Hippo, & now buffalo, set Karoo toursim on fire

When Merino farmer PC Ferreira from Hanover reintroduced hippo into the Karoo after an absence of 250 years, he could never have guessed the economic impact it would have on the local tourism industry. He now plans to reintroduce buffalo and eventually rhino along a 150km stretch of the Seekoei River. Annelie Coleman reports
Issue date : 10 July 2009

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When Merino farmer PC Ferreira from Hanover reintroduced hippo into the Karoo

after an absence of 250 years, he could never have guessed the economic impact it would have on the local tourism industry. He now plans to reintroduce buffalo and eventually rhino along a 150km stretch of the Seekoei River. Annelie Coleman reports.

Hippo, &now buffalo,  set Karoo toursim on fire IN 2005, when PC Ferreira reintroduced hippo into the Seekoei River flowing through his farm in Hanover in the Karoo, some people were highly sceptical. “They thought it was a far-fetched idea,” he remembers. “But I did it because I’m passionate about conservation and knew hippos had existed in the Karoo until they were declared problem animals.” The risk paid off, boosting regional tourism, and made PC ask himself why he couldn’t do the same with buffalo. There was considerable red tape involved in reintroducing hippo. PC first had to declare a conservancy – the Karoo Gariep Conservancy. He then had to apply for hippo permits and fencing directives from conservation authorities, as there were no fencing regulations for hippos in the Northern Cape.

He also developed 12 000ha around his section of the Seekoei River into an approved hippo environment. The Damage Causing Animal Forum of South Africa then supplied one female and two male hippo. In 2008, PC was awarded the South African National Parks’ (SANPark) Community Contribution to Conservation Award, which recognises a community member or group’s achievement in conservation.

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Impact on tourism
Following wide media coverage of the hippos’ arrival, and the recent addition of a baby hippo, PC’s guesthouse New Holme has maintained a 40% occupancy rate. “This is exceptional for a Karoo farm guesthouse,” PC points out. “Most guests spend two to five days on the farm, instead of just the night en route to somewhere else. We’re finding more city families want to spend their annual holidays in the Karoo. Big game is a major attraction for townsfolk.”PC estimates you can quite comfortably generate an annual turnover of R1 million or more from only tourism and game on an average Karoo farm. “This is an opportunity not to be missed. My income from tourism on New Holme will soon equal the income from mutton and wool.”There is a high level of unemployment in PC’s part of the Karoo. “But I learnt with the hippo venture that tourism can create jobs. That’s also what inspired me to make my buffalo project work.”

Bringing in buffalo
Negotiations are already underway with farmers on the 150km stretch of land along the Seekoei River, all the way to the Doornkloof Nature Reserve at the Vanderkloof Dam, to form one continuous conservancy for buffalo. “I have the Northern Cape conservation authorities’ support and cooperation, despite being at the very beginning of the project,” says PC. The idea is to start a breeding loan plan with the state or private wildlife and conservation bodies. They will supply the animals which will remain their property, but half the progeny will belong to the host farmer. Most important, the host farmer will be obliged to give 50% of the calves to a farmer who doesn’t yet have buffalo. “I don’t know if this has been done anywhere else, but conservation needs innovation,” PC says. “I’ve received very positive feedback about this idea.”

According to his calculations, projects on the 120 000ha strip along the river, which start out with 10 buffalo will have around 180 buffalo in 25 years’ time, without it costing any money. “A clean buffalo calf sells for about R120 000,” PC says. “That’s the equivalent of 180 lambs, and makes the project an attractive commercial option.”
There’s no deadline for the project, but PC is already speaking to possible suppliers. “This is a 20-year project at least. We must keep the momentum going and convince all interested parties of the venture’s profitability.” PC adds that a rhino project is also a possibility in future. “We farmers have to pursue new ideas. I met with opposition when I first started planning to introduce hippo, but today they play an important role in the recovery of the Seekoei River ecosystem. They open up waterways and increase biodiversity by stimulating the fish population. We now see fish eagles and Cape clawless otter in the river, which were very rare in the past.”
For more information, e-mail [email protected]     |fw

Annelie Coleman represents Farmer’s Weekly in the Free State, North West and Northern Cape. Agriculture is in her blood. She grew up on a maize farm in the Wesselsbron district where her brother is still continuing with the family business. Annelie is passionate about the area she works in and calls it ‘God’s own country’. She’s particularly interested in beef cattle farming, especially with the indigenous African breeds. She’s an avid reader and owns a comprehensive collection of Africana covering hunting in colonial Africa, missionary history of same period, as well as Rhodesian literature.