The First-Ever Private Nature Reserve
In 1898, the Sabie Reserve was proclaimed and incorporated into both the Sabi Sand and the Kruger National Park. After the revision of the Kruger Park boundaries in 1926, private landowners collectively formed the Sabi Private Game Reserves in 1934. This became a forerunner to the Sabi Sand Wildtuin, which was ultimately established in 1948.
The story goes that early one winter’s morning in July 1948, 14 private landowners – “believers of the preservation of wilderness areas” – met at Mala Mala. Together they decided to form the first-ever private nature reserve in South Africa which they called Sabi Sand Wildtuin. The reserve was named after the two main rivers that flowed through the area, providing an important water source for the indigenous wildlife. Wildtuin is the Afrikaans name for Game Reserve.
In 1961, the Sabi Sand Wildtuin erected a 72km long fence along its western boundary – the only way to keep the wildlife within the boundaries of the reserve. The first management strategy that was put into place focused on the safety of the wildlife. It was only in 1988 that an electrified fence was put in place with regular patrollers monitoring it.
With the success of Mala Mala as a tourist resort in the 1960s, tourism started taking shape within the Wildtuin. New tourist camps, like Londolozi and Sabi Sabi, were established in the 1970s. Tourism within the Sabi Sand ensured that the day-to-day running of the reserve could be maintained.
In 1980 the ecological aspect of the reserve became a core focus. An ecological committee was formed and identified the need to protect the reserve from fire, bush encroachment, and overgrazing. Intensive management was needed because the reserve was enclosed.
Once the landscape started to take shape, it was decided that animals extinct to the area – such as white rhino, sable, eland, nyala, elephant, and cheetah – be reintroduced.
In 1993, the fences between the Kruger National Park and Sabi Sand Wildtuin were removed allowing free migration of the game between the two reserves.
Meanwhile, landowners within the reserve started to reach out to our neighboring communities. Many projects were formed to assist local communities in environmental matters, basic needs, and education. This was the start of the reserve’s socio-economic development work.