its 1st guests at Mountain Lodge. Today Phinda Mountain Lodge stands sentinel over the property - a proud salute to vision, strength of character and the success synonymous with hard work & opportunity's knock.
|Phinda Mountain Lodge|
The agreement, however, also included a 72-yr lease back to &Beyond which would continue to run its lodges on the Phinda property. In terms of the agreement &Beyond pays an escalating [annual] rental back to the community. In 2009 two additional properties were returned to the community. These properties were subsequently included in Phinda under the same terms & stipulations agreed in the 2007 deal - the difference being the term of the lease; in this case - 36 years.
|Phinda's success is its cheetah program|
Last year an additional 1600ha of community-restored land was leased back to Phinda.
I don't want to get into the straw-man argument about #Phinda & its relevance in a land-starved country. Suffice to say the neighbouring communities seem satisfied [prima facie] with the agreement; so too &Beyond. Game on the property is flourishing; the birdlife prolific.
Safari-guiding is like a box of chocolates (with apologies to Forest's Mom) - you never know who you gonna get...
|Not a Black-shouldered Kite|
Call yourself a birder and most of the other guests look skyward in trepidation or chant a spell to ward-off the evil hex. [The fact that most international, 'non-birding' guests embrace Africa's birds, well before the end of their 1st morning's game drive, is not lost on many; least of all on the two of us.]
As it turned out, our ranger was a senior member on the neighbouring community-council; a bombshell dropped in sober conversation much later. Say what you like, we're never truly masters of our universe - respect walks, in an egocentric world, hand-in-hand with the untested; particularly in this country.
The tragedy lies in what we [I / me / us?] take for 'granted'; - ideas not necessarily adopted / accepted in the traditional communities. If you're prepared to listen, the arguments against 'accepted practice', in some cases, are fairly compelling. At the time, I'll admit, I was disappointed with the quality of the guiding, esp. w.r.t our ranger's birding knowledge, but thinking back now who doesn't get these things wrong from time to time [I do all the time] & what should it matter anyway? We're quick to judge on first impression - hypocrisy at its finest given the paucity of criteria against which we measure people in the 1st place. That on its own is a life lesson well-taught &, I hope, subsequently learned.
OPTIMISM vs. PESSIMISM - same safari - different blog...
|Bush breakfast (a surprise) - Phinda Forest Lodge|
At the business-end of a bush breakfast [a smorgasbord prepared for ten, consumed by two], I learned our ranger was on the committee (yes, another committee) tasked with sourcing verifiable Zulu names for Southern Africa's birds - a three-year project currently in mid-phase. [That's more than I can claim, btw.].
It's a little tough on the donor, obviously, but arguably a small concession to the viability of the sp. The donor birds would be harvested in Zimbabwe - why Zimbabwe, you ask? Because...
A Central Selling Organisation, predicated on access to product / price-control, would facilitate the needs of local, interested parties. The same traditional medicine men & women [let's call it TAM or Traditional African Medicine] will also have access (controlled) to plants & shrubs on the Phinda property - the intended consequence: to let off some steam & reduce the wholesale pressure on local fauna & flora not afforded special protection outside the reserve.
|An authentic model - on the cat-walk|
A community-sponsored program, prohibiting the wearing of leopard-skin, unless the model happens to be of royal descent, is also making waves in conservation circles. I've said it before - Africa's problems require African solutions. It's really that simple. (Read here and here for more).
|'The old man's a bore - give us new blood.'|
|Master of the keep - for now...|
This surplus to good form is probably a concession to &Beyond's international guests - their demands tend to be for Bigger, Better, More - & let's be clear; guests like more buck for their $buck.
In a managed conservancy, Phinda included, game - esp. Big Game - is subjected to vigorous management. The strategy is premised on sustainable utilisation of resources - a concept too outrageous for our own delicate constitutions...
Elephants are put on the pill, weight-gain notwithstanding. Buffalo tend to find themselves looking out-of, rather than into, a pot of stew and lions end up at fenced establishments where the photographs are usually preceded by a "right betw. the eyes, Tex" pat on the bottie. That's the rush. Don't kid yourself.
|Mkhuze side of the shared Phinda / Mkhuze boundary|
One of the older Phinda lionesses (a cougar, no doubt) had lured in a youngster from neighbouring Mkhuze Game Reserve [himself relocated from Tembe Game Reserve not long before]; the bonnox fence a cold-steel reminder that all is not as wild as it seems.
Phinda's 'old male' - the father of last year's crop, was hand-delivered a pink slip, escorted off Phinda & sent beyond; I assume to a retirement home on a banting diet or to some sort of correctional facility for the sexually deviant.
|Care of the People|
'Care of the land - Care of the Wildlife - Care of the People'
In 1992, CC Africa [now &Beyond] launched their Rural Investment Fund (RIF). The RIF sourced funding internationally and channeled the resources into the communities living adjacent &Beyond's reserves / lodges. Renamed the Africa Foundation as the initiative changed gear, to date more than R100 000 000 has been channeled into local healthcare, education and SME development. That's an impressive number. Cynics will argue that the Getty's initiative to build houses on Phinda at $6 000 000 (circa R80 000 000) each was the more pressing ambition, but R100 million is still a number that makes a difference.
|Legal trade in #horn = 2 steps back..|
'You can't have a reserve in a sea of poverty. People need to benefit from wildlife.' - (Dave Varty)
Here's an example. You decide if it's coincidence. Since the start of the #rhino-poaching pandemic, Phinda has lost 3 (three) #rhinos. Phinda shares a fence with Mkhuze Game Reserve - a larger reserve &, on paper at least, under the care of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. Mkhuze's entire #rhino herd, bar (3) three animals [I'm told], has been lost to poaching in the last few years. On the one side of the fence the most successful #rhino-conservation strategy in Africa - and on the other side, poaching & devastation on an incomparable scale. Let's concede the idea that Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife is not incompetent & that their Care of the Land and Care of the Wildlife strategy is relevant, given the resources available to them. What's missing?
|Investment & 'proper land-use' = future prosperity|
Care for the People - & the people will Care for the Land - will Care for the Wildlife.
We need to guard against egregious, profit-driven / institutionalised conservation - ie: safari / lodge companies which market an experiential / interpretive game-viewing experience but which actually focus on delivering a boutique hotel stay-in-the-bush only. Subtle, in some cases, but a very different scorecard.
...we need to guard against egregious, profit-driven / institutionalised conservation...
|Phinda Vlei Lodge - authentic|
|Phinda Mountain Lodge|
Phinda Zuka Lodge, further afield, was a disappointment in imagination - I couldn't find much to endear the facility beyond the basic standards of luxury - except, perhaps, it's swimming pool / hide & its locale in 'leopard country'.
|#Phinda Zuka Lodge|
It takes as little as three seconds to form an impression; an impression nearly impossible to change & so it was at the Phinda lodges where we spent a few nights enjoying some R&R. These are eco-lodges which tend to grab you by the sweet-spot.
These are eco-lodges which tend to grab you by the sweet-spot.
16 privately-located, luxury suites are serviced by a multi-purpose living / reception area. The reception includes a well-appointed curio shop, wireless internet access, data points & electrical outlets.
The suites offer the same data / electrical outlets. Special attention to detail is archetypal. Superior-quality mattresses & quality bedding, on high bed-bases, give the suite a residential look & feel. Stand-alone armoires and a stylish interior finish are appealing. Soft, ambient lighting compliments the decor - accent lighting accentuates the 'home-from-home' feel. Vanity lights & decorative wall sconces, in the bathroom, are contemporary - functional & dramatic.
|The suite's living area - trogon nest nearby|
|Natural light - early morning in the sand forest|
|Well-appointed - ceiling mounts & wall sconces|
|Early evening / sunset - main suite (#Phinda Forest Lodge)|
|#Phinda Rock Lodge - recently renovated|
The senior staff, perhaps a touch eccentric, draped in shoulder-throws, are the indelible WOW factor - our 'butler' so much more than an exceptional hotelier - a gentleman, certainly.
Our allocated safari-team was, perhaps, the greatest ranger / tracker pairing we've ever had the pleasure of sharing an OSV with; anywhere in the African bush. This female-inspired team - assisted from the jump-seat by some home-team experience - are setting the trend in experiential guiding; a refreshing & informative outside-the-lines / paint-by-imagination only attitude to hosting paying guests in the bush; the numbers / antiquated theory consigned to the bin where they belong. It's a nod to contemporary travel & a long-step ahead of the traditional shoot & score game-viewing experience offered elsewhere.
As for our accommodation & the hospitality on offer @ #Phinda Rock Lodge - perhaps the pictures tell a story...
|#Phinda Rock Lodge Suite 2 - unforgettable|
|Views of Leopard Rock from the bath / outdoor shower (suite 2)|
|Fine-dining served @ our suite's pool-side [#Phinda Rock Lodge]|
The big cats aren't 'named' - (at least not publicly) a pet hate & an immediate DQ on the scorecard if they are. The reserve's roads are mostly corrugation-free excluding, perhaps, the main thoroughfare servicing the northern & southern camps. Gate-security is courteous, generally & the 'welcome letter', a nice touch. If you like your omelette served off the griddle, under cloudless skies, or under the canopy of a ficus tree, you won't die wondering. Sundowners / tea-time 'amarula-coffee' are not tin & plastic offerings; - the conversation congenial, even if the snacks lack the imagination / attention to detail you might expect from an attentive host. (eg: beef biltong - 'no beef pls.' guests)
|Take-down - shock & disbelief|
Neither sighting was unique nor new for us, but let's be fair - how often do you get to feast on the bird & keep the cat? The early-morning leopard was opportune - the afternoon's Malagasy targeted.
|Released too early - the impala revived & fought-on|
|The coup de grace - lights, curtains|
The fight was waged over two rounds - the first won on points - the second lost for all time. In the 1st the leopard misjudged the bell & released the ram - which found its breath & fought on. She obliged & ended the contest, quickly, quietly and with respect. There's a lesson in it somewhere ...
As for the Malagasy there's not much to say other than 'ngiyabonga; (thank you) Phinda'. Oh yes - we (our #Phinda TEAM) found the Pond-heron @ a spot recently vacated by the 'Pond-heron drive' [afternoon session] which did not. That made the sighting sweeter - birders are a jealous, tricky bunch. Phinda is, in the broadest of strokes, the perfect canvas for the very best of Africa.