How the Babanango story has unfolded
Creating a game reserve is a mammoth undertaking – consider the process of securing the land, to fencing it, building roads and infrastructure, building the right team of people to manage the reserve, stocking the reserve with the right species and managing these in a sustainable manner, not to mention putting together the funds to support and drive such a project.
Like all endeavours that are challenging but worthwhile, passion is the key ingredient to make a game reserve successful, and passion is precisely what has driven the formation of Babanango Game Reserve.
“A little selfish part of me wanted Zululand as the location for this project. I was always fascinated by the Zulu culture after growing up in the area and watching Shaka Zulu. I was determined to make the project happen here in KZN,” says Jeffrey van Staden, South African owner of a German-based African tour operating company.
Van Staden was approached by German clients, Barbara and Hellmuth Weisser, to identify an investment opportunity in African conservation. At a turning point in his life, about to leave Germany to return to live in South Africa, van Staden was also in the market for a new project to sink his energies into and he swiftly earmarked KZN as the ideal region for this endeavour.
A seasoned authority in the conservation lodge industry, van Staden understood that it wasn’t a lack of effort that was losing the battle against poaching but rather a lack of cooperation. He had in mind the idea to find a green fields site that was unprotected and under threat, and preserve it.
As luck would have it, he met with Conservation Outcomes, a non-profit organisation that provides support to developments in biodiversity conservation which contribute to socio-economic development in rural Southern Africa. They took van Staden to Babanango, a near-pristine region in Northern KZN that is in dire need of socio-economic upliftment – something that a game reserve, with its attendant conservation benefits, could bring to the area.
This neatly aligned with the Weisser’s passion for conservation; having travelled Africa extensively he’s witnessed its urgency and is the benefactor of other conservation and anti-poaching projects in South Africa.
Presented with the feasibility study and financial model for Babanango Game Reserve, the Weisser’s recognised the impact on the region’s biodiversity that his investment would make and gave the go-ahead to begin the very first project for African Habitat Conservancy.
“Although this reserve was the most stunningly beautiful I’d seen, it was also the most challenging, but the risk reward was the best I could foresee. If we can get it right here, then we are adding another 22,000 hectares of conserved land to KZN,” says van Staden.
Together, van Staden and the Weisser’s are in the process of creating something truly special and unique – the sustainable conservation of endemic flora and fauna, and the upliftment of local communities through job creation, skills development and education.
It’s a story which is still unfolding, and which every guest to Babanango Game Reserve contributes.