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The Journey to Nowhere
The failure of the Asian tiger countries to
save the wild tiger, caused me three years ago to alter my
strategy. I began to look for suitable land controlled
by enlightened governments where I could set up more tiger
I realized that it was private individuals
with the means and the vision that would save the wild
tiger. However I would still need the permission of the
I was elated to find in the Eastern Cape of South
Africa some excellent tiger habitat, beautiful rivers and a
struggling tourist industry.
I became more excited when I noticed that the
slogan of the Dept of Economic Development Environment and
Tourism was "Leadership, Integrity, Flexibility and Teamwork".
The vision of the Department was "economic growth and sound
environmental management underpinned by sustainable development".
I made my application to the Department Officials for a
free-ranging, self-sustaining tiger permit. I received
an email which stated that tigers had large territories and
I would need huge amounts of land before they would issue me a
permit. Clearly I would need to be a trillionare to accommodate
I replied that viable populations of wild
tigers could be maintained on high rainfall, fenced areas with a
dense prey base. A relatively small area was 3 000 hectares.
Habituated tiger at Tiger Canyons
Our ability to immobilize tigers and move
them between sanctuaries, means we can physically manage the
My document went on to state that I would
finance the project through tourism, as tourists were having
little success in finding and photographing wild tigers in
The Department's reply was that they did not
believe in "exploiting an endangered species for monetary gain". This explanation still dazzles me. How do you
save one of the 10 most endangered animals in the world, an apex
predator, without an income?
I changed my tactics and applied to the Job
Creation Fund which President Zuma had just created.
I reckoned that I could create 65 jobs on the
back of the wild tiger.
The Department's response was incredible.
The ANC's policy and the President's policy is not the same as
our policy. We, the Dept of Economic Development, Tourism and
Wildlife, are not concerned with jobs. Our job is
to protect the biodiversity of the Eastern Cape.
from the Department arrived on the same day that people were striking for higher
wages in Grahamstown.
I checked the letter carefully and it said
Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism,
surely they should be concerned about job creation.
It is well known that tourism is the biggest
job creator in South Africa. At Londolozi Game Reserve, 64
guests create 209 jobs. This is nearly a ratio of 4:1.
I wrote to President Zuma telling him that
the Department was not concerned with job creation and was
blocking a R50 million investment with a potential to create 65
jobs. In the same letter I asked the President to become
personally involved in the Rhino poaching problem and to
legalise the trade in rhino horn. The reply I received was an
irrelevant, "the president thanks me for my concern".
I then gave a presentation to the Mayor of
the Nhlambie Municipality in where the proposed tiger sanctuary
would be and the jobs would be created. The Mayor promised to
take the project the the MEC for Tourism of the Eastern Cape. I
have never heard another word. So much for leadership and
More meetings in an attempt to convince the
Department to issue a free ranging permit for tigers which would boost
a depressed tourist market in the area.
The Department's responded by saying they would give
me a captive permit. What tourist would come to watch a tiger
pacing up and down in a cage, I wondered? So much for
In desperation, I offered to create a
habituated leopard population in the area which would compliment
the tiger project.
The Department's response
was, I could only introduce the small Cape leopard which is not
However, farmers showed me pictures of
leopards which they had killed when it attacked their stock. The
leopards were big, easily as big as leopards at Londolozi.
Common sense would tell you if the prey in
the area is impala, bushbuck, nyala, kudu and warthog, to
capture it, you need to be big leopard.
So it was not just an exotic predator the
Department had a problem with, it seemed to me they were
more interested in problems than solutions. So much for economic
growth and sustainable development.
Through my journey across 27 properties and
19 lodges, the answers from the private enterprise, were always the same.
struggling with low occupancies, we are retrenching staff".
no secret that the Eastern Cape Lodges cannot afford the armies
needed to protect their rhino (see last newsletter) The
syndicates know the Eastern Cape is a soft understaffed target.
There will be rich pickings for the poaching syndicates in the
The only way the Eastern Cape can protect
their rhinos, is to hire armies the way we do. The only way you
can hire an army is if you're running high occupancies. How do
run high occupancies? You show guests the Big Five, including
habituated leopards on a
The Eastern Cape Lodge brochures may state
that they have the big 5, but effectively to see a leopard at an
Eastern Cape Lodge is rare.
To stay at a luxury lodge is not unique. To
sit in the dark and watch a female leopard try and hoist an
impala into a tree, while four hyena leap up grabbing
legs, horns, anything they can. This is awesome and totally
Habituated leopard strolls unconcerned passed a jeep
with guests at Londolozi Game Reserve
Effectively what I was offering the Eastern
Cape, was two high profile tourist attractions in the leopard
and the tiger.
Had the Department had the vision, they could
have helped the private enterprise boost their
occupancies. They could have helped the private enterprise make
profit and assisted them to compete in a highly competitive
market. In short they could have created jobs and produced an environment
to help them protect their rhinos.
In my journey, I saw beautiful land,
magnificent rivers and met wonderful people. Everyone asked me
the same question. Is it possible to create habituated leopards
in the Eastern Cape? The answer is that it is entirely possible.
If the Department had vision, they could get
the free ranging tigresses to habituate the leopards for them
through cub relocations. This has been done at Tiger
To the people who have invested heavily in
land, game and lodges in the Eastern Cape, I say politicians and
civil servants are put there by the people. You need to change
the narrow minded civil servants who have no leadership,
integrity, flexibility or teamwork.
With no options left except bribery, which
is not an option, I will be forced to take the R50 million investment
a province that practices leadership, integrity, flexibility and
Tread lightly on the Earth
John, good to hear from you but sorry to hear
of the sorry government support. Have you tried
other countries, especially Botswana, which
seems to be the best run country in Southern
Great to get your latest news, thank you.
We cannot believe that
the Eastern Cape government and Parks Board
are so narrow minded when it comes to saving
the worlds resources, especially seeing as
we are the culprits of these animals being
in the position they are in. We would like
to know why they are in the positions titled
Nature Conservation, if they do not know the
meaning of the words are. It seems to us
that they are more interested in looking
after themselves and their own pockets than
creating jobs and encouraging tourism to
improve their economic situation. We are
right behind you with the fight for these
fantastic animals and take our hat off to
you for your perseverance, please don’t give
Astley and Philippa Knight
about the difficulties you having. The Free State is in
a bad way. You should see the streets in Harrismith,
they just potholes. We had a man come and speak to us
who was a white spokesman for the government. He said
very quietly we must not worry about the potholes the
money is just going somewhere else. ( this we know only
too well) It is said our Mayor said he’s not fixing the
road to sort out the white people.
Little Switzerland has had to close
down along with 6 other tourist businesses because the
Sterkfontein road is now not useable.
We feel for you and hope things will
come right soon.
Dear JV and
the team at Tiger Canyons,
Sorry to hear about your getting
bogged down in the quagmire of big, centralized,
bureaucratic government. Being an American, I can
easily sympathize, as over here across the Atlantic over
the past century our government has increasingly
expanded its own power while simultaneously losing faith
in the prowess, intellect, and integrity of private
individuals with the courage, integrity, drive, means,
and ability to implement great projects that will be
beneficial to society. Gods blessings in your search
for a province that will accept your investment and
allow you to carry forward with your wonderful work!
Does this mean the Tigers are NOT in the
Eastern Cape? I thought the land was purchased and ready to go.
Is this email the tale of the Eastern Cape sanctuary? Do you
have room for your tigers now?
John, the simple reason for the bizzare replies you
received from the various government bodies is that there is
little scope for dipping the fingers in the honey pot. If there
is nothing in it for them they are not interested. Keep fighting
Dear Mr. JV,
Have you thought about trying to get private investors from
around the globe to buy shares so to speak in new wildlife
sanctuaries? That might be the funding answer.
You've said it all!!! I still believe that
the tigers should be in KZN as its closer to their natural
habitat but a lot more concern from the government would have
been nice. Do a lot of tourists visit Tiger Canyon? I'm no
expert but we have a lot of game reserves on the North Coast and
they are better known than the ones in the Eastern Cape. Closer
proximity to major cities like Durban might be better for you
guests - after all, who cares about the animals. Convenience to
man. And stomping heavily on earth and destroying everything in
its path - that's man. Who doesn't care about the creatures that
have more right to be where they are than man. Just ranting a
This is the story of many of our 34
Government departments. Indecision, inexperience,
incompetence, inefficiency, ineffectiveness, ineptness
make what should be straight forward - ineffable!
I have attached a recent newsletter I
wrote to support this
Good day Mr Varty
My name is Christo and I have been involved with cheetah
conservation in a captive environment for the last ten years
at Cheetah Outreach in the Western Cape. I just read your
email and it's astonishing how little our leaders really
care about anything, except their own pockets. It is very
sad indeed that we have to loose such magnificence due to
My sister in law has a lodge in the
Eastern Cape (Figtree Lodge), and although I have not
discussed this with them, I know they have vast land near
Addo. I feel obligated to speak with them or my wife to see
whether they would be interested.
Keep up the good work.
I have read with sadness your ill-fated
attempts to help the eastern cape tourism market. This is
not surprising though, given that this province is not even
capable of looking after its own education or health of so
Looking at what the western cape has and
is doing with its tourism industry, I am quite sure that
there would be tremendous interest and support for a project
such as you have suggested. There are a number of private
and state run game reserves throughout the area, and I am
sure that with the correct marketing, you would interest
many people. There is a positive and "lets do it" attitude
in the Cape, and I hope you will be well received. Helen
Zille is able to make many things possible, why not this?
I live in Durban KZN and have also
been listening and watching all the goings on with our
wildlife poaching etc.
You make mention in your letter of
how it is not unique to stay at a luxury lodge and view
leopard and other wild animals however this is not
financially accessible for the many South Africans
living in our beautiful country. The cost of staying at
a lodge is priced for the overseas visitor – I and many
others cannot afford to travel and stay overnight in a
lodge with my family as this would be unaffordable.
Perhaps if the lodges could offer preferential rates to
South Africans then they could have a higher occupancy
and therefore be able to afford the “armies” required
and then all South Africans would be able to take
advantage of our stunning country and it’s wildlife
I love reading your discussions and
please continue with what you are doing for our wild
Try Namibia, there are less idiots to deal with
I shudder to think
what the future of our beautiful land is for all
of us, not just the animals, when I read
articles like yours here. Thank you so much for
all you do to preserve all these magnificent
animals. I can pass on your information and I
do- widely. I hope this helps to increase
awareness and support for your work.
Very best wishes
Good, well...bad, but as an
investor and a dreamer (also of tigers roaming
free in Africa) my question is: can't you do
whatever you want (within certain limits, of
course) in your own property, provided all
security measures have been taken in place? In
other words, assuming one has the amount of
money required to realize a project like that,
on a large nature conservancy, can authorities
I'd like you to revert to me with an answer.
Thanks for your efforts and best regards.
Good morning John,
I have been a keen
follower of your Tiger Canyons tale for the
past 4 years. Whilst at University at
Potchefstroom, I even wrote a letter to
Salomentsi indicating that I do believe in
your vision and I have written you letters
in the past to encourage you.
I totally agree with you
that the various ‘subspecies’ of tigers are
not so. My understanding is that tigers
adapted to different shapes and narrower
stripes to suit their habitat. The Siberian
tiger’s larger body mass enables it to
withstand the bitter cold 9as small animals
suffer in extremes), the Bengalese,
Indo-China and Chinese tigers are very
similar due to habitat consisting of
jungles, grasslands and rocky areas and the
man-made boundaries is the only factors that
classify these animals into the current
so-called subspecies, and the Javan, Bali
and Sumatran tigers were smaller with
closely set stripes because of their jungle
environment. In short, natural selection
gave the form to the different tigers in
Your opinion that interbreeding tigers
with other ‘subspecies’ is thus the future
to ensure viable genetic stable
I had an idea during my
university days (before I read of your
success in Philippolis) that tigers be kept
in 1 ha camps. Males in the middle,
surrounded by females in camps. Gates would
be able to open between the males and the
females as to ensure breeding and tigers
would be able to get to know each other
through their fences (much the same as Tiger
Canyons, just smaller). Then, there would be
game animals freely grazing in the camps.
Elevated boardwalks would cross the camps
and tourists would be able to view tigers
from above (say 5 metres, according to Jim
Corbett, tigers seemed to pay less attention
to what is happening above them and thus he
was very successful in hunting them by
sitting in a tree).
I do not feel that the
tiger has any future left in Asia, actually,
I do not feel that any wild creature that
needs large spaces with sufficient core
areas and no pressure from the human race
have a future in unfenced areas, as this
allow individuals to cross over the park
boarders too easily. South Africa is the
only country in the world that has fenced in
parks, keeping lions, buffalo, elephants
inside. The same could be done with tigers,
they are not different to lions in keeping
them fenced in (Tiger Canyons for example).
The tiger could fill the
niche of a lion in a park, where elephant
rides could be introduced as in Nepal,
rhino’s could co-exist as in India, Nepal
with the tiger and leopards could also be
there. As in the Gir forest, lions and
tigers even co-existed. This would however,
not be the focus of such a park. Where
tigers and rhino’s benefit from the same
anti-poaching units administered by South
African game business, this is what the
The province where there
is wide-spread maladministration ( I grew up
in East London), with huge potential for
wildlife. Even more so than KZN, I believe,
due to no malaria, tsetse-fly or poisonous
ticks to talk of. Water aplenty, especially
the Transkei, and the possibility of
approaching farmers with such a project
should be good (until I read your newest
My Reason for writing this letter
Even after your injuries
sustained at Tiger Canyons, I would like to
implore you to not stop your work. The tiger
is a symbol of many Asian countries, sadly,
they lack the political will, the knowledge
and the love of animals to do your work. The
tiger and the crocodile has always been
symbols of freedom and unspoilt nature to
me: the crocodile and alligator of clean
water, the tiger of untamed forest and
pristine mountains. Sadly, this is no longer
the case, as all animals now must make due
with scraps offered by humanity for their
I would like to offer
assistance to you should you ever need a
friend in animals. Keep on believing in your
vision, you have been a pioneer in wildlife,
Read this babes,
makes you realise (as you do anyway),
just how ridiculous our, “you know
Try the Western Cape Provincial
Government. I do not know if you
will find suitable habitat or
opportunities there, but we have
worked with the Department of
Economic Development and Tourism
Department (DEDAT) AND THEY ARE
THE MOST DYNAMIC AND EFFICIENT WE
HAVE EVER ENCOUNTERED in all the
National or Provincial departments
we have ever worked with.
A contact who we have worked with is
may be able to refer you to the
relevant person if she cannot help.
Head of Department: Solly Fourie
Tel: 021 483 5065
Fax: 021 483 7165
Nicely put JV, my sentiments match
precisely; the guys making the
decisions have blinkers on and don’t
know the value of the opportunity
lost to the E/Cape.