Rhino Conservation in South Africa’s Eastern Cape

Michael Edwards fulfils a childhood dream

Many of us of a certain age were heavily influenced by the 89 episodes of Daktari, shown in the post Blue Peter early evening slot. In the Hollywood take on life in Africa, Clarence the cross-eyed lion and Judy the mischievous chimp, frequently proved more resourceful than the human vets.

Some of us became so obsessed with life at the fictional Wameru Study Center for Animal Behavior that we told our careers teachers that, flourishing our Swahili, we wanted to be a “Daktari” or animal doctor.

Game Drives

Five decades on, there is a remarkable opportunity for those of us who failed to get into Vet School to fulfil our dreams. MANTIS Founders Lodge, in the green valleys of South Africa’s Eastern Cape, are giving visitors the opportunity to briefly revive their dreams of working in animal care. Their pre-booked rhino experience is a unique, immersive and tactile opportunity.

Aerial View of Founders Lodge

Named from the acronym, Man And Nature Together Is Sustainable, Founders Lodge, neighbouring the Shamwari Private Game Reserve, is taking wildlife conservation to the next level. Literally offering visitors the chance to provide hands-on care and compassion.

Two rhinos sculpted from discarded oil drums stand by the entrance toa lodge that was originally a 1940s farmhouse. Those sculptures symbolise the MANTIS commitment to saving the rhino from extinction.

Rhino Conservation Experience

Munu, a heffty blind rhino, has become the unlikely pin-up boy, for conservation. Guests get to hand-feed Munu. He lost one eye in a territorial tussle with another rhino. Subsequently, infection spread to his other eye. A ranger found Munu walking round in circles, struggling to forage enough vegetation to survive.

As one of the the critically endangered south-western sub-species of black rhino, of which there are only around 250 left alive in South Africa, Munu has a significant role to play. As only around 80 males are capable of breeding, MANTIS is seeking a partner for Munu. The plan is that Munu’s offspring would be released in the wild.

Now Munu is something of a cult figure. He has two full-time staff who look after him in his fenced boma and he also has social media accounts. As Munu lives around two kilometres from the lodge, guests call by to feed him. Although his tough tongue and jaws can demolish prickly branches his favourite food comes from the blue flowered plumbago tree. Whilst he munches, his radio plays. The sound guides him back to the shelter within his boma after he has had a wander.

Rhino Conservation Experience

Even more hands on are the Rhino Observation and Monitoring sessions run on selected dates. Sometimes the sessions including darting rhino from a helicopter. They may observe medical procedures such as dehorning, to make rhinos less of a poachers’ target, and fitting trackers. Participants are trained to record observations of blood pressure and ocular movement. Analysing dung composition never made the Daktari final cut but is all part of Founders’ rhino experience.

Diagnosis from a rhino’s assessment may identify conditions that require treatment. Medication can be provided with pellets added to the rhinos’ food. As the Eastern Cape enters its seventh year of
draught, Margaret and her family of rhinos are eager for extra food. Her son Rodney, a bit of a loner, is often found by Founders’ electrified fence munching away.

Contemporary Suites

Accommodation standards have improved significantly since the days of Wameru Study Center. Craig and Glynis are the ultimate hosts overseeing Founders’ seven luxurious suites.

“I am here to spoil you”, says our waitress Bongi as she delivers the lunch menu to our private secluded patio. Service is intimate. One highlight is a private fine-dining night.

Our location, just for the two of us, is the candle-lit library where a log fire roars. Once it was Adrian Gardiner’s study from whence, he masterminded the rewilding of the Eastern Cape. Row after row of rare books on African birds, show the detail of his planning.

Mantis Founders Lodge Lounge

Buying up hundreds of acres of farms, Gardiner recreated complex eco-systems where wildlife, notably the Big Five, could thrive. Every detail was catered for. From the dung beetles, clearing up after the elephants, through to the ox-pecker birds relieving buffalo of potentially infectious ticks. Gardiner’s project was such a success that most guests tick off The Big Five on their morning and evening game drive, perhaps even spotting elusive cheetah too.

Mantis Founders Lodge Social Media

Although the Rhino Experience offers conservation enthusiasts a very special experience, MANTIS Founders Lodge also continues to provide the traditional binocular-grasping, sundowner-ice clinking luxury safari experience.

Visit MANTIS Founders Lodge and the rhino experience to find out more. And contact our Silver Travel Advisors to book your trip to South Africa by calling 0800 412 5678.

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Michael Edwards

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