June 8, 2023

A private game reserve and restoration project in South Africa’s Eastern Cape reclaims the area’s wild side

Take the Night Safari at Samara for a rare sighting of aardvarks in their native habitat.
Agricultural development at the expense of animals’ natural habitats is an ongoing problem in Africa, but with the help of Sarah and Mark Tompkins, an area of the Great Karoo in South Africa’s Eastern Cape has been restored to its native state.

In 1997, the couple, who had no particular ties to the area beyond just a great love for animals and the outdoors, bought back 70,000 acres of land from livestock farms that evicted the area’s indigenous birds and game. They called their purchase Samara, meaning “land of serenity,” and let it lie fallow for several years, regenerating the grasslands that had been grazed by cattle and sheep for decades.

Next steps were to introduce the wildlife – birds, cheetahs, rhinos, wildebeest, antelopes, and buffalo – back into the reserve. Sarah was particularly interested in restoring the cheetah population that had been essentially wiped out by hunters. Through the De Wildt Wildlife Trust, a research and breeding facility for endangered animals, they found an injured cheetah that they named Sibella, funded her four-hour surgery, and brought her along with two male cheetahs to Samara in 2003. Since then, she’s birthed 18 cubs, which represents 2 percent of the total cheetah population in South Africa and a significant step toward their restoration goals.

White rhino, myriad antelope, giraffes, and zebra also call the grasslands, thickets, and mountains in Samara their happy home and visitors to the reserve can watch them – and Sibella – from various quarters on the luxurious property as if nothing ever changed.

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