Like most good ideas it all started with cold beers sitting around a fire in a boma and a late night chat about how to leave the world a better place…. And so for the last few years a team of us have been building the ever-growing project, Karoo Ridge Conservancy.
Having taken over an old sheep farm whose veld had been over-grazed and poorly managed through decades of fairly intensive farming, it really has been a case of building, and rebuilding from the ground up: we hope, little by little, to reclaim the biodiversity of our corner of the Karoo, and enable the land to recover, allowing the plant and animal life that once existed here to flourish again.
We have thrown all our efforts so far at getting ourselves to a point where this could be a future reality… veld rehabilitation, land management and erosion control; nurturing indigenous Nguni cattle on a sustainable programme that benefits the land; re-introducing game; building a fantastic eco-lodge for our guests (and keeping the baboons out of it and off the roof when they spot an opening in the booking calendar); and generally trying to keep everything on track and alive!
Yes, we are still at the very beginning but already the veld is improving thanks to a more sustainable grazing programme, and probably a lot of luck in the midst of these awful droughts – and we are grateful for every drop of water that we get. Although the growing season has been delayed by unseasonal cold spells… each time the sun comes out we find life out there in the form of green grass growth and beautiful colours. Succulents have begun to flower in deep purples and yellows. The Doringvygie has changed overnight from a spiny bare shrub to a palatable colourful plant with succulent leaves while Wild Daisies, Geraniums and Cancerbush flowers are appearing all over the place.
And as the land throws up species of plants we didn’t expect to see so quickly again, so the birds are coming back too… We had 3 super special sightings recently of Black Crake, Little Bittern and Namaqua Sandgrouse. Meanwhile, the Dierderiks Cuckoo, a summer visitor, has returned while all the weaver birds and bishops are getting their colourful breeding plumage and starting to busy themselves weaving their nests. Alan Collett, a full time birder involved in the Bird Atlasing Project, paid us a 2-day visit recently and we are thrilled to say our bird list now boasts over 120 species – and it’s growing! As a result we are now setting up a new programme for guests who are keen to see more of the colourful and abundant birdlife here.
It is just thrilling to see the hard work starting to pay off and changes taking root despite the last hard, cold winter that seemed would never leave us this year.
Elsewhere, the big boundary fence is going up and so the internal fences are coming down, enabling sable, kudu, gemsbuck, springbok, red hartebeest, wildebeest and zebra to all roam more freely, while the nyala are settling down into their camp by the homestead. Most of the antelope are either heavily pregnant or have already dropped their young and recently the gemsbuck herds have split up as the cows are hiding their young. Springbuck lambs are abundant, such a happy sight to see, but of course they’re also an unfortunate attraction to the elusive caracal/lynx.
Leopard Tortoises, abundant on the Conservancy, are on the move (yes, albeit slowly) and are active after a cold winter. Happily, their home-ranges should begin to increase now that we have taken so many internal fences down and they have the freedom to move out of old camps, which should, in turn benefit their gene pool significantly.
And so it’s looking like a very exciting start to the summer months ahead. We are really looking forward to what lies ahead and we are looking forward to seeing you here too, so you can find out for yourselves!