The Abelana Game Reserve near Phalaborwa, adjacent to the Greater Kruger National Park, has the local community at its heart. The reserve went through various owners, and finally landed in the hands of the Mashishimale Communal Property Association, which reclaimed the land on behalf of the Mashishimale community in 2010.
However, because of a financially unsustainable partnership and lack of job creation, a suitable partner had to be found to manage the reserve. Ian Beauchamp, CEO of MTH Lodge Holdings, concluded a 25-year lease with an additional 25-year extension in September 2018. The 15 000-hectare reserve is extremely diverse and includes spectacular riverine bush along the Selati River, which holds permanent water due to a series of weirs constructed in the 1950s.
The reserve was never managed according to a Reserve Management Plan so the first task involved consolidating the reserve and removing internal fences. Other management interventions included bolstering the anti-poaching team by introducing a dog unit, introducing lion, and improving the perimeter fencing and the road networks that include new game-drive routes. Not only is the wildlife slowly becoming accustomed to vehicles, but species-specific strategies have been introduced after an extensive game count in September 2019.
In addition, the new management team also undertook commercial-lodge planning in conjunction with the tour-operator trade to establish what improvements were needed.
Work immediately got underway and an existing tented camp, now named Abelana Safari Camp, was rehabilitated and launched in September 2019. In the south of the reserve, the camp offers walking trails and horse safaris to guests.
At the end of February 2020, Abelana River Lodge accepted its first guests. With 20 suites at a spectacular site on the Selati River, this deluxe accommodation offers guests the ultimate experience. More lodges are planned for the future.
Job creation is one of MTH Holdings’ main objectives, for the community to benefit from their land. Permanent employees grew from seven to 80, of which 52 from the local community were mostly unskilled. They received training in various hospitality roles.
During the construction process, up to 70 casual labourers benefitted. Abelana also has a casual labour force of about 30 staff working on various projects at any given time. Laundry, staff transport and waste removal are all outsourced to community companies. Single-use plastic will not feature on the property and guests will never pay for bottled water due to a water-bottling plant on site.
Over time, the management team will develop community vegetable gardens to supply the lodges with fresh produce. An environmental-educational centre for schoolchildren is also on the cards to educate youngsters about the history of their land and the benefits and career opportunities on their doorstep.
The local community receives an annual lease payment, a community levy of R100 per person per night, job opportunities, joint ventures for supply companies and the opportunity to gain valuable skills.
Abelana is home to a rich diversity of fauna and flora, from the hippo and crocodile that make the Selati River home, to the famed Big Five. Cheetah and wild dog visit occasionally and the bird species are impressive. These include the African fish eagle, peregrine falcon, Arnot’s chat, thick-billed cuckoo, bat hawk and Pel’s fishing owl.
For more information visit www.abelanagamereserve.com
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