Photos by: Shamwari Private Game ReserveAuthor: DEAN ALLEN – FIRST PUBLISHED IN HERALDLIVE ON 01 NOVEMBER 2022 On that fateful day several decades ago, Adrian Gardiner stood overlooking a barren stretch of drought-ridden land near the town of Alicedale in the Eastern Cape and had a vision. Unlike those around him, he could see the potential of this land that had been farmed for generations.
Almost 30 years to the day, he opened Shamwari Private Game Reserve and the landscape in this region was changed forever.

Home to five of SA’s seven biomes, Shamwari (meaning “my friend” in Shona) has truly opened up wildlife tourism in the Eastern Cape.

While other families had historically managed wildlife in this region, it was Gardiner’s vision that took their initiatives to the next level.

The Fowlds Family at Amakhala and the Rushmeres at Kariega, for example, all benefited from the increased awareness that Shamwari generated in the Eastern Cape. It was a move that would offer regeneration for the region.

Mark Rushmere, director at Kariega Game Reserve, recently paid tribute to Gardiner and Shamwari for “creating an international market for the unique wildlife tourism experience that the Eastern Cape offers”.
It all began back in 1990 when a small 1,200ha farm was purchased by Gardiner.
Shortly after, the ongoing drought and subsequent financial hardship led to a number of neighbouring farmers placing their land on the open market.

Within time, this land was also acquired so that a total of 11,000ha was now available for development.

Gardiner quickly assembled a team of experts who would help him turn his vision into reality.
Dr John O’Brien, the ecologist, and veterinarian Dr Johan Joubert were persuaded by Gardiner to join him in the project, as was Joe Cloete, the current CEO of Shamwari.

All three men were instrumental, along with many others, in creating this very special game reserve.

Back then, conservation and wildlife tourism was all new to Gardiner.

However, having grown up in Zambia (then Northern Rhodesia), he had always had a deep appreciation of the uniqueness of the African bush.

A successful businessman in such varied fields as the building trade, crane hire and swimming pools, it was going to be conservation where Gardiner would leave a lasting legacy.

During the 1980s, he even gained a reputation as the country’s leading breeder of champion racehorses.

But the desire to own and re-wild his own piece of African landscape would lead to the success of Shamwari and its neighbouring reserves.

Gardiner sought and found the perfect mentor in Dr Ian Player. Player had been instrumental in saving the white rhino from extinction and in Gardiner he saw a man of great enthusiasm and good intention, if little experience in the practices of conservation.

Player was a guiding light for Gardiner and the two men formed a close bond.

Player even moved his Wilderness Foundation Africa to Gqeberha as a result of their relationship. The landscape of Shamwari and its evolution owes much to both men.

Despite selling Shamwari back in 2008, Gardiner’s love for the area is still very much felt.

His Mantis Group owns Founder’s Lodge — a small boutique lodge that offers guests its own wildlife as well as the opportunity to also experience the wider Shamwari landscape and animals.

“Where it all began” is the sign that greets guests to Founders and one cannot help but feel you are experiencing a real sense of history as you step over the threshold.

Both Founders and Shamwari are also important in not only maintaining wildlife but also in supporting local communities.

Despite the harsh effects of Covid on tourism, both properties still employ a combined total of nearly 350 local staff.

The co-operation and inclusion of the local communities has always been a factor in the success of Gardiner’s projects over the years.

Never one to rest on his past achievements though, at the age of 79, he has embarked on a brand new project to open up the first game reserve between two cities.

Located between Gqeberha and Kariega (Uitenhage), Nyosi (meaning ‘place of bees’) is quickly taking shape and again, like Shamwari all those years ago, it aims to rejuvenate former farmland into a place of natural bushveld and wildlife.

I had the privilege of being alongside Gardiner to witness the release of the first elephants into the Nyosi Reserve.
It was even more poignant given these magnificent animals had been transferred here from Shamwari almost 28 years after the first elephants had been introduced there by Gardiner.
History is indeed being made again in our region.
Dr Dean Allen is a best-selling author and motivational speaker. He is now writing a book about the history of wildlife tourism in the Eastern Cape.