The SanWild Rehabilitation Centre is the core of the Sanctuary, where injured and orphaned wildlife are rescued. Wherever possible, these animals are rehabilitated and released back into the wild.
Staff and volunteers work in the facilities assisting with food preparation and feeding of orphaned and injured animals, cleaning animal enclosures and when possible, assisting with veterinarian care and animal rescues.
In order to prevent human imprinting on the animals in our care, the Centre itself is not open to the public.
The Large Predator Sanctuaries on SanWild house predators such as lions and spotted hyenas that have been rescued from lion hunting farms, zoos and circuses from around the globe.
These proud animals no longer fear humans and lack important survival behaviours, so unfortunately they cannot be released back into the wild. We provide these animals with large enclosures where they are looked after while they live out the rest of their lives in a habitat that is much more natural to them.
The staff and volunteers at these facilities help with feeding the animals, cleaning the enclosures, and at times may also assist with veterinarian care.
SanWild’s Cheetah Project participates in a national breeding program for wild and free range cheetahs. Cheetahs wander freely within our Sanctuary, but are tracked and monitored with radio collars to gather information for research programs. SanWild was instrumental in introducing the first wild cheetahs back into Malawi from offspring born on our Sanctuary. Cheetahs are highly endangered, and we work together with other sanctuaries and reserves to ensure their survival for future generations.
Staff and volunteers help with the weekly tracking and monitoring of our cheetahs in the greater wildlife sanctuary, noting their preferred prey, hunting areas, hunting frequency, mating, births etc. This information is used to determine the carrying capacity of the Sanctuary and assist researchers with the placement of offspring in other reserves.
SanWild is home to a herd of elephants that were rescued from a disbanded game reserve in the Eastern Cape in 2006. According to the Environmental Impact Study and Elephant Management Plan for SanWild, our 3,000 hectare sanctuary has a carrying capacity for just 16 elephants. Our current elephant population has already hit 13, so we monitor the herd closely and try to proactively prevent pregnancies and limit and repair excessive damage to the environment. Our Elephant Management Plan needs to be updated every 5 years for the Department of Nature Conservation, so keeping close track of everything is essential here.
How do we manage to control elephant pregnancies? Our elephants are placed on birth control! Currently, a veterinarian team administers an injection to all sexually mature cows every couple of months. In parallel, researchers are also investigating new birth control options for the bulls rather than the cows.
When it comes to protecting the environment, we take steps to prevent elephants from debarking or knocking down mature and endangered trees. We protect certain tree species with electric fences, use wire mesh to protect the bark on some trees that elephants love, or try out completely new strategies. These include placing beehives on targeted trees or putting miniature granite pyramids on the ground around tree trunks to discourage the elephants from stepping too close.
We are also sourcing and replanting endangered tree species in the sanctuary to ensure that species that are losing ground are replenished.
Staff and volunteers are actively involved in our Elephant Management Project, assist with research, habitat protection and where possible, participate during veterinarian interventions.
Rhino poaching is a serious challenge for game reserves, farms and sanctuaries. Rhino horn is a precious commodity. Poachers are extremely well-funded and growing ever more sophisticated.
Our Rhino Conservation Project showcases our own massive counter-poaching initiatives. Our high risk/low reward strategy is to raise the chances of getting caught, while at the same time severely reducing the financial return for poachers.
To raise the risk for poachers, we upgraded our 45 km (28 mi) perimeter fence to a high-tech installation that is monitored 24/7 and patrolled daily. Whenever an alarm is triggered, our Game Rangers immediately go to investigate. If a breach has occurred, a tracker team is called in, armed with sniffer dogs, a helicopter and private security.
To lower the financial reward for poachers, we took the difficult decision to dehorn all of the rhinos in our sanctuary. We would obviously prefer to see our rhinos with intact horns, but the risk to their lives was simply too high.
The result: poaching attacks on SanWild have declined by more than 95% since mid-2020. Simply put, it’s no longer worth it for any poacher to target SanWild. The risk of getting caught is too high and there is no reward to be had in the form of precious rhino horns.
Rhino protection is by far our biggest monthly expense. There is no financial assistance from the government here, so these critical anti-poaching efforts are funded purely through tourism and our volunteer program.
Volunteers assist our Game Rangers in fence patrols, tracking our rhinos on foot to monitor their condition and can also participate when they are dehorned by our veterinarian.
For safety reasons, volunteers are not permitted to accompany Game Rangers or security personnel when they are pursuing poachers. However, they are allowed to assist in the operations room to monitor cameras and help dispatch rangers.
In most of South Africa, we no longer have extensive free range wilderness areas like those in Botswana, Tanzania or Kenya. With the exception of the greater Kruger National Park, wildlife populations are mostly found on fenced-in game reserves, wildlife sanctuaries and game farms. To keep these animal populations healthy and prevent in-breeding, it is important to constantly introduce and exchange gene pools between these fenced-in areas.
SanWild actively participates in gene exchange programs whereby animals are exchanged with other reserves and sanctuaries to refresh genetic diversity. This gives our staff and volunteers the opportunity to participate in the capture, translocation and release of these animals on SanWild and other properties in the area.
This program plays an extremely important role in the viability of wildlife populations in South Africa.
If we had a time machine and could travel back a hundred years, SanWild’s landscape would look very different. All you would see is savannah grass plains dotted with trees. All of that changed when farming came to the area.
Until just 30 years ago, much of SanWild was an overgrazed cattle ranch. Overgrazing brought an invasive thorn species called sickle bush (Dichrostachys Cinerea), ironically making many areas inaccessible to animals. In contrast, other areas suffer from soil erosion, and there are large patches where the soil no longer holds nutrients, and where there are no grass, shrubs or tree root systems to keep topsoil from washing away in the rain.
Our Habitat Rehabilitation Project tackles both of these challenges. We have a team of 15 employees with chain saws to clear the area of sickle bush. The remaining stumps are treated with a herbicide, while the discarded branches are packed onto areas where there is no grass cover at all. There, they act as seed traps. When it rains, new grass will grow between the branches, helping to reestablish the original grass plains.
In areas where we have soil erosion, a compost mixture is worked into the soil and buffers are built with rocks to prevent further erosion. Branches are then packed on top of the prepared soil. When it rains, different grass seed species are sown over the area, helping to re-establish the grass plains and protect the soil. In addition, we plant seedlings of endangered trees and other plant species to further rehabilitate these areas.
Our volunteers assist our staff in these projects, helping to leave a lasting legacy, and restoring a wilderness area back to its prime.
SanWild participates in counter-poaching patrols, not only on our own Sanctuary, but also on neighbouring reserves. For volunteers, these patrols are an opportunity to learn about animal and plant species in the bush.
When indications of human activity are found, this usually indicates meat or horn poaching activity. Here, participants learn how to trace the movements of the intruders and also how to find – and remove – the traps and animal snares placed by the poachers.
As a bonus, at a workshop in Hoedspruit at Down to the Wire, volunteers will get the opportunity to turn their removed snares into souvenir armbands and other forms of jewellery.
Our counter-poaching patrols are an essential part of conservation and play a vital role in keeping wildlife safe.