Private Nature Reserve Sustainability – The Importance of Culling in Game Management
In 1956, a group of conservation minded landowners formed the Timbavati Association to restore and protect the landscape of a large wilderness area. Since then protected areas in the Kruger Lowveld have grown dramatically. With the dropping of fences in 1993 between the Timbavati, neighbouring private nature reserves, and the Kruger National Park, a large, thriving, unfenced protected space was created that now forms part of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (GLTFCA).
Today, the Timbavati conservation ideal persists, albeit under rapidly changing and unpredictable circumstances. The complexities of managing a large private nature reserve increase every day. A good example of this is the relentless challenge we face in dealing with rhino poaching. In our reserve alone, the costs for security and anti-poaching have escalated by a staggering 900% in the last 6 years, taking up 63% of our annual operating budget. And while we fight against organised crime and illegal wildlife trade, other serious challenges need to be faced – like integrating the Greater Kruger wilderness and surrounding communities in ways that are sustainable and that reduce the risk of protected area fragmentation.
Whilst private nature reserves are vital pieces of the Greater Kruger landscape puzzle, it is not commonly known that these private reserves receive no government funding. All funds have to be generated by the reserves themselves – funds to cover the costs of anti-poaching, salaries of wardens, ecologists and other staff, conducting expensive aerial censuses to monitor animal populations, monitoring vegetation conditions, controlling alien plants and maintaining roads, fire breaks and fences to name a few.
Finding a sustainable funding model (as a non-profit organisation), that does not compromise a reserves’ commitment to minimising ecological footprint and maximising conservation goals, is perhaps the ultimate test faced by many private nature reserves in the Greater Kruger today.
Sustainable Utilisation as a Funding Model
The Timbavati relies on income generated from two forms of sustainable utilisation – photographic tourism and trophy hunting. The latter has a much lighter landscape footprint and yields far more revenue per capita for the reserve than the former. To address imbalance, reserve management embarked on an analysis of the reserve’s financial model in 2016, revealing that the conservation levies paid by the ± 24 000 photographic tourists who visited the reserve that year was less than a third of the income earned from the 46 hunters visiting over the same period.
Consequently, in January 2018 the TPNR (Timbavati Private Nature Reserve) increased the conservation fee levied on photographic tourists to R328 per person per night. The practical result was increased revenue from photographic tourism without a need to increase bednight numbers, and hence human footprint. Our income budget has become better balanced in terms of the revenue that each sector brings to the reserve.
In fact, with a lower number of photographic tourists and a lower number of hunters visiting Timbavati in 2018, the revenues to the reserve have increased, supporting the Timbavati’s commitment to minimising ecological footprint whilst covering operational costs.