MalaMala protecting wildlife and building a better future
As part of our BE Better programme of initiatives we want to highlight some of the amazing conservation and community projects that some of our partners are doing around the world. One of the most unforgettable experiences on our Best of South Africa tour is the chance to stay in the country’s most established and revered game reserves – MalaMala on our Best of South Africa tour.
Expect luxurious accommodation and memorable wildlife sightings including the Big Five, as well as the warmest of welcomes. But while customers are sipping sundowners and watching the sun set over the epic river views, little do they know that their very presence is helping to stop game poachers and help local communities to become educated and trained in tourism and hospitality so they can build a better future for themselves and their families.
We chat to MalaMala’s Alison Morphet as she tells us more about the importance of conservation and what her hopes and plans are for the future in terms of supporting the game reserve’s surrounding communities.
Tell us a bit about MalaMala and what guests can expect when they come to stay with you
We like to think that MalaMala is the premier private game reserve in South Africa and by private game reserve, we mean that it's a large area of land, but has reasonable small camps. So, customers don't feel like they’re in a huge resort and with only a maximum of six people per open vehicle, and their own qualified ranger, you get a quality game experience.
Our rangers are so knowledgeable and fascinating. They can tell customers about which species are nomadic, which are not, where the animals come from. Because even though we have luxurious camps, we want the priority to be the game experience. I would say that 95% of customers will get to the see the Big Five.
Why is conservation so important to MalaMala?
We were the very first private game reserve in South Africa to make the transition from hunting to photographic safaris. As I mentioned before we are the oldest private game reserve in South Africa. And it's a heritage we want to keep and one we are very proud of.
It’s always about the wildlife for us. We share a common 19km boundary with Kruger National Park, which is unfenced. This means there is free movement of wildlife. I’d like to think we’re part of the greater Kruger Park and extension of the wildlife reserve. And we’ve been very careful to make sure that there is an understanding that the wildlife must come first, that the conservation and ecological areas comes first. After all, without these areas, there would be no tourism. So, we've got to make sure that we look after that, that the camps must complement the wildlife.
MalaMala spends millions annually in the fight against rhino poaching and we are continually bolstering our anti-poaching capacity. We have significantly increased our team of anti-poaching field rangers and have added multiple high-tech cameras with SMS functionality for real-time poacher identification. We also have numerous research projects, designed to monitor the impact of our environmental management practices on the habitat.
In fact, we have a very small footprint and we’d like to keep it that way. We only accommodate a maximum of 67 guests per three camps, and all of them are situated on the western side of river, while the majority of our land is actually on the eastern bank. We have no human habitation at all there, no access roads, no buildings or pylons – we like to call it our pristine area.
What are your environmental goals at MalaMala?
Our camps are quite old, so our goal is to build new camps where we can utilise solar power. Another one of our aims is to also eliminate single use plastics and use recyclable glass as much as possible. A big push for us currently is to send zero to landfill – and we’re working hard to not to have any waste at all in the camp. All the waste that goes out of the reserve such as leftover food gets given to local community pig farmers to use.
Do you work a lot with local communities?
Interestingly, MalaMala is owned by the local community. We were part of a land claim in 2003 where the government bought the land and transferred the share of it to the internal market community. So, the management of the game reserve itself is operating on land owned by the community. Every tourism dollar made here benefits the local community. We pay them rent to utilise the land, their dividends, their shareholders within the business, and we also pay a community levy and a percentage of this goes towards community projects.
Our main focus here at MalaMala is on education and training in the field of eco-tourism. If people are educated, then they can find work and give back to their communities. We think that education and training is far more sustainable then say, food parcels. Employment really is key and we provide training so that local people can work within the surrounding area.
Tell us about your projects?
The Mintirho Community Development Trustwas established to support the education and training of the local community. The Trust was started in 2016 and is funded by the Community Tourism Levy paid by each guest staying at MalaMala – and has been instrumental in providing education opportunities and improving learning facilities in the community.
The Trust has a comprehensive bursary programme to provide funding for community-based students to attend a wide range of academic and training institutions. These include hospitality and tourism academies, technical colleges, cooking schools and conservation academies, to name a few. The qualifications gained at these institutions are essential for community-based students looking to forge a career in eco-tourism.
We have been educating about 20 students a year and they've been coming and working as interns on the property to gain experience. But just to give you an idea of some of our staff that we've mentored through the process, our current general manager started off as a housekeeper, for example. We have staff that started off as junior receptionists that are now bookkeepers and running our finance department.
There is a constant upskilling of staff all the time here at MalaMala. We bring staff in on the lower echelons, train them and then move them up. And then we offer internships to staff that have completed various courses. Eventually we are looking to develop a course at a local training school so that members will be able learn about hotel management and so on, and we can then provide them with lots of opportunities here at Mala Mala.
And the great thing is that our customers also get to meet our team – from the rangers to camp staff, they get to interact with our members quite a lot over their stay. And our team are more than happy to talk about their homes and local communities and the opportunities that have been given to them. They are extremely proud of their achievements.
Do you have any more plans to develop training and education?
We want to make learning at local schools a little easier. We have a feeding programme here in South Africa where every child gets a meal. These are often cooked on open fires outside, which isn’t ideal. So, one of the things we did was build one of the local schools [Madiba High School] a brand new kitchen. We've also recently completed a computer centre for a local village, which has been filled with donated computers and available for the community to use. We've also recently dug a borehole at Babati Primary School, so they have access to fresh water. This has increased the water supply to over 500 pupils and will enable the school to effectively practice better hygiene.
By doing this work, we are giving pupils a safer environment to learn in and the chance of an education so that they can choose their own paths and decide what they want to do in the future.
Every year we sit down and finalise our budgets and programmes about how we can help. Of course, it’s much more difficult at the moment to plan this with the pandemic, but above and beyond, it is important to us to make sure members of our community can complete their education and receive the funds that have been promised to them.
Find out more about our BE Better initiatives here. If you would like to see for yourselves the amazing work of MalaMala, as well as the stunning landscapes and wildlife of South Africa, speak to one of our expert advisors today.
Ting has a serious case of wanderlust. Having travelled to over 40 countries, it’s her mission in life to make her way through her ever-growing list. Her two young sons have also caught the travel bug, and recent trips have seen them making snow angels in Iceland while watching the Northern Lights, as well as walking alongside elephants in South Africa.
Ting | About the author
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