Animal magic at Shamwari Game Reserve

by Rianne Ojeh on 18 June 2014, 10:06AM

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We were tracking an elephant, which was playing hide and seek with us when suddenly our vehicle came to an abrupt stop. Our ranger, Westley, let out a soft squeal of excitement, while pointing to a reddish catlike shadow. This was the first time we heard our normally cool and collected ranger, Westley, change his pitch of voice. So we didn’t know whether to be worried or scared. Composing himself, he now gently whispered that it was a caracal (or Rooikat in Afrikaans), also known as a desert lynx, which is quite a rare sight. Quickly we grabbed our cameras and started shooting away, not really enjoying the few minutes we had with this exceptional sighting.  As the caracal gracefully slinked away, it started to sink in what we had just seen. One member of our group, a seasoned safari goer, summarised it, the last Caracal he saw was in 1982!

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image credit: Kevin Rushby

I was at Shamwari, an award-winning malaria-free game reserve in the Eastern Cape whose focus on conservation & education has been a pioneer in the industry. Shamwari, meaning “my friend” in Shona, is one of the largest private conservation initiatives in Southern Africa. Stretching 25,000 hectares over a natural landscape, it offers an authentic experience and is home to the coveted Big Five.

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We were staying at Long Lee Manor, a gracious Edwardian Manor House that echoes traditions of the past, offering colonial style accommodation, manicured gardens, pools and ponds, terraces and verandas – all overlooking the magnificent plains teaming with wildlife.

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All the rangers at Shamwari are incredibly knowledgeable but more importantly very passionate about the reserve, the animals and their jobs. This really comes across in the game drives, making them fun and educational with time flying by. You even forget about the early starts (wake up calls at 5am!!) and the afternoon drive can’t come quick enough. One of the fun facts we learned from Westley, were the different names each group of animals carry. Apparently not everything is called a herd! There is a a journey of giraffes, a parade of elephants, a crash of rhinos, a dazzle of zebras, a gang of buffalos, a pride of lions and a prowl of leopards. Everyone wants to see the coveted Big Five, however all the animals in the reserve are pretty impressive and the different antelope, birds and monkeys are just as beautiful to watch.

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But even in between the game drives there is plenty to keep you entertained. As soon as we returned from our morning drive, breakfast was served. And boy do they know how to make breakfast! Actually breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, we were never really short of delicious food. As they use mostly locally sourced produce, everything tastes so fresh it was hard to say no, even though I was full most of the time!

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With such glorious weather, we decided to sleep off the early starts by one of the pools, which offer great views over the plains. Just remember to apply your sunscreen as the African sun is fiercer than it looks, with some in our party spotting some rather delicate looking skin in the evening. Luckily Long Lee Manor has a luxury spa with some soothing treatments, as well as a steam room and spa.

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Be sure to visit the Born Free Foundation as well, where big cats such as lions, leopards and cheetah are cared for after being rescued from very brim conditions. Unfortunately, they can never be released in the wild but are looked after in a compound that very much resembles their natural habitat. You can even adopt a cat for a mere £2.50 per month such as Ma Juah, a female lion who was kept in a concrete pit and not fed or watered for 23 days after her owner, disgraced Liberian politician Charles Taylor, fled the country.

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Another impressive place to visit is the Ian Player Rhino Awareness Centre. Unfortunately the poaching of these endangered animals is still rife and the centre is a place of information and education, which is hopefully a start in the battle against the growing epidemic of rhino poaching in South Africa. It really is scary to know the alarming rate that the rhino population is dwindling.

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Every second evening, there is a Braai at all the Shamwari properties. This traditional South Africa barbecue is a real treat and a very sociable experience. On the other nights we enjoyed a mouth-watering a la carte culinary experience in the main restaurant. But by far the most memorable experience was our sundowner at one of the most scenic spots in the reserve. On top of a hill with spectacular views across the African plains, we enjoyed locally produced sparkling wine, home-made snacks and biltong by executive chef, Sharelda van Niekerk. With great company, dazzling views of a mother and baby black rhino playing in the bushes below and scrumptious food while the sun is setting, this seemed like an appropriate end to our very memorable stay at Shamwari.

For more information about staying at Shamwari visit www.travelbag.co.uk

To find out more information about Shamwari go to www.shamwari.com.


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