Located remotely in the Free State on the banks of a lesser-known Vanderkloof Dam but on the Orange River, lies an example of a revolutionary endangered species conservation project.
Tiger Canyon is a partnership between humans, an ecosystem and endangered species set on the banks of the dam. The tigers at Tiger Canyon have found a home far from their normal Asian habitat where they are one of the top 10 most endangered animal species in the world, and of all the Big Cats.
Tiger Canyon is no longer an experiment to see if tigers can adapt to African conditions, because the now third and fourth generation wild-born, wild-raised tigers have over the past 20 years become self-sustaining. With all SA’s Big Cat knowledge and skills, why should we not help save the tiger on agriculturally unproductive land that once teamed with wildlife such as the Serengeti in Tanzania?
Just as Dr Ian Player assured the survival of the nearly extinct white rhino by distributing surplus animals all over Africa and zoos around the world, Tiger Canyon is looking to reduce the risk of extinction of the Asian Tiger by creating a sustainable population in SA.
A stay at the Tigress Julie Lodge, named after one of the founding Canadian Zoo-born tigers, will immerse you in the peace and quiet of the vast Free State. It’s an emotional experience inspired by a community with a common purpose of big cat survival because their livelihood is dependent on eco-tourism and energised by the sight of the most powerful cat on Earth. As a guest, you’ll witness an evolutionary leap taken by the tiger from its threatened ancestral Asian home to Africa, where it has found safety under caring human beings.
In 2013, Tiger Canyon reintroduced the first wild cheetah into the Free State after an absence of more than 100 years, thus preserving native and non-native endangered species alongside each other. Wild tigers have dropped in numbers to only 3,500 from more than 100,000 in Asia a century ago; a severe situation that requires a radical resolution.
The lodge is small and exclusive. It’s tucked away from sight and perched on the edge of a dramatic rock canyon where tigers roam freely, providing a view that is noticeably different. The whole lodge is off-grid (solar powered), with solar water geysers maximising the benefit of the abundant sunlight prevalent in the region. The menu is inspired by the food and herbs grown in the area. Each room has a private deck overlooking the canyon and guests are treated to two guided game drives a day to experience the vast open beauty of the land and the magnificence of big cats.
Located on the periphery of the semi-arid Karoo, the reserve is a captivating home to ancient cultures and a wide range of naturally occurring wildlife. Birds such as the beautiful Blue Crane, and game such as zebra, eland, kudu, wildebeest, ostrich, springbok, red hartebeest, blesbok, warthog, not forgetting the nocturnal species such as porcupine, serval, aardvark, aardwolf, Cape fox, caracal and African wildcat, all roaming over the huge grassland plains. This is a safari that gets photographers and wildlife lovers to many varied and compelling sightings of big cats, rare species and scenic landscapes.
The field guides together with the land, the lodge, the cats, the clear night skies, the golden colours of the sunlight hours of the day and the huge Vanderkloof Dam all add up to a spiritual, almost surreal experience.
A powerful encounter with nature that leaves all who visit forever changed.
Watch the video below:
* This article was paid for by Tiger Canyon Private Game Reserve.