A Story of Conservation - Kuzuko as a Conservation Project

The vision for Kuzuko Lodge in the Eastern Cape was to create a Big Five safari game park which combines conservation, job creation and social transformation in a malaria-free area in South Africa.

The area in the small Karoo where Kuzuko Lodge is located was chosen for its unique vegetation and beauty as well as for being an area where over 70% of the people were unemployed and extreme poverty was widespread.

The task was three-fold: build a unique lodge, create jobs and allow the area to revert to its original habitat. Thus Kuzuko was born, and became the first private game reserve to be incorporated into the Greater Addo Elephant Park, the third largest national park in South Africa, giving it traversing rights over 1 million acres.

The Construction Phase

Twenty-two farms comprising an area of about 40000 acres were bought and around 70km of electrified fencing (solar powered) was erected by a team of 70 men over a period of 10 months. In clearing the land approximately 230km of old farm fencing, 41 windmills, 15 farm buildings, 18 artificial water reservoirs and 20 tons of metal were dismantled and removed.

Building a luxury lodge in the wilderness posed a challenge. Building it on a hill with stunning viewsa feat.

It took over 100 workers 20 months to build the lodge, chalets and staff housing. All the construction work was completed by local contractors or contractors from nearby towns using material from the region where possible.

Kuzuko Lodge has now created 60 permanent jobs, with another 10 jobs offered on a contract basis over the busy season between October and March each year. Kuzuko has been one of the largest investments of its kind in its district and we expect it to stimulate further economic activity.

Captive born cheetah takes first steps to being introduced into the wild

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SYLVESTER THE LION – NOW A PROUD FATHER!

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A Quest for Sustainable Regrowth and Repopulation

Our quest is to rehabilitate nature and protect our natural integrity and its legacy for future generations, however Kuzuko Lodge is still a relatively young reserve and years of goat farming has had an adverse effect on the vegetation of the area.

Kuzuko Lodge has been working with South African National Parks on a programme to restock the area with indigenous game - in stages. Once we could see that the vegetation had begun to recover, buffalo, antelope and elephant were reintroduced to the area. For the first time in 150 years, elephant and black rhino traced their ancestors' steps when they arrived at the reserve in 2005. When our game yielded a population high enough to sustain their numbers, predators were introduced to the reserve.

Although we try to interfere as little as possible, we do keep track of animal populations and work to ensure the ongoing sustainability of the delicate natural balance within the reserve.

Working with the local community, Kuzuko has carefully crafted a balance between nature and tourism: a new form of conservation tourism that ensures true sustainability while allowing visitors to experience Africa in its full glory.

At Kuzuko Lodge we strive to positively impact the Eastern Cape, South Arica, through Environmental Conservation together with the social and economic transformation of local communities. As a conservation project, we aim to improve the quality of life for current as well as future generations.

Sylvester's Story

The much-loved male lion, Sylvester, gained notoriety for managing to escape, twice, from the Karoo National Park and going on the run for weeks or days before being recaptured. During this time, South Africans across the nation were rooting for his safe capture and were greatly relieved when he found his new home at Kuzuko.

The next chapter

Sylvester was initially placed in an encampment with another male lion named Fielies - in order to encourage both lions to socialise - as it is the norm within lion societies that males form coalitions.

"The move to create a bond between the two was successful as Sylvester and Fielies bonded and were released into the reserve a year ago. This gave both lions an opportunity to befriend - and hopefully mate with - the two female lions who were already in the reserve. These females were brought to Kuzuko during 2015 as orphaned cubs. The Kuzuko Wildlife management team successfully reared them to become self-sufficient huntresses. It appears that Sylvester and Fielies have quite a solid bond, and the two females have responded well to both of them with the four lions having now created their own pride," says Gerhard de Lange, Manager at Kuzuko Lodge.

Marking his territory

The two males first took their time to survey their new domain and mark out their territory before taking an interest in the two female lions at the Kuzuko. Sylvester has taken a great interest in the female called Angel, while Fielies has shown a preference for Nicka. However, in spite of how well the lions got along with one other, Sylvester spent the first eight months of his release from his enclosure roaming the mountains.

"This is probably because he enjoyed the mountainous areas in the Karoo. These days he is content to walk along the rivers and spends more time with the other lions. He seems to be incredibly happy here at Kuzuko. He hasn't tried to escape at all," de Lange explains.

A legendary tale

Sylvester's escape from the Karoo National Park is now a South African legend. The lion managed to sneak under the electric fencing that had lifted after the rains in what was his first daring escape. He was captured three weeks later and fitted with a satellite collar after wandering for over 370km, terrorising farmers and befuddling would be capturers during this time. This didn't stop him from trying again, though. He snuck out once more, but was luckily brought back to the park within three days. The famous lion is now quite clearly at ease in his new environment and "Spook" as he is nicknamed, has aptly found his home within Kuzuko, the hotel's own logo and crest being that of a lion.

Looking to the future

"While the integration of the two males has been some time in the making, Kuxuko is now 100% sure they are integrated into the environment, and in Sylvester's case, happy to stay. We have entered the second phase of their integration and the two females in the park have their contraceptives now working out of their system. We are hoping that we get a chance to see a few lion cubs in future. We are cautiously optimistic, because as you know, with Sylvester anything can happen," de Lange says.

The two females, Angel and Nicka, call regularly for their male companions across the park. This is a positive sign that they have bonded with Sylvester and Fielies. Kuzuko Lodge is committed to the conservation of the environment and is pleased to be working to preserve Africa's big cat heritage. Perhaps, some day very soon, our Lodge will welcome cubs.

Wildlife Activities

On behalf of the Kuzuko Wildlife Department we would like to invite you to participate in our wildlife activities. Here you can enjoy nature on ground level under the guidance of one of our qualified and knowledgeable rangers.

Game Drives

Game drives take place as the sun rises, during the afternoon and as the sun sets. Our experienced guides are sure to track and point out the many species of game that roam Kuzuko. With our nocturnal animals out and about, sunrise and sunset drives offer a very different view of the wild. Dependent on the time of your game drive, you can enjoy a complimentary cup of tea or coffee with home-made rusks, a snack and local beverage. Bottled water is complimentary with morning and afternoon drives.

Game Walks

Enjoy tales of the Karoo's delicate eco system as the 15 000 hectare reserve unfolds during a morning Big 5 walk. Medium fitness required.

Nature Walks

This walk is intended to provide guests with the freedom to explore the unique landscape and its natural fauna and flora with a ranger in an area where there are no Big 5 animals. Giraffes may be encountered. All ages welcome.

Khoisan Cultural Exploration

At Kuzuko we believe that preserving cultural heritage is just as important as preserving our natural surroundings. As such, we are proud to provide guided walks where visitors can examine Khoisan rock paintings that are approximately 400 years old. These ancient rock paintings are situated outside the main reserve on a 1500 acre Educational Reserve. This area is stocked with non-dangerous game and forms a large part of our community conservation education component.

Medium fitness required. All ages welcome.

Cheetah Encounters

At Kuzuko Lodge our cheetahs have learned to tolerate the presence of humans, which allows for the exclusive experience of getting up close and personal with one of Africa's big cats during a guided walking safari. While enjoying unique photo opportunities, guests are left in awe as they spend time within close proximity of these impressively aloof predators. An additional fee will be charged for this activity on behalf of the Kuzuko Foundation for Wildlife Rehabilitation. This Foundation assists us in our endeavours to preserve Africa's wildlife legacy.

Stargazing

Enjoy breathtaking views of the African night sky during our evening cosmic safaris.

Kuzuku Lodge offers some of the best stargazing in Africa. Our trained game rangers trade their binoculars for laser pointers as they guide you through the galaxies, stars, planets and other astral bodies through the lodge's eight inch telescope.

Kuzuko Interpretive Centre

The Kuzuko Interpretive Centre houses historical artefacts, animal artistry representative of the smaller animals found in the reserve and information about the history of the Kuzuko reserve. Situated outside the Big 5 area, this centre aims to educate guests and offer exciting insight into the history of our segment of the Karoo.

Buffalo Breeding Project

The Kuzuko Buffalo are special animals enclosed in their own section of the reserve so as to avoid predation on them form larger carnivores and for our team to be able to monitor them closely. These animals are free of diseases like foot-and-mouth, corridor, brucellosis and bovine TB, and therefore are highly valuable.

Spekboom Project

Our agri-initiative

Together with the South African National Parks, Kuzuko Lodge has been busy with a delicate eco-friendly agri-initiative to convert desert into natural terrain, via the cultivation and plantation of an indigenous succulent jade plant, also known as "Elephants Bush" (Portulacaria Afra). Thousands of hectares of indigenous vegetation decimated over the past century by the over grazing of goats and the encroachment of alien vegetation, reducing the land to desert and wiping out natural feeding areas for the indigenous game like elephant and black rhinos.

Time for an intervention

To counter act this, our reserve launched a massive eco-friendly intervention, where we cleared 250 hectares of alien vegetation and began planting the magical indigenous dwarf jade plant, also known as spekboom. After 150 years, have been able to introduce from 2005, elephant and black rhino to the Kuzuko reserve. Additional game like buffalo and antelope, followed by predators, were introduced in phases from 2007.

Restoring what was lost

When ecosystems are poorly managed, top soils erode, plant cover is reduced and the carbon residing in the soils and the plants is lost into the atmosphere. In the case of the Eastern Cape thicket, millions of hectares of dense, forested land have been degraded - and 'turned into desert' - by excessive goat farming over the last century and a half, resulting in the loss of hundreds of millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide. Now together with the South African National Parks, wildlife farmers, government, academics, goat farmers, and the Kuzuko reserve are collaborating to bring back the jade plant thicket and the carbon via the plantation of the succulent "elephant bush", which is funding the on-going restoration of the Eastern Cape.

Carbon Credits

When thicket is restored by planting cuttings of the succulent Elephant's Bush, the carbon comes rushing back from the air, into the soils and plants. This enables carbon credits to be generated and it is these carbon credits which can be used by large multinationals to offset their carbon emissions, and achieve 'carbon neutrality'. To do this, large corporates need proof that the carbon has indeed been captured and that the environment has not been damaged in the process.

Gold level status

This fusion of technology with indigenous botanicals is what Kuzuko Lodge Private Game Reserve Thicket Restoration Project has recently managed to accomplish. However, the Kuzuko project has gone one step further and earned CCBA Gold Level status for 'exceptional biodiversity benefits', which is granted only to projects that "simultaneously address climate change, support local communities and conserve biodiversity".

Local communities given jobs

More than 5000 hectares of existing brown desertified land, bordering the Addo Elephant National Park, will be transformed back to a productive, green landscape that is intact Eastern Cape subtropical thicket. To achieve this, over 100 people from local communities will be given jobs for three to five years, to plant two and half thousand cuttings of the spekboom per hectare. Once the cuttings start growing, new topsoil is generated as the trees shed their leaves and giant earthworms in these ecosystems return to eat the leaf litter, other indigenous plants move back into the ecosystem, and more indigenous animals return to the Kuzuko reserve.

The animals return

A dense thicket is the preferred habitat for wildlife such as elephant, black rhinoceros, kudu and buffalo, so when the Elephant's Bush covers the landscape, these herbivores thrive; and so, in turn, do predators such as lion and leopard. The brown desertified landscape is turned into a lush green landscape abundant with wildlife animals and returning birds.

Blue chip carbon credits

The funding and employment of over 100 local community workers working to clear lands and plant Elephant Bush, lies in the generation and awarding of blue chip carbon credits to multinationals wanting to offset their carbon emissions, by purchasing Kuzuko's 2.1 million blue chip carbon-biodiversity credits. It is the funds from these sales which will pay for the restoration of the Kuzuko reserve.

Presently carbon credits are largely associated with either renewable energy projects like wind farms, hydro-power dams, biogas from landfills, biofuels and solar power projects or where vast tracts of rainforest are conserved as opposed to deforested. The Kuzuko reserve project differs from all of these projects because instead of preventing further emissions of carbon into the atmosphere, it 'sucks carbon out of the atmosphere'; and instead of preventing damage to ecosystems it 'heals damaged ecosystems'.