Game Warden

Alex Walters, Great Plains Conservation.

23 posts in this topic

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Safaritalk members submitted their questions to Alex Walters from Great Plains Conservation in this interactive topic here. Alex now sits down with us and responds...

 

Thank you for all. So many really good questions: many that I’ve not had presented to me over the last three years of working for Great Plains. It’s been hard to pick a winner for the signed copy of Eye of the Leopard by Beverly and Dereck Joubert, so we’ve decided to have two winners! Firstly to Tusker for the best set of specific questions about Mara Toto Camp, and secondly to Anita for asking so many questions that I had to dig and research myself and refer to Dereck for some of your answers.

 

Tusker:

 

To an average consumer, say a person who will only go on a couple of safaris in their life, what separates the Great Plains Conservation

from the competition? Why should they travel with you, over an other organization?

 

This is a fantastic, big opening question, which deserves a detailed reply, thank you Tusker.

 

First and foremost Great Plains Conservation differs in focus. It isn’t just a safari company. Its entire focus is on conservation, and in particular conservation and enhancement of wildlife areas. I think that travellers today, (we prefer to call them travellers rather than tourists), want to know that their hard earned money is going to a responsible operation and being used to positive effect for the conservation and communities they visit. Few companies invest all profits, made through the operations of our camps and lodges, into conservation and community projects and our shareholders have all pledged to never take a dividend. All of it goes to safeguard wildlife, which invariably means working with communities, highest level government ministers, and other like-minded conservation bodies, or it goes back into making the experience better.

 

In the operation of our camps, lodges and mobile, operations are done with the minimum of environmental impact in combination with the use of innovative technologies, (see EIA of Mara Toto in GW’s question at end of this article). Great Plains Conservation operates a copy-left policy, rather than copyright: We’re happy for other camps and lodges to take a look at our operations and copy our ideas. We don’t like to look at them as competitors, but allies. Likewise with our overall strategies and philosophies. The more camp and operations that can operate on a sustainable basis as possible, involving genuine employment and opportunities so that communities benefit in conservation tourism, the better chance we have in safeguarding our environments for future generations.

 

Great Plains operates in prime wildlife locations in Africa. We offer outstanding wildlife experiences with the emphasis on space to enjoy the wildlife our guests have come to see. We focus on taking you to the next level, with guides that can do more than just translate the guide books, it's all about you ‘investing’ your hard earned time with us, and our teams making best use of that for you. Most people want to go away enriched in some way, and not have a stock standard trip. We don’t have regimented daily schedules, we have a ‘what would you like to do today?’ ethos, rather than ‘this is what will happen today’. Who knows what the wildlife might do on a day to day basis, so we like to be flexible and suit our days around both what the wildlife is, or might be, doing and what the guest would like to do.

 

Our guests are coming to our camps for an experience foremost, rather than a luxury hotel-like experience. We of course do provide high-thread count linen and comfortable amenities, which include in the vast majority of our camps and lodges, (Mara Toto no exception), Swarovski HD binoculars to help get even closer to the game. However, it is the intangible differences that usually override the tangibles, which we receive great feedback from our guests, such as the flexibility of our daily schedules, the surprise bush breakfasts, lunches or dinners, the quality of our staff who make the stay. To borrow a few paragraphs from Great Plains’ founder and CEO Dereck Joubert - “This is what we offer, the moments of peace and quiet in Africa’s wild places, with its people and its wildlife. We don’t gauge those moments by their glossy brochures, their cost per night or their wine cellar; we gauge them by the impact they leave on your soul. We are the “intangible” versus “tangible,” art versus science, dreams versus reality and hope versus cynicism. We are a different philosophy.”

 

Who we are:

  • We love safaris, going on them, hosting them, leading expeditions, exploring new places, finding new animals, discovering new behaviour. We get excited when we find a new bird, or dragonfly, and enjoy the challenge of putting together the ideal safari for you.
  • Anything professional fires us up, so meeting professionals from around the world and engaging in conversation about the planet about their lives and about life is exciting. This is not a one-way flow from the guide to the traveller.
  • We try to apply our love of things professional to cameras, vehicles, high lift jacks, books...anything.
  • We love tracking as an art form, finding and uncovering the mysteries of nature for you.
  • Our camps are authentic. We like to say that there are two basic philosophies in our lifestyle here, 1) unless it weathers well, and looks better with age, (like our directors) then it’s not for us. So plastic and tin, that looks worse as you use it, is not who we are. Brass and teak and solid things that can take a bump works here. 2) If it represents ‘today’, (steal glass, plastic), it erodes the romance of a safari, that dreamtime of an era when wildlife abounded. It’s an era Great Plains strives to re-establish, because it represents more wildlife, a deeper appreciation of one another, of life.
  • Shiny doesn’t work well. Texture does.
  • Canvass appeals to us, cement doesn’t.
  • We prefer you don’t dress up, dress down. A safari for us is about the soul, not about showing off our status....(unless it’s serious camera gear!)
  • Great Plains is a respectful company. We respect our neighbors our competitors, communities, managers, the wildlife we approach, our staff that train so hard, try to better themselves each day and pull off miracles. But most of all we respect nature. It’s an old term I suppose, but one that may see a revival as we move to more bespoke hand crafted things increasing in value over mass produced. We certainly aren’t mass-produced.

For us regular Safari people, what in particular will separate Mara Toto from the hordes of competition in the Mara and surrounding area? What does the Mara Toto want to be known for?

 

It is an authentic camp, a place where you can go and have a real experience that feels appropriate. It's not backpacking by a long way, but it is also not a 5 star house in the bush. We love canvas and in the Mara which feels like such a transient place, (Maasai move seasonally, cattle, migrations) it would be weird to build in brick and mortar and pretend to dominate that kind of environment.

 

Here’s the marketing blurb for Mara Toto:

 

“Mara Toto is a magical revisiting of the past, drawing from the designs of Africa’s original explorers and designed for those who search for East Africa’s romantic era - it is safari chic with five spacious canvas tents, light and airy, with en-suite bathrooms where you enjoy piping hot water from huge brass ‘safari showers’ to a chorus of hippos lazing nearby.

 

Here, you will experience the best of both worlds, the intense action of the Masai Mara ecosystem and the quiet and stylish retreat of your own private haven in the 70,000 acre Mara North Conservancy. The camp is nestled into a hidden grove of ebony trees on the banks of the Ntiakitiak River. It is set down low, hidden from lights and noise and any sign of mankind. It is a throwback to an era when Finch Hatton, Barclay Cole and Delaware went on safari through these parts in search of adventure and romance.

 

The camp is locally famous for its leopard residents wandering the riverbanks. And is positioned to take best advantage of two migrations, the famous annual Serengeti migration and the green season migration from Loita Plains, an additional 50,000 wildebeest and over 100,000 zebras vying for grazing rights.

 

Mara Toto is a stylish experience and adventure camp that is way above any other in the region, but that fits the service levels, specialised guiding and design that has become associated with Great Plains. This camp’s ambiance and ‘back to the classics’ safari design will be a sure hit with private groups, and safari aficionados.”

 

Mara Toto Camp is, (for those familiar with our Botswana camps), a nod to Selinda Camp, with some of the authentic explorer style and intimacy of our new Selinda Explorers Camp. Similarly we can use the Botswana analogy and perhaps say that the new Mara Plains Camp, (opens June), will be somewhat comparable in style and amenity to that of our flagship Zarafa Camp. We will have two very different, high-quality products in the Mara ecosystem delivering unrivalled wildlife encounters, service, comfort and cuisine.

 

It mentions, new "custom designed" safari vehicles at Mara Toto. Can you provide some additional information? Pictures if possible. Will the camp be able to accommodate private vehicle requests, and at what approximate cost?

 

The design of our vehicles comes from the years of experience of Dereck and Beverly’s film work and, I am told, years of bumping their heads on sharp corners, dropping cameras on hard floors, and getting frustrated by rattles and impractical designs. To say that Dereck is passionate about getting the vehicles design right is a quiet company joke…. it’s an obsession.

 

We have four or six seat Toyota Landcruisers arranged in two or three rows behind the driver. Everyone gets a “window-seat” and a very comfortable seat at that. There is space between seats for guests to store their camera lenses and bags. These are the same vehicles that we also have at Mara Plains Camp. They are equipped with a battery inverter system so guests can recharge their camera batteries on the vehicle, (they’ll just need to bring their recharging unit with them), and a small fridge for ice-cold sundowners and drinks throughout the day. The vehicles have been optimised to allow great visibility all-round. Camera mounts are available. See picture attached.

 

Due to vehicle restrictions and associated environmental impacts we cannot guarantee a private vehicle at Mara Toto camp, although if there is a group of four or more they will be allocated a private vehicle. There is one allocated private vehicle at Mara Plains Camp at a cost of USD350 per day.

 

 

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Do you sell directly to consumers? If not, do you see a future for the organization to sell directly - say for example to returning clients? Like many here, I usually try to do my own bookings, and if there was some financial incentive, (especially for longer stays), I would be more inclined to go back to a camp again (and again!!).

 

Prior to May 2012 we didn’t even have our own general booking office, so we are quite new at this but in general we would prefer to sell to a handful of loyal agents and operators than to thousands of people in the market to travel to Africa. It’s easier and more efficient. Last year we opened an office in Cape Town to look after our Botswana bookings. In 2013 we will also open an office in Nairobi to look after our Kenya bookings. These are set up to predominantly service the travel trade. There are occasions that someone asks us to book direct but frankly we have had very few of these requests so far. If we do, there will be no discount offers for direct bookings and our price is our price, so if you have a good relationship with an agent or operator they can provide a lot to you for that. We are very much a travel trade-centric company which relies on the numerous and experienced Africa specialists from around the world, who can put together and look after you in the best way from before your holiday to well after you return. And when you return, from a satisfying holiday from a company that perhaps sold you the idea in the first place, wouldn’t you want to trust them in creating another amazing experience again? They have invested time and money in sending their consultants to our, and other people’s, camps to be able to give you that invaluable first-hand knowledge and comparisons. Loyalty goes a long way. The more you build a relationship with a tour operator the more they will understand you, get to know your likes and dislikes, and fine tune holiday after successful holiday for you, and via these bespoke services they get you the best information on what is good and what is bad. You don’t want to end up in a dump on your way to us…it makes you grumpy and it makes our managers have to work twice as hard to win back your happiness, but most of all these agents and operators are the ones you call when something goes wrong. Let’s face it travelling to Maasailand for example for the first time is scary, and you want to know that someone will be there for you and you never need them as much as when it goes wrong in a foreign country!

 

Our focus is on running camps, lodges and experiences and all the conservation and community work that goes with that.

 

How does one become a "sales and marketing manager" for an organization like Great Plains? Any chance you need someone in Canada??

 

Good question. GW asked me the same a while back and never got around to answering that question. I got lucky, being in the right place at the right time I guess. I had spent 15 years working for various tour operators in the UK with a specialism in Africa, Indian Ocean and Indian subcontinent. I had also worked for the Royal Geographical Society, interviewing and funding research expeditions, prior to that. In November 2009 at a travel trade show in London I was asked in the space of four days to so a similar role for three different companies. This was London, and London buses do come in threes! It wasn’t a question of which company to choose, it was a very simple ‘yes’ to Great Plains. I’m very lucky!

 

Do we need a Canada representative? Great Plains Conservation’s North American representative, Caitlin, might have something to say about that! But as we expand, and as world markets change we may well need help.

 

Dam2810

 

Is the Mara Toto camp a new camp in the Mara? Or is it the "takeover" of an existing camp/concession and rebranding of such a camp?

 

Hi Dam2810. It’s an existing site, which has been used by Abercrombie and Kent mobiles, I understand, for 10 years prior to 2012 and by Kerr & Downey, and others in the past. But it is a site, and we have completely built it from scratch

 

If it is a new camp among the hundreds of camps already available in the Mara, I am wondering if it is not a paradox for a leading environmental enterprise to open another camp in this already overdeveloped and overused/abused"national park". We, I believe, agree to say that so many camps in the Mara don't look sustainable. I am maybe naive but I would have preferred and found it more logical for GPC to open camps in underdeveloped areas in Africa with huge potential, (for example Katavi for which Dereck Joubert expresses his "love"on this forum, Ruaha, Selous, North Luangwa, some parks in Mozambique), or to turn existing hunting concessions in Botswana into photographic concessions, (something that would be needed following the recent ban on hunting in Botswana if we don t want to see the wildlife in those concession to be depleted.The Jouberts were big supporters of this ban hunting initiative by the way). All those places are in need of more camps and infrastructure. My feeling is that a place like the Mara doesn't need more camps but less and better camps whereas there are lots of places in Africa which need more tourism to remain viable. On the other hand, if it is just a rebranding of an existing camp (and improvement given the quality associated with GPC), it's great news.

 

The camp is an existing site and it has been chosen so we can operate our way, environmentally friendly, rather than perhaps some other operator, but you are right we are more interested in new areas where we can make a difference. This one is a site and a camp that we can easily move if we want to and we are looking at nearby new conservancies. It is also part of our existing arrangement with the MNC that allows us to have a camp in that conservancy, but Dereck and Beverly Joubert and the Mara Plains camp manager, Richard Pye, have been scouting the Mara North for the last two years for a site. Many of the best sites in the conservancy had already been taken by existing camps and they felt that adding another completely new site to the ecosystem was irresponsible, so using an old existing site and traversing onto the MNC made the most environment sense.

 

Another factor was to have two camps very close by rather than one in the MNC and one in the OMC is that It enables us to have two camps with the environmental impact of just one, as the logistics of having two camps close together from a staffing point, and for bringing goods in and out minimizes any additional impact of having two camps operating far apart.

 

The formation of the newly created conservancies around the northern sides of the Mara Reserve is very much falling into Great Plains ethos.

 

Great Plains Conservation is still on the lookout for opportunities elsewhere in Africa, yet Kenya is the home of safari, facing increasing human-wildlife pressures so it is good that we are here trying to be part of a solution that benefits the wildlife and communities concerned. Tanzania is definitely on the radar. We just need to find the right conditions and as Dereck has said, finding vulnerable parks to add on to is one tactic we look at all the time. We are tendering for all of the hunting concessions that come up in Botswana. And we are looking at acquiring hunting concessions in other countries like Tanzania and also Zimbabwe.

 

Zambia is not on our radar. Mozambique is. We have to of course manage our cash flow to be able to do this.

 

Sangeeta

 

Could you tell us more about GPC's conservation related activities, Alex? I'd be interested in hearing both about the work that GPC does on the ground as well as the type of funding it provides to these projects.

 

Big question, and not sure whether I have space to cover this all here in depth, so I’ll upload a document here - Conservation and Community projects - Great Plains Conservation.pdf for people to read instead. But this could be tackled in two phases, firstly what conservation contribution we make, (which is answered later), and in what activities we are involved?

 

We have been involved in saving and moving cheetah, and lions and moving them to our reserve in Botswana. Largely we are major supporters, possibly the largest, of Big Life and Maasailand Preservation Trust in the Amboseli Tsavo ecosystem both for elephants and lion work.

 

(Matt's edit: see my interview with founder Nick Brandt here.)

 

The contribution we make supports about 250 anti poaching game scouts and covers the protection and patrolling of 2 million acres of land there, and has cross border access into Tanzania.

 

I believe that we have contributed around $250,000-300,000 a year to MPT and Big Life. We linked up and arranged a special grant for the area from National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative for around $960,000 to the same effort over three years. The cash contribution is substantial. The logistical support probably equals that.

 

Largely, our focus of conservation is on big cats and elephant corridors. We have given access to and logistical support to lion research projects, (and others) in our Botswana operation and we give logistical support to Living with Lions and Lion Guardians in Kenya.

 

I read somewhere that GPC contributes $25/guest to conservation causes. If that is correct, then it seems to be quite low? Also, could you tell us what percentage of the profits are actually netted by ROAR from the Joubert films, provided, of course, that these movies a part of GPC, (and not a personal enterprise whose affairs are none of my business!)

 

To answer the first part of this question the USD25 contribution that I think you are referring to was an added bonus offer in Botswana, where any guest staying 4 nights or longer at our camps Great Plains would dedicate USD25 per person per night to the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative. It is, and still is, an offer that we highlight and encourage the guests and/or tour operator booking the trip to match this contribution. You can read more on the Big Cats Initiative at www.causeanuproar.com

 

Great Plains contributes significantly more than this to conservation. Take the Mara North Conservancy; in 2008 the founding members of MNC approached the local Maasai leaders to jointly find a sustainable long-term solution for the conservation of the area.This new partnership established a truly innovative approach, whereby the MNC member camps guaranteed to pay fixed monthly lease payments to the Maasai landowners, regardless of tourism ebbs and flows, for the privilege of carrying out their game drives within this exclusive wildlife area. The MNC has signed 750 lease agreements for a period of between 5 and 15 years. The 12 member camps pay US$1,044,000 pa. Individual Maasai land owners secure payments of US$ 38.5 per hectare, which matches the average price for agricultural land. Mara Plains contributes US$120,000 to land rentals annually.

 

Every guest in Kenya pays $100 per person per night towards conservation, included in their rate.

 

In Botswana lease fees often going directly to the community amount to a few hundred thousand dollars per annum and we pay royalties on each guest. All in all our business gives away about 30% of its revenues to conservation or communities. See more in the document in Sangeeta’s first question about where Great Plains Conservation invests it’s money into both conservation and community work.

 

The “Cause an Uproar” is a private arrangement, not a Great Plains initiative, and contribution by the Jouberts and National Geographic but I asked if they are comfortable sharing those stats with you. Dereck is more than willing to. They founded the Big Cats Initiative with Nat Geo because they were worried about the decline in big cat numbers and didn’t see the right level of attention being given to this cause. They decided to focus the spotlight on it and Cause and Uproar developed as the fund raising arm of Big Cats Initiative for small donations. Large donations go directly to BCI but it all goes into the same pot.

 

Presently this funds over 35 projects in 13 countries, it raises about $1M a year and all of that gets spent via grants in the field. The grants are given by a conservation and scientifically credible committee they have assembled, and the brief is to come up with projects for big cat conservation not science on big cat behavior for example. Every project needs to be advancing conservation not just studying it.

 

(By the way, Dereck says that they are a little frustrated by the lack of proposals for leopard conservation in case anyone has ideas. About half of their funding goes to cheetah, most of the rest goes to lion work, and they have a snow leopard project.)

 

Matt's edit. Perhaps this is something we Safaritalkers can have input in?

 

Cause and Uproar was linked to their film The Last Lions and they managed to broker a deal with NGS that ALL profits from the film would also go to BCI. So neither the Jouberts nor Nat Geo took anything from that film, and it generated good box office revenues. In addition they ran the trailer for the film online and worked with Botswana Tourism so that for everyone who downloaded the trailer, Nat Geo itself would donate $1 to the cause. I know that this in itself raised over $100,000.

 

Through social media, trailers, the film itself, The Last Lions reached over 94 million people in the US alone, so the sms, (Text) campaign generated substantial funds as well.

 

The Jouberts have pledged also to add all their future big cat films to this scheme so The Unlikely Leopard that just came out is also raising funds for Cause an Uproar. Having said that, it is the cause that Great Plains uses to send any donations to and in each of our rooms/tents we have material that ultimately inspires our guests to donate.

 

Also, is there a particular type of conservation activity that GPC favors over others? If so, what would be the reasoning behind it? Thanks!

 

Well it is a range of conservation. First of all by converting a hunting area into tourism is conservation because we believe that if you save the land you save the wildlife on it. However much of our portfolio now is focused on big cats and corridors for elephants. Ultimately, Dereck believes that conservation in Africa will come down to three key species, Lions, Elephants and Rhinos and if we can succeed in protecting those through the next decade or so, we may succeed in protecting the rest, but if we can’t save those three key species, everything else will go. So as a result we focus on these three species and encourage our guests to get involved in efforts like this as well. Clearly we support the Big Cats Initiative as our primary NGO and we have our own foundation The Great Plains Foundation that is accumulating funding for community projects, but also reintroductions of rhinos and other animals in time. We have been involved in both lion and cheetah projects and have opened our doors to researchers of big cats as well as, ironically, plant studies. I think we want to play a positive and leading role in connecting tourism with conservation in an industry that in general has been a little slow in giving back.

 

Anita

 

Do you believe your set of offerings in Botswana is now complete or is GPC looking at acquiring/expanding further in Botswana? If you could pick one further concession (existing or new from the hunting blocks)/park/area to add to your portfolio, which would it be?

 

We are still hungry to develop in Botswana. If we could get three or four more areas, we would. We think that creating a ring fence around national parks of land in private leased hands and developing with Dereck has been talking about for 15 years; The Elephant Footprint, a corridor that stretched from the southern ring of the Okavango to Caprivi and Zimbabwe as a mega reserve, (with like minded operators and including parks), we would have collectively developed and protected one of the largest, precious, and secure wild places on Earth.

 

What are your plans for Tanzania now? Are you completely out of the country given the experience with Lukula or do you believe a different area, a different wildlife administration body could make a difference?

 

We love Tanzania. Selous was a bad fit for us. The hunters were threatened by our turning a hunting area into a conservation area. But time has a wonderful way of changing things. We have been offered other areas, in Tanzania and other opportunities. I think that Tanzania has great potential for us and it is a country that has really protected its wildlife quite well if you rank it against other African countries. We have done growth models in Tanzania and projected forward the growth of human populations as well and there are some key areas that are weak spots in corridors between ecosystems where in 15 years, human expansion will cut off parks unless we invest, strategically and position working and viable tourism operations in these blocks and flow the expansion into less vulnerable land. These are the sorts of discussions that go on at Great Plains.

 

What have been the biggest differences, you faced, in operating in Botswana versus Kenya?

 

Kenya has over 40 million people. Botswana is comparatively easy with the human pressure of 2 million and leadership that ‘gets’ tourism. Hunting was a factor we had to fight hard against over many years but even that has changed so Botswana is very different. But the wildlife numbers in Kenya are unbeatable. So we position ourselves in more exclusive areas in Kenya, (obviously in Botswana this is all exclusive for us, running concessions), and we dip into congested areas very seldom and quite reluctantly, (for a migration for example). We also recommend that our first time Great Plains travellers go to Kenya and then return to us and go to Botswana. We are also looking for places to expand in Kenya.

 

Our ambition right now is to grow to about 12 camps maybe one or two more and then hold that position so we can fill those beds, work the areas and make them absolutely model examples of what we want conservation tourism to look like. We have no ambition to have 30 or 40 camps. It’s just not our style and to be frank I am not sure our team would be very good at the volumes. Our team and our shareholders like the meaningful and bespoke quality of getting it right before moving on. The one thing that may drive us to acquire more properties is the need to secure and make secure more land as corridors, but our shareholders have also agreed that not every piece of land we acquire needs to be used for tourism! Sometimes it can be used just as a wildlife reservoir, and sometimes a working concession like Selinda can afford to support these marginal areas just for what they are.

 

Why didn’t GPC build a camp in MNC all these years given your association with the conservancy? Do you find it challenging to work around conservation issues with many operators and many differing voices? What is your view on the positives and negatives of how MNC is being run and how would you compare it to OOC?

 

There was really one issue: finding the right spot. Everywhere we looked we would have been seen by another camp or imposed ourselves on the environment or the other tourism operators in too insensitive a way. We don’t do that. Dereck also felt that one does not build a camp on a GPS coordinate, but that it needs to somehow resonate. So they spent some time looking around, trying to find that giant tree that would make the camp a wow experience or a rock that spoke of some spiritual connection perhaps, and to the credit of the other operators, they had long since identified those great spots of significance, so we were too late. If a campsite doesn’t speak to you, you shouldn’t stay there, let alone build there. Lastly, our compromise finally worked out best… we found an existing site so didn’t add to the ‘contamination’ of yet another Mara site, but we could still participate in paying our share of the fees to the Maasai for the MNC.

 

What next in Kenya? Have you thought of further expanding into Northern Kenya? Would the model be similar to being in places with some tourism presence, (in the form of permanent camps), existing already or would you look at places completely untouched with any existing permanent tourism offering except say very expensive chartered fly-in mobile camping?

 

We are looking in northern Kenya but we don’t want to be with the masses. Mara is kind of a must for anyone operating in Kenya but we have our exposure to non-exclusivity and only because of the exceptional quality of the wildlife. But looking forward, we are interested in something near Loita, largely unused and beautiful and an area that could use the revenues from tourism to solidify a new conservancy. We are in talks now about setting up a new conservancy in the north. We love Laikipia but we can’t really be of much use there, it is so well run already, so we’d be looking at conservancies or even land to be converted into conservancies that may even need restocking of wildlife. We are looking at leasing an executive Caravan ourselves for those longer trips up north so we can run them at cost and keep the safari reasonably priced. There are too many opportunities to convert good dreams into nightmares on the balance sheet in this business.

 

Any business looks at the risk-return aspect even if the focus is conservation through profit. Do you believe that GPC has a critical mass where it would take on riskier ventures, (like W-S in Congo, or Asilia in Gorongosa, Singita Pamushana etc)? If yes then which are some of the places you would look at? If no, then where do you see that critical mass coming in? You did experiment this with Lukula but am wondering if either that was 1) a one off, 2) the experience changed a GPC strategy with respect to riskier ventures or 3) there are plans for the same that you could share.

 

Complex question…firstly, yes any business has to weigh up risk and reward. What’s the old saying, “conservation without money is just conversation?” We can make hollow promises all the time about our conservation plans but if our camps are losing money we will fold and conservation folds in those areas with us. So each unit has to make money. A unit in our books though is a cluster of three or four camps that feed each other but also feed off each other. We can afford one camp that breaks even while other make money to support it. Not every division or camp has to be a winner if the conservation is working there. Our board talks about ROI, (Return on Investment), but also ROE, (Return on Emotion.) Some things just must be done and they feel good doing them.

 

I don’t know the reasons for Wilderness Safaris going into the Congo or Singita doing Zimbabwe. But we most certainly want to go into off the beaten track ventures. We are also looking at Gorongosa by the way. Our model is that we are better at high end and at adventure stuff rather than the middle ground. This is largely because we all enjoy a good glass of wine with dinner, as opposed to a bad one, and we enjoy riding rapids or canoeing or helicoptering into a volcano crater, etc. What Great Plains is not good at is average…So what I hear from Dereck as he, my sales colleagues, (Hilton, Caitlin, Herbie), and I discuss growth is that we want a backbone of solid properties like Zarafa and ol Donyo and Mara Plains, and a strand of wild stuff, into Gorongosa or Uganda or Sudan or Chad even for a once off adventure with set departures with a small group of folk that we call up and say, “Hey in two weeks we decided to fly to Chad…” and we will use these as expeditions to see if 1) we are needed from a conservation point of view, 2) if we can make a difference, 3) if we are the right people to be first in, 4) if we have capacity, and 5) if it will be fun.

 

We would struggle to go into highly commercial areas, like Kruger, or Ngorongoro now for example because those don’t check any boxes for us, and largely if we can make a difference.

 

Realistically what can an operator like GPC do to improve things in the Mara-especially in the Narok side of the reserve. You have now been present there for 3-4 years through OOC and now in the main reserve too with Toto. Do you think you could have done more in terms of rallying support/authority intervention/stricter rules etc to discipline the kind of behaviour we see in Mara?

 

Yes we do make a difference. Consider a Mara ecosystem today without the conservancies functioning. Beverly wrote the other day that they were with Narasha, a cheetah, and cubs in the OOC, (now being called the Olare Motorogi Conservancy), and they followed her for five days, hunting successfully each day. Then one day she slipped across the boundary into the park. Suddenly she was bombarded by over 25 vehicles, (over December…imagine July!), and all of her hunts failed. She was hunting at dusk and lions very early caught the male cub. The next day she was back in the conservancy.

 

If we protect the land, not just against wheat farmers or cattle herders or development but also from our own industries excesses and it saves cheetah, our presence, if it helps the OMC succeed it helps all conservancies succeed and secures the fate of cheetahs in the ecosystem, then we are comfortable that we have helped.

 

What did you do and what have been the results, the frustrations and the successes?

 

I think that long terms there are huge challenges in these conservancies. There are 90,000 cattle grazing into the park every night, illegally. When we enforce cattle extractions they go somewhere else. But today, we have a respite that were we not in the game, not at the table thinking about long-term solutions wildlife in the areas north of the line of the park would be finished. I am pleased with the role we play, worried about the future, and pleased that we are a part of the conversation that could save it.

 

How does a formal EIA process differ for a new area versus an area like Mara with dozens of camps? As conservationists more than an operator, how would you regularly monitor the environmental impact of all the camps and tourism activity on the Mara reserve? This is not specific to Toto but I believe GPC would be sharing the same concerns about Mara that many STers have voiced here and given your strong linkages with conservation and the reserve now, my question is more to an expert in terms of understanding the critical danger to the ecosystem and how you perceive this load would impact and manifest itself in the next 5 years?

 

Okay great question… so at Great Plains we have an audit process, as I spoke about earlier, a process of filters that our CEO, Dereck has drawn up and our board has mulled over and agreed to. It very scientifically creates boxes or check points we look at before we invest or develop. Largely, without going into this ten-point plan, it involves asking whether we can make a conversation difference and if we are actually the right people to do that. So we have our own EIA in many ways because, for example, if we are hungry and want to buy up half of the Zambezi valley as we feel we can make a difference, but we don’t have the cash we can actually do more harm than good by going in because we will fail and conservation then fails. An EIA is an Environmental Impact Assessment and a failed business has an impact too.

We then go through state and district EIA’s but before we move, we also do an internal re-EIA. So… we look at everything and it would be interesting for you to talk to our builders in Mara Plains. We built the entire camp, with a tent size change from 25 sq m to nearly 100 sq m without cutting down a tree. One tree, that was right in the middle of a tent, took a morning to debate. We settled on cutting half way through a single tree, wrist wide, and bending it over and raising the height of the tent floor to two metres to allow it to continue living. I think these guys are obsessive, but I prefer it that way.

 

By the way we also do our own annual Environmental audit, so questions arise like ‘Should we fly our supplies in or drive them? How long is the air noise pollution from adding a flight stay, carry, etc. versus that of a truck? Damage to the roads for other users, diesel use and cost, oils, spillage, stress to wildlife, potential for drivers versus pilots to poach, visual damage, (airfields versus roads,)?’ One of our questions on the evaluation questionnaire is “Because we are very interested in improving our environmental policies and we know that many of you are interested and involved in green technology can you give us any pointers, contacts on new technology that we may not know about that will make us better?”

 

How do you monitor competition in terms of product offerings, offers, introductory offers, suppliers and the entire package? How much, would you say, of GPC's product offering or strategy, is reactive to what’s being offered? Do you believe that even though there are subtle differences the big part of the product is now standardised across the industry? If yes, is that a good thing or bad thing?

 

In many ways we don’t think of other operators as competition! We never compare ourselves and it’s our policy to never sell against someone else. Internally we even banned the use of terminology like “the best camp” for example. We focus on being ‘Better than last year, or having better guides than before” rather than trying to elbow out competition. We see ourselves as participants in the same industry and we have a ‘Copy Left’ policy rather than a Copyright one, so we share all our developments, our research and development into solar, (Zarafa was our first camp to go completely solar and Mara Toto has been running for over a month in the wet season without turning on the back up generator yet), and we share how to do that. We believe that the eco tourism industry HAS to work for conservation to work, or two things will happen: a return to the archaic management policies of the hunting era, or increased poaching or pastoralism and the loss of wildlife in Africa.

 

We are kept informed of other developments through trade shows and Africa travel news sites like Safaritalk and other social networking channels, trade associations like Atta, tourist boards etc. We of course do keep tabs on other offering in the respective markets, whether that’s in the UK and Europe when I’m based, in the North American market, in Australia or locally within Africa for example. Most of my information actually comes from talking to tour operators, who tell me, unprompted that a certain camp has an offer and can we do something similar? Our offers are rarely reactive to what others are doing but perhaps strategic to anticipated down-turn periods. Hence our 3 for 2 offers at Mara Toto and ol Donyo Lodge from 1 March to 31 May which is as a result of people being wary of booking after the Kenyan elections, despite these camps being nowhere near potential trouble spots and that tourism has not been a target of such political activity.

 

We do shy away from discounts or offers, as whatever we discount by is proportionate to what we can re-invest into conservation.

 

I don’t think the product is standardized I have to say. There is a great variety you can get in the industry, not just in location and experience but in style, price and service. We even have that in our own company. The Zarafa experience and accommodation is very different from our Selinda Explorer’s camp and the price tracks that. What we do is focus on our product and we’ve tried to design a spread that covers great new Zarafa or ol Donyo Lodge service, hence our acceptance into the Relais & Châteaux group, as well as a Duba or Explorers where the emphasis is more on getting out, canoeing or following the lions and buffalo, and less on the great design. I think that today you can basically find something for everyone who wants to go on safari.

 

I am actually seeing us, and others, offering more diversity. We might look at walking in the Mt Kenya region or camels in the Northern Territories and I think that the average traveller is more educated and informed and wants a different experience. You will always have the mini bus market I suppose but in our weight class, our guests are interested in finding out more, touching the earth, walking, and its all about experience, and that then becomes much more of a unique uncluttered, non standard safari.

 

What are say 3 changes in the safari industry, (lets say in Botswana where you have had the longest association), in the last 10

years, that you wish you could unwind and take it back to what it used to be? What are 3 changes, in the same time period or thereabouts you think have been for the better?

 

Hmn… I think the Botswana process has been almost perfect as a curve to convert a virtually unknown destination to the top safari destination in Africa so finding 3 points I would not unwind is tough. Possibly we would have moved to a non-hunting use of wildlife earlier, and probably by so doing protected thousands of animals. I understand the program and the best thing about Botswana is that the progress is well thought out, methodical and respectful. It has given everyone a chance to adjust their business models. Hunters have had more than enough time to make alternative plans, (like move out or convert to photographic tourism), and you could not ask for more. Perhaps the development of the Chobe, a great wildlife resource that has spun out of control from a mass tourism point of view could be done differently if unwound ten years or more.

 

We would like to see overall, a collective sharing of resources, in the tourism industry that has not happened. For example we have discussed using the collective energy of the industry to contribute to tendering for marginal areas and just protecting them, or raising funds for the Big Cats Initiative from the collective industry.

 

Good changes are easier to focus on: In ten years, Botswana has banned lion hunting then in 2012 banned leopard hunting and then in 2013 banned ALL hunting. You could not wish for more positive news from a country for the industry. This sends a huge signal to the world that Botswana takes living wildlife and conservation very seriously and that it values it and the tourism industry. You will be surprised how many people we come across who cannot believe that you can still hunt a lion in Africa. Only 6% of Americans polled said they might one day save up to hunt in Africa and over 76% said they would save up and go on a photographic safari in Africa. Hunting is on its way out and the biggest move in the industry and in conservation has been led by Botswana. We should all be sending flowers!

 

Egilio

 

What percentage of former hunting blocks would GPC consider viable for photographic tourism? Is GPC looking into exploit any of those NGs?

 

We will put our hands up for ALL the former hunting blocks in Botswana. I am not sure we can afford them but we are seeking partners who might go in with us. We estimate that more than half of the old hunting blocks are suitable for photographic safaris in time, (some are seriously depleted of wildlife sadly…a function of the long history of hunting), most we have identified as being on good land with good habitat, good grasses and water and representations of the wildlife that can be built up. Remember that Selinda was a hunting area with 80% of its revenues coming from hunting when Dereck and Beverly bought it and later brought in Great Plains. They shut down the hunting on day one and over a period of 4 years built the camps that generated the revenues to make it a viable business, and at the same time built up the wildlife. Today it is considered one of if not the best concession in Botswana by teams that do the game counts in Botswana. Hunting areas can be converted and rehabilitated. The fact that they need work to get there of course is an indictment of the old era of management. There is also debate about poaching moving in once hunting moves out. Consider of course that most hunting concessions were only used for 5 months a year and left vacant anyway for poaching and many poachers now killing rhinos in Zimbabwe and South Africa use hunting rifles so that the shot or shots sound like hunting rather than automatic fire, a sign that they can effectively ‘hide’ in hunting concessions much better than in photographic areas.

 

Matt (Game Warden)

 

Talk us through the EIA process for the new Mara Toto Camp.

 

Hi Matt, in every situation, we look at a series of internal EIA’s: firstly if by doing our project we are making it better for the environment of worse. Obviously we walk away if we are making it worse. We look at whether we are a positive force in the area as a result or not. If we are a neutral force even we walk away. We look at influence on communities and if by us being there we can influence people around us in a positive way or not, do we contribute in a way that can secure this area in general or not.

 

Then we look at impact on the environment, through the eyes of our guests, to the communities, to all local people and members of our community.

 

In the case of Mara Toto it was a different discussion for our internal EIA…so we asked: If we put up our camp in MNC do we make MNC better or not. Answer: No. We make it worse, more cluttered and we offend anyone nearby. The sites we were offered added light pollution to the area and noise and visual clutter during the day. So: No, adding a new camp to the eco system, even though we had rights to, would not be right.

 

Next, so should we pull out of the MNC if we don’t use it and can’t have a camp there? Answer: No. Already the other operators are under pressure to produce very high lease fees between them. If we pulled out now, it might be the straw that breaks the back of that conservancy.

 

Next: is there a site we can use that achieves both, an invisible presence, one that does not offend from a visual and light pollution and clutter point of view and through which we can justify paying for the MNC. (We are the only member that does not have a camp, and seldom uses the property. In essence our contribution is a ‘gift’ to the conservancy.) Finding a site nearby that was already an officially designated and previously used on checked all our boxes from an environmental point of view.

 

Here are some of the environmental impact considerations of Mara Toto:

 

Following a comprehensive planning and design process emphasizing the delivery of a “high end” eco-sensitive intimate seasonal camp that has integrity as much as it has “style”, the following notes demonstrate what we believe are genuine “green” credentials.

 

We have also demonstrated that “eco-camps” need not be at the expense of service delivery and guest experience.

 

THE SITE:

  • The site was previously used, no extensive new site clearing required.
  • Site is well concealed, shady, inconspicuous, sheltered.
  • Nothing in the construction, (water tanks etc) breaks the treeline/forest canopy.
  • There is sufficient space to locate all five (5) tents and other facilities without cutting down trees.

THE PROCESS:

  • All tent and facilities locations were thoroughly assessed and individually sited to achieve the best “use” of the site, least visual impact, best guest privacy, views and access.
  • Work began on site in October 2012, all installation of services was complete by November allowing early rehabilitation during the wet season for regrowth and replanting of cover etc. The platforms were set in November and the tents hung through December. Final fixing and completion achieved on 17 Jan. 3.5 Months.

LIMITED ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT:

  • All construction lay-down sites, material stores, etc. were sited in open previously disturbed areas, (the site was an existing one utilized by Abercrombie & Kent, Kerr & Downey and other for some 10 years up until last year).
  • Excavations on site kept to minimum, aligned in open previously disturbed spaces.
  • All old use debris was removed completely before we started, so we cleaned up the site.
  • No roots cut, pipes and cables routed under and around roots and plants.
  • No general bush was cleared. Maintaining the integrity of this beautiful site.
  • All access paths and movement on site was pre-defined to conform with the master plan.
  • Strict discipline was applied to construction waste, general activities on site with routine cleanup and progressive rehabilitation of disturbed areas applied.
  • The tent bases, pole frame structures, and the tents, were all pre-fabricated off-site to limit construction impact on site.
  • Tent base supports made of recycled galvanised light-weight steel lattice beams, positioned and assembled on site.
  • The bases rest on natural ground or short timber columns, the pole structure on steel plates, again reducing the need for excavation. (i.e. No excavated foundations) No use of cement at all.
  • Floors and decks are made of commercially grown softwood not hard woods
  • Above ground structures are all made from commercially grown timber.
  • Wherever possible equipment, furnishings, fittings etc. were recycled from Mara Plains, renewed and re-used.
  • The tents and flysheets are all made of soft cotton (natural) canvas. Not synthetic and not impregnated with the usual chemicals in most canvas today.
  • Extended fly-sheets increase shading, and privacy.
  • Tent interiors are spacious, well ventilated and with high roofs to moderate temperature.
  • No concrete (or glass) is used anywhere in the development.
  • Locally indigenous shrubs were transplanted to enhance privacy, and rehabilitate minor disturbed areas.

LIMITED OPERATIONAL IMPACT:

  • Water is pumped (solar) from a hand dug well (local community specialist “well digger” employed) and stored in sealed elevated tanks.
  • Water (cold only) is available on tap 24/7 in the bathrooms.
  • Hot water is via an externally elevated bucket for the shower, and the hot tap at the basins.
  • Central water is heated using biomass. (Commercial timber waste cuts imported).
  • Hot water is provided from a central boiler, pre-mixed to optimum (or requested) temperature and hand carried and supplied on demand. This minimises overall energy required and potentially lost via conventional distribution.
  • Electrical energy is 100 % solar generated and stored in batteries.
  • 220v AC power is supplied for lighting and charging of small electronic items. Larger, high-capacity loads are controlled by the management.
  • All lighting is subdued, low energy load.
  • Energy generally is used supplied to the minimum required to achieve and maintain standards.
  • Strict maintenance procedures applied to ensure optimum serviceability and energy accumulation.
  • Redundancy is mitigated via provision of a (recycled from MPC) diesel generator.
  • In the first month of operation the generator was not required once despite normal weather (cloud) patterns for the season.
  • The solar array is completely hidden from sight yet positioned and oriented to achieve maximum sunlight.
  • Rainwater is collected from the flat surface that is made up by the solar array to supplement the well.
  • The area underneath the array is used to house the energy room and general storage for the camp limiting the need for construction and site disturbance elsewhere.
  • Other energy (for cooking) is supplied by LP Gas.
  • Heating of plates and food for serving and even some cooking, (Rice, Qineao, maize etc) is done by “Hot Box” (a bean bag of sorts filled with heat generating stuffing.)
  • A small amount of energy is used to run pumps, all of which is solar generated.

WASTE MANAGEMENT:

  • Toilet waste is water borne to a central bio-filtration plant where it is treated to standards suitable for return to the environment.
  • The bio-filter operates passively requiring no electrical power.
  • Biodegradable soaps and cleaners are used throughout.
  • All other waste is composted, reduced, separated and packaged for disposal and recycling off-site.

SUMMARY:

 

In essence Mara Toto Camp is completely removable, with specific attention applied to achieving this without compromising the guest service and facilities standards of GPC. In the event of having to decommission the camp the site can be very easily returned to the state it was found, (or better). All materials used are “green” and or recycled in from elsewhere. All technology is designed and applied to minimise energy consumption with a 100 % use of renewable energy, (solar) under normal conditions. All waste is appropriately dealt with, no impact of waste on the environment.

 

After a short period of sensitive construction, the site itself still maintains its “sense of place” for the enjoyment of its guests.

 

The final EIA is done and approved by NEMA and well laid out in guidelines for any development in and around the parks. I think however that we have gone far and beyond the basic guidelines of any EIA, sometimes doubling up on safety or waste for example.

 

Riaanf31

 

Walking tours and the like have become more and more popular over the last few years. Do you think that the increased poaching might affect this experience due to aggressive animal behavior towards people?

 

No in fact I think that walking will reduce poaching. We do walks in the Mara and we have never seen such short flight distances in animals seen on the walk! Usually zebras and impala, (more vulnerable prey) run at well over 200 metres. In the Mara it’s actually quite startling how tolerant they are. We can probably thank the constant flow of Maasai walking over this land for 600 years for that.

 

In Botswana we walk and get up quite comfortably to elephants and buffalo from Explorer’s camp for example and the 6 years of no hunting has had such a calming effect on them that it is the highlight of the Selinda area.

 

I think that walking in the Selous for example, where there is extensive hunting on top of poaching has not made it dangerous but actually quite disappointing in places, because that flight distance increases and everything runs away. Ironically in the Mara walking with Richard, you sort of walk the way you want to walk and wind does come into play a little, in Botswana you walk into the wind all the time if you can and constantly dribble a little sand between your fingers to get a sense of the wind so you don’t alert elephants or buffalo too early. But I have to say, that is the magic of walking: reading the signs, the bushcraft, the sensing of wind and awareness of potential danger.

 

You touch on the increase in poaching though, and we are particularly worried, not from a walking point of view, but in general, about poaching. With figures like 25,000 elephants a year being poached now and a rhino every 11 hours, or 120 lions in the Serengeti…we at Great Plains believe that we are on the edge of a massive wave of destruction of wildlife that we have to work together on to prevent. It drives Great Plains’ every decision, and starts every discussion. Great Plains is not really a normal company, it’s a philosophy about how to play a role in saving what we all know today as ‘Africa’ but our children will never know it the same way unless we can dramatically change the way we take care of it.

 

gallery_1_746_4035.jpg

 

 

 

The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk.

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Tusker and Anita, I'll be in touch about the books when Alex returns from ITB in Germany.

 

Matt

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Excellent, in depth interview. Thanks to Alex and Matt and all those who posed the questions.

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Excellent interview- Big thanks to everyone in GPC for contributing and Matt. Thanks more than anything else for going into so much detail.

 

And thank you for the book- look forward to it :)

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Thanks a lot Alex. Much appreciated. I will definitely try this camp in the future.

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Thank you very much for the detailed answers.... and the book!!!

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Posted (edited)

Superb answers to some exceptional questions. This is precisely the reason why GPC has become my favorite safari camp operator

Edited by AKR1

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Great interview.

 

"Remember that Selinda was a hunting area with 80% of its revenues coming from hunting when Dereck and Beverly bought it and later brought in Great Plains. They shut down the hunting on day one and over a period of 4 years built the camps that generated the revenues to make it a viable business, and at the same time built up the wildlife"

 

Not to downplay the role played by GPC (which has been important), but this seems a bit unfair to me. Selinda Camp and Zibadianja Camp (and, if I am correct, Selinda Walking Trail) were operational and fairly succesful (and probably - some argue - providing a more authentic safari experience, but this is a personal opinion and an aside) well before the Jouberts came in.

 

I might be mistaken, but they were opened by Linyanti Explorations around 1995 - 1996. That was the first bearkthrough from the use of the area as a hunting concession.

 

Both Selinda and Old Zib had a substantial numbers of aficionados, going back year after year, and ultimately creating the area's reputation.

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Posted (edited)

Great interview.

 

"Remember that Selinda was a hunting area with 80% of its revenues coming from hunting when Dereck and Beverly bought it and later brought in Great Plains. They shut down the hunting on day one and over a period of 4 years built the camps that generated the revenues to make it a viable business, and at the same time built up the wildlife"

 

Not to downplay the role played by GPC (which has been important), but this seems a bit unfair to me. Selinda Camp and Zibadianja Camp (and, if I am correct, Selinda Walking Trail) were operational and fairly succesful (and probably - some argue - providing a more authentic safari experience, but this is a personal opinion and an aside) well before the Jouberts came in.

 

I might be mistaken, but they were opened by Linyanti Explorations around 1995 - 1996. That was the first bearkthrough from the use of the area as a hunting concession.

 

Both Selinda and Old Zib had a substantial numbers of aficionados, going back year after year, and ultimately creating the area's reputation.

 

I would love to have gone on safari 20-30 years ago to compare it from what I can get today. I really enjoy the stories from years past for those of you lucky enough.

Edited by Tusker

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Posted (edited)

Great interview.

 

"Remember that Selinda was a hunting area with 80% of its revenues coming from hunting when Dereck and Beverly bought it and later brought in Great Plains. They shut down the hunting on day one and over a period of 4 years built the camps that generated the revenues to make it a viable business, and at the same time built up the wildlife"

 

Not to downplay the role played by GPC (which has been important), but this seems a bit unfair to me. Selinda Camp and Zibadianja Camp (and, if I am correct, Selinda Walking Trail) were operational and fairly succesful (and probably - some argue - providing a more authentic safari experience, but this is a personal opinion and an aside) well before the Jouberts came in.

 

I might be mistaken, but they were opened by Linyanti Explorations around 1995 - 1996. That was the first bearkthrough from the use of the area as a hunting concession.

 

Both Selinda and Old Zib had a substantial numbers of aficionados, going back year after year, and ultimately creating the area's reputation.

I agree with Paolo that the sentences he has quoted from the interview does not reflect the popularity of Selinda concession before Feb-Mar 2005 when the Jouberts bought it from LE. However I wonder if the reference here is that Motswiri the hunting camp that was shut in 2005 when the concession changed hands, brought in far more revenues (80%) than the Selinda and Zib camps in the 1996-2005 phase- which popular though they were, were a much smaller contributor to the revenue. I have no idea if this is correct or not but just wondering if that is the reference been made. By all accounts I have read of people who went in 2000-2004 the wildlife viewing was fantastic so it was hardly a hunting ravaged concession though references have been made in the past about the unsettled elephants.

 

Co-incidentally the year the Jouberts bought this concession and shut Motswiri, the ban on lion hunting was lifted in Botswana. And if I recall correctly from what I read, Selinda boasted huge prides of lions at that time, so maybe the timing was not bad.

Edited by Anita

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By all accounts I have read of people who went in 2000-2004 the wildlife viewing was fantastic so it was hardly a hunting ravaged concession though references have been made in the past about the unsettled elephants.

 

Co-incidentally the year the Jouberts bought this concession and shut Motswiri, the ban on lion hunting was lifted in Botswana. And if I recall correctly from what I read, Selinda boasted huge prides of lions at that time, so maybe the timing was not bad.

Yes, game viewing was brilliant back then. Definitely superior, I am told, to what you experience now. But this is not GPC's fault, but rather due to different weather cycles in Botswana, as we all know.

 

I am trying to remember if during the last years of LE's tenure Motswiri was converted (with very limited success) into a photographic camp, but I am unsure. I recall something from 2002 - 2003, but I may be wrong.

 

If Motswiri as an hunting operation was bringing 80% of the concession's revenues, I assume that GPC has simply renounced to them, since I do not see Selinda or Zarafa covering for it.

 

I have no figures, but I would expect that occupancy rates at the Old Selinda and Zib were higher than at the current camps, filled as they were by loyal, returning guests, and with somewhat more reasonable prices.

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A very interesting read, thanks all for taking the time and effort.

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Alex - just got a chance to read this. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to the many questions that were raised. Your responses were very complete and much appreciated. I do wish GPC would post a little bit more about all these conservation efforts on its website. There isn't nearly as much information on there as you have given us here, and since GPC believes that people are moving towards responsible tourism, then more info like this would be very valuable. I know it would matter to me.

 

"We will put our hands up for ALL the former hunting blocks in Botswana. I am not sure we can afford them but we are seeking partners who might go in with us. We estimate that more than half of the old hunting blocks are suitable for photographic safaris in time, (some are seriously depleted of wildlife sadly…a function of the long history of hunting), most we have identified as being on good land with good habitat, good grasses and water and representations of the wildlife that can be built up...."

 

Yay and double yayy! So very glad to hear someone come out and say this unequivocally.

 

"By the way, Dereck says that they are a little frustrated by the lack of proposals for leopard conservation in case anyone has ideas. About half of their funding goes to cheetah, most of the rest goes to lion work, and they have a snow leopard project"

 

Alex, we have on ST a member called TzBirder - a very knowledgeable Tz based ecologist who had once mentioned a hunted out concession called Swaga Swaga in Tz. The concession looks largely empty but camera trap images from SS still show a very healthy leopard population, though most animals seem to have gone nocturnal. This concession has the potential to become a Sabi Sands or a Sarara, famous for its leopards, and it could also be included in a broader ele migration corridor project. I know you had a bad experience in Selous, so perhaps GPC wants to stay out of Tz, but there's a concession that is ready for conversion to photo tourism. Really, I would be so grateful if you could bring this to Dereck's attention. Those leopards have been haunting me since I heard about them. I wanted to do something about this myself but have neither the resources nor expertise. And since GPC is looking specifically for leopard related efforts, this would be like the Gorongosa of Tanzania with the focus on leopards. Just saying.

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Safaritalk and GPC take over the Swaga Swaga concession in Tanzania...

 

I'm reading the headline in my head right now Sangeeta...

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Actually there's a very interesting paper here giving an overview of Swaga Swaga, and this page talks about the importance of the wildlife corridor with Muhezi, further to the south, (whereas Tarangire is to the North).

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I know that Alex is currently tied up with ITB in Berlin, but feel sure he will respond to the points above on his return.

 

Matt

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Fingers crossed on this one, Matt! Anita & I had been involved in some preliminary research to see if something could be done with SS - the discussions sort of petered out when we realized that you would probably need someone with a lot of influence & money to make this happen - that it was not going to be enough to simply make the lease payments & pitch camp. But GPC may be able to pull this off using a different model than the one they had to use in Selous.

 

I will collate the points from the discussion and post here. Would be great if the others who had advised could pitch in with their thoughts as well. It will be helpful to put all the info we already have collected in one place and ready for Alex to read when he comes back.

 

Perhaps other STers who have some knowledge about this can pitch in? Those links you posted are great. We had looked at those too.

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I've started a new topic for Swaga Swaga; please do add your ideas to that thread, and of course if Alex and Dereck want to contribute their thoughts on such a project they are most welcome...

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With reference to hunting in the Linyanti area - Hunting might be totally banned across the Linyanti, but, are the predators safe when they cross over into the Caprivi strip into Namibia and run into angry farmers? Problem more so for Lions.

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Posted (edited)

Another GPC Mara Plains fan who enjoyed this.

 

 

@@Paolo @@Anita

 

Although Zib and Selinda were popular with ST members, I would say the camps did not have great occupancy outside of July/August based on my visits, and what an old manager said. Their occupancies have certainly picked since joining the wilderness family, and GPC adding a Delta option. They struggled as a standalone operator when compared to the

More attractive Kwando, WS etc groupings offering discounts for long stays across carious habitats.

Edited by russell

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@@russell

How is the currentl occupancy rate of, say, Zarafa?

I was told by a leading US TA in 2011 that it was not good. Now maybe things have changed.

The point I raised however was not about occupancy rate, but in relation to what I perceived as a claim that GPC was responsible for putting Selinda concession "on the map"' and the hidden comment (at least, as I understood it) that before GPC taking over it was not a good game viewing destination.

Both allegations false, in my view, and grossly unfair towards those who first had the courage and took the risk of opening the area to photographic tourism, a good 10 years before the "white knights" of GPC.

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It depends how you interpret putting on the map. To me, that includes making one time visitors aware of the areas, rather than old safari hands.

 

Game viewing has certainly improved since GPC took over. This is a combination of two things though not both attributable to their managemt;

 

1) the Hunting cessation on both the Kwando and selinda concessions has seen a marked change in flight distances and more relaxed widlife. Something not really spoken about are the male lions and leopards that disappeared in both areas, even when photo camps were operating.

 

2) The EWB surveys have shown that in the last 2/3 years, with the return of the spillway, animal numbers have doubled in the concession. I have doubt the cessation of hunting has helped.

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@@Tusker and @@Anita - PMs sent re your prizes. Matt

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