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SOS Rhino : In the News : Archived News : July 2000 : South Africa; American Magnate Behind Exciting New Eastern Cape Game Reserve

South Africa; American Magnate Behind Exciting New Eastern Cape Game Reserve

By Mike Loewe, East Cape News
Africa News
July 28, 2000

Grahamstown - Thandukhala, the rhinoceros who "likes to cry" making noises like a dolphin, will weep no longer.

The young female rhino was released last night -- the first of six to be released into the Eastern Cape's newest game reserve.

Yesterday the media were shown around Kwandwe Private Game Reserve north of the huge state-owned Fish River Reserve Complex between Grahamstown and Fort Beaufort.

Pride of place was a boma where the northern Natal rhinos worth R2,2m -- R375 000 each -- were being kept in separate pens.

By sheer fluke, delighted staff said two of their purchases at the recent R15m game auction at Hluhluwe had later been found to be pregnant.

The release of the rhino into Kwandwe has followed extensive checking by the sellers to ensure that the environment is suitable.

The game buying programme is being funded by Florida, America-based pharmaceutical magnate Carl DeSantis (subs: DeSantis) who has poured more than R50m into the 16 000-hectare reserve.

The area is carrying 25 percent of the wild life stock it is able to support.

Minor partner and reserve manager Angus Sholto-Douglas, 30, formerly of Grahamstown, said the reserve's lodge would cater for 24 high- paying foreign tourists, but a day centre would cater for South Africans of all walks of life -- at reasonable rand prices.

One night at the reserve could cost a foreigner anything from R2 500 upwards.

However, he said the reserve owners wanted to encourage arts and crafts and educational tours for schoolchildren from town and township alike.

During the tour, the media learned that a private consortium had been granted a concession to run a significant portion of the state- owned Fish River Reserve this week.

The reserve, which is stocked with a wide range of African wildlife and is served by a system of lodges, has been languishing without staff and resources since 1994. Sholto-Douglas said the Kwandwe deal was structured so that "value stays here" and was not moved offshore. He said this was at DeSantis's request.

"You should meet him. Then you will understand the kind of guy he is."

He said Kwandwe was an amalgamation of at least four farms, on either side of the Fish River and that the 10 tenant labourers -- mostly goat herders and their families -- had been trained to become fieldworkers.

By the time the reserve, with its upmarket riverside lodge opens in July next year, 86 jobs would have been created.

He said the full range of African game would soon be roaming through the valley bushveld.

Kwandwe was shaping itself more on a "safari-styled" venue, which made it different to the more "colonial-style" of its nearest competitor, Shamwari Game Reserve.

He felt the two reserves would compliment each other and would strengthen the province's tourism sector.

He said Eastern Cape reserves had the edge on other areas because they were malaria-free and were linked to the Garden Route and Cape Town circuit.

The semi-arid noorsveld and valley bushveld were perfect for most of the African species and black rhino thrived in the Fish River basin.

After a lengthy drive, the media were shown the boma where the six rhino were seen browsing happily or in the case of one temperamental and pregnant 10-year-old matriarch called "Ouma", listening to the radio.

Sholto-Douglas said the sound of music was soothing to the grumpy rhino.

One scribe quipped: "Ouma is learning Xhosa!" Thandukhala was to be released last night and a nature conservation researcher Warrick Barnard of Grahamstown was to be on duty to follow a radio signal emitted from a transmitter drilled into her horn, its aerial sticking up inside the horn.

The rest are to be released later this week on the principle of one a night.

Black rhino were fairly docile during captivity but were very dangerous in the veld.

Proving the point, Sholto-Douglas, put his hand through the thick gumpole fence and said to grumpy Ouma: "Hey sexy! Hayish my girl! She's a beauty."

During the recent cold snap blankets and plastic were put up to protect the rhinos from the freezing westerlies and their intake of "browse" -- lucerne -- nearly tripled.

On the drive back to the minimalist but very smart, brand new reserve headquarters, reporters were given a hair-raising ride on a "road" cut along the hilly banks of the Fish River.

It was cut by a tractor dragging a blade a few days before, but the brand new-looking Landrover made for comfortable travelling.

Sholto-Douglas believes tourists want the "safe but rugged" ride they will be getting at Kwandwe.

We were shown incredible vistas of the muddy Fish, still pumping despite the dry yellow grassveld scenes all around it, plus zebra, kudu, wildebeest (blues and black), blesbok.

We also saw a powerful elephant boma for the family of elephants which will be arriving from the north soon.

Lion are also planned, but with live catch costing anything between R10 000 and R20 000 a week, the reserve has decided to fence off a section and to put in "cheaper" faster-reproducing game, such as impala and springbok for the lion to feed on.



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