“There is something about safari life that makes you forget all your sorrows and feel as if you have drunk half a bottle of champagne – bubbling over with heartfelt gratitude for being alive” – Karen Blixen.
The Sabi Sand Game Reserve / Wildtuin is a private game reserve situated on the Western border of the Kruger National Park. It spans 65 000 hectares (153 000 acres) and is renowned for providing some of the best game viewing in Africa. While it’s not technically part of the Kruger National Park, it shares a 50km long unfenced border with the Kruger, ensuring that animals can roam freely between the two reserves. The Sabi Sand Game Reserve comprises a number of private game reserves, each providing an exclusive and luxurious experience in the heart of the bush. It is largely owned and operated by 3rd & 4th generation families who share a common vision with their ancestors.
Unlike the Kruger National Park, the Sabi Sand Reserve is not open to the general public. Staying in one of the lodges here means you are sharing this pristine wilderness with only a few other guests, since each private reserve has exclusive traversing rights over their area. Furthermore, your safari here is not bound by the strict rules of the South African National Parks Board, so rangers can drive off-road, taking you closer to the action. They can also drive at night and lead you on guided walking safaris, tracking animals in the wilderness. The reserve has a dense concentration of wildlife. It is home to the Big 5 and is probably the best place in the world to get up close and personal with the elusive leopard. All the private reserves in the Sabi Sand have a strong commitment to conservation and are involved in projects that uplift the local communities. Staying in the Sabi Sand not only guarantees great wildlife viewing and luxury lodges, but it also means you can make a difference to the rural communities in the surrounding areas.
Two rivers supply the Sabi Sand Game Reserve with a valuable water source. The Sand River flows through the reserve for 50km (31 miles) from North West to South East whilst the Sabie River flows on the southern boundary. The sustenance of these rivers ensures that this area enjoys one of the highest and most bio-diverse wildlife populations of any area in Africa. Over two hundred different species live in abundance, whilst the ever changing bird life provides even the most experienced ornithologist with rare finds. Such is the environment that the wildlife, save for the migratory birds, remain in their territories all year round.
The Sabi Sand Reserve is the birthplace of sustainable wildlife tourism in Southern Africa.
The Sabi Sand Reserve is the oldest of all the private reserves in South Africa. It was formed in 1934, and became a formal association in 1948
COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT : Including activities which help them to generate income; provision of health care and provision of drinking water.
What is a country without its collective community? Recognising this, many of the members of the Sabi Sand Reserve are dedicated to the upliftment of local neighbours living in the area. Many of these communities have been defined by poverty, and a lack of opportunity to improve their standard of living. These members have embarked on initiatives such as:
• The establishment of infrastructures to educate children, enabling them to seek a brighter future.
• The creation of homes for children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic.
• The establishment of education programmes to equip younger and older adults alike about how the pandemic of AIDS in Africa can be avoided.
• Employment and development opportunities.
• Provision of basic needs such as access to food, electricity, water and health services.
• Skills development projects such as beading, candle making, sewing, hat making, baking and shoe making.
• Sports training (including soccer, netball, cricket and hockey) at primary school level to help youngsters cultivate their innate physical talents.
The first people to take permanent residence in this region were the Tsonga-Shangaan, who settled here approximately 100 years ago from what is now southern Mozambique. The term “shangaan” is not indigenous to those to whom it is referred today. The original “Shangaans” took their name from the Zulu warrior Soshangane.
The Shangaan people still form the majority in the Southern lowveld today, and most of the staff at the lodge are Shangaan. With a proud tradition of hunting, the Shangaan are renowned wildlife trackers, a skill honed to perfection in our lodge field team.
The Shangaan people, through Tsonga influence, are one of the few ethnic groups in South Africa to practice fishing and include fish in their diet. Because of the wealth of game in the area, they also enjoy venison and crocodile, which they bake in a delicious groundnut (peanut) sauce.
The most unusual aspect of their diet, however, is their love of the mopani worm found in the Mopani forests of the Lowveld. These are either dried or pan fried in butter, which is an experience no adventurous traveller should miss.
Traditionally the Shangaan wore animal hides; however, western clothing has since been adopted, with traditional clothing only worn for cultural celebrations and ceremonies. Wide beaded necklaces and heavy metal bracelets are also popular in the Shangaan culture.
The Sand River rises in the bushbuck ridge district and flows in a south easterly direction before joining the larger Sabi River downstream of Skukuza. The Sabie River has its source at 2 130 m above mean sea level in the Drakensberg Escarpment, drops into the lowveld and joins the Sand River inside the Kruger National Park.
Although it flows throughout the year, the Sand River may, in drought periods, be reduces to a series of pools and underground seepage. Except when in flood after heavy rains, the watercourse is lines by swathes of sand, from which the river takes its name.
The Sand River is the artery that sustains the areas wildlife, and is the focal point of much of the activity. The open water channels and pools are favoured by hippo, Nile crocodile, birds such as pied kingfisher, African black duck and reed cormorant, and fish such as sharp toothed catfish and Mozambique tilapia. The reeds are favoured by Burchell’s coucal (whitebrowed), red-faced cisticola and various weavers, and are regularly visited by buffalo and elephant, which feed on phragmites reeds. The dragon-like water monitor often makes its home in these reed beds.
The band of riverine forest of tall trees and thickets alongside the river remains green throughout the year and attracts leopard, greater bushbaby, bushbuck and others. Birds are numerous, with various robins, warblers, bulbuls, sunbirds, shrikes and flycatchers. Charateristic trees and shrubs of the river are jackelberry, tamboti, brack thorn, knob thorn, matumui, potatobush, flame creeper, sycamore fig, red ivory and weeping boernbean.
Situated the on the lowveld plain at an altitude of approximately 350 metres (1150 feet) above sea level, the Sabi Sand Reserve is generally flat landscape of undulating crests, bisected by the Sand River and a number of small seasonal tributaries. The underlying base rock in this region is mostly granite and gneiss, with course, sandy soil on crests and uplands, and fine, clayey soils along drainage lines. These soil types determine the vegetational structure and habitats, which in turn influence animal distribution. The Sabi Sand falls within the savanna biome of Southern Africa, with mixed lowveld Bushveld the recognised veld type.
The savanna biome is the largest biome in Southern Africa, occupying 46% of its area, and over one-third the area of South Africa. It is well developed over the lowveld and Kalahari region of South Africa and is also the dominant vegetation in Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
It is characterized by a grassy ground layer and a distinct upper layer of woody plants. Where this upper layer is near the ground the vegetation may be referred to as shrubveld, where it is dense as woodland, and the intermediate stages are locally known as Bushveld.
In a few localities, intrusions of dolomite protrude above the undulating bushveld of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. These outcrops of bare, dark rocks form a distinctive habitat to which certain plants and animals are restricted. Grasses are generally rather sparse among the rocks, with the result that bush fires seldom penetrate this habitat.
Distinctive trees include the Large-leaved Rock Fig with its white stems and roots that look as though they have been poured over the rocks, the cactus-like candelabra Tree, purple stemmed common star chestnut and velvet corkwood; various combretum species typical crests and slopes are also common. Among smaller plants, impala lily, cluster aloe and mother-in-law’s Tongue – all vulnerable to fire, but safe here.
The dainty-hoofed klipspringer and the stocky dassie are the only larger mammals that are restricted to rocky outcrops in the Sabi Sand. Lion and leopard may choose to hide their cubs in small caves or rock overhangs, while chacma baboon enjoy the vantage point that the outcrops provide. Various bats may roost under rock ledges or in crevices. No birds are restricted to the rocky outcrops, but sunbirds visit flowering aloes during winter, barbets and starlings are attracted to ripe figs.
Reptiles are well suited to rocky outcrops, among lizards that may be encountered basking on the sun are the rock monitor, giant plated lizard, rough-scaled plated lizard and rainbow skink. When disturbed, these creatures are quick to scurry for cover, often wedging themselves into narrow crevices for protection.
“If we do not preserve our flora and fauna and if we do not limit our human population to a level sustainable by our natural resources, we will cease to be a game reserve.
We will lose our unique capacity to share with tourists an authentic wilderness experience. We will become just another tourist resort”
- Nan Trollip, founder member of the Sabi Sand Reserve.
The main objective of the Sabi Sand game management policy is to monitor the habitat and wildlife densities. Maintaining a balance between food resource and the optimal biomass has not been easy. The reserve has had to cope with threats such as foot and mouth disease, bovine TB, uncontrolled fires, bush encroachment and overgrazing. The reintroduction of certain species such as rhino, tssessebee, nyala, sable, wildebeest and reedbuck have supported this objective to some degree, whilst the ever burgeoning elephant population remains a challenge to the future of the natural habitat. The Sabi Sand focuses on conservation and the environment only. To this end it was conceived and remains as an association whose aims are the promotion and conservation of wildlife, fauna and flora and to the preservation of the area as a sanctuary for every type of indigenous wildlife. The protection of the rights and interests of the reserve with respect to the Sand River (the lifeblood of the Sabi Sand) are also promoted and the hunting of wildlife is forbidden. In order to prevent the area from deteriorating into a series of small holdings, Lodges in the Sabi Sand may no longer be subdivided into portions of less than 857 hectares.
The Kruger National Park is South Africa’s largest national park. Adjacent to the park are a number of privately owned game reserves. By mutual agreement, the fences between these reserves and the Kruger Park have been dropped, to enlarge the area under conservation and encourage free movement of animals. The entire conservation area is known as the Greater Kruger National Park, and is over 2.2 million hectares in size.
The most famous of these private reserves is the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, and the Timbavati Game Reserve further north. The lodges in these game reserves are privately owned and the land rovers are able to go off-road to get closer to an animal sighting.
This is not permitted in the Kruger National Park itself. This is one of the main differences between the Sabi Sand and Kruger, as well as the fact that all the land rovers are in radio contact. This makes your chances of seeing the Big Five, especially leopards, much better in the Sabi Sand than in the Kruger Park.
Sabi Sand Game Reserve has a hot, sub-tropical climate making any time of year the best time to visit Kruger National Park.
Game viewing is at its best during from June to August, in the dry winter months when wildlife congregate at waterholes in search of water.
November to February is the wet summer season, which sees waterholes full, bushveld lush, and many new-born wildlife.