Opening September 2020 – Marataba Conservation Camps, a New Hands-On Conservation Experience in South Africa


Event Africa Contributor 29/06/2020 Industry Association News

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Opening in September 2020, Marataba Conservation Camps is a new safari experience giving guests the chance to be part of hands-on conservation, explore the wilderness, and travel with a purpose. Located in a privately-managed section of the Marakele National Park at the foothills of the Waterberg Massif in South Africa, Marataba is an innovative public-private conservation model. This is a place of big skies, dramatic landscapes, iconic wildlife and modern, hands-on conservation.

Marataba’s story begins with Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s iconic president. At the dawn of the country’s democracy in 1994, it was clear that Mandela’s government needed to secure the protection of South Africa’s wild places. Marataba became a reality when 21,000 hectares of land was privately acquired and incorporated as a contractually managed section of the Marakele National Park. This innovative conservation model allows the resources and expertise of both the public and private sectors to be pooled for efficient and sustainable management of the land. In the 25 years since Marataba’s inception, the model has been replicated across the continent.

In the 1990s just a handful of plains game roamed Marataba. For most of the 20th century, the land had succumbed to human pressure, with much of it being used to farm crops such as peanuts and citrus. But in just over 20 years the natural eco-system has been restored and today the park is a sanctuary for a diversity of flora and fauna, including the Big 5, and is a key breeding ground for the black and white rhino. The rehabilitation of the eco-system has been so successful that Marataba is now a ‘’feeder park’’ – providing endangered species and megafauna to wild places across the continent. When conservationists are looking to reintroduce species to national parks or expand the gene pool of an endangered species, Marataba is often a preferred source of wildlife.

In a post COVID-19 world, the way people travel will be changed forever, and the safari experience is not exempt from this. Marataba Conservation Camps is a reimagining of the traditional bush experience. At Marataba, instead of booking a room, each booking receives their own exclusive conservation guide and private safari vehicle. This gives guests the rare freedom to really delve into what they are passionate about and experience a holistic journey through the area.

With just four properties in the park, Marataba offers 650 acres of wilderness for every guest. Towering mountains, millions of years old, define the landscape, creating deep gorges and waterways which contrast with wide-open plains. Explore the bush on wild walks with a conservation guide, navigate the epic mountains and dramatic gorges on foot, ending with a swim under a waterfall, a picnic lunch or a night spent out in the wild fly camping.

Take part in the daily conservation work that keeps the eco-system healthy; track and monitor key species and assist in the compiling of ID kits by monitoring social behaviour, body condition and the geographical area of sightings, or set up and monitor camera traps and inspect footage to discover what has been recorded. This is a unique opportunity to get behind the scenes and be part of an incredible conservation effort. Every full moon there will be the chance to join the full moon census, a wildlife count including night-time monitoring, census logging and identification of white and black rhino, as well as other nocturnal species. For those with a special interest in rhino, notching is an ongoing and important wildlife management intervention at Marataba and guests can join for a conservation contribution of R 52 000 (US$ 3 000) per group.

Marataba is the ideal destination for families keen to explore the bush without the constraints of the typical safari camp and children of all ages are welcome. The activities at Marataba Conservation Camps are tailored to individual groups so everything can happen at the right pace and timing for the family. There is a special family friendly nature walk which focuses on creepy crawlies, identifying animal tracks and signs and the uses of dung and plants. Families can also meet the teams rewilding orphaned and rescued animals (and possibly meet one). Marataba’s hope is that this experience will inspire the conservationists of the future.

Accommodation at Marataba Conservation Camps is at one of two new camps. Tucked under trees, the exclusive-use Founders Camp has four suites overlooking the Matlabas River, which attracts a variety of wildlife. Explorers Camp has six tents and two allocated vehicles and conservation guides, allowing for two semi-exclusive bookings. This simple and fun camp has views across a busy waterhole and the dramatic Waterberg Mountains. Both camps are geared towards a connected adventure and accept children of all ages.

Every guest pays a R 750 (US$ 45) conservation contribution per night. This money goes directly back to funding the conservation they experience as part of their stay. Dr. André Uys, wildlife veterinarian and Group General Manager of Marataba explains, ‘’The reality is that the cost of conservation is being carried by a handful of philanthropists and resource starved African governments but each of us has a responsibility. If you eke out a living from the planet then you have a responsibility to contribute. I think the COVID-19 pandemic has in many ways woken the world up to this, that we can’t keep taking and exploiting from the planet. Our mission here at Marataba with the launch of Marataba Conservation Camps is to become financially sustainable with a diversity of income streams. We believe that it is this approach which will truly safeguard the land for generations to come and make us a blueprint to be replicated’’.

Based on a minimum of 4 guests, rates at Founders Camp start from R 38 800 (US$ 2 250), and Explorers Camp starts from R 25 200 (US$ 1 500) per night. Rates include a private conservation guide, safari vehicle, all meals and house drinks, conservation and safari activities except specialist annual experiences and specialised itineraries. There is a per person rate for every additional guest. Marataba Conservation Camps are easily accessed from Johannesburg, either by road (3 hours) or private charter (45 minutes).