In the 1800s, South Africa saw an influx of European settlers and, as they traversed these wild southern regions, they began to clear its vast landscapes of all wildlife. Indigenous people too, repurposed the land and there was no rehabilitation of the environment. One region, known as the Eastern Cape, was denuded of most of its wild animals, from elephants and lions to buffalo and rhino. The ecosystem and spirit of this once wild land was completely devastated.
Where the inspiration for a conservation dream was sparked
Two centuries later in the 1990s, Adrian Gardiner had a vision to restore the land back to its former glory… It was pioneering and visionary and a big ask to restore the natural vegetation and reintroduce the wildlife species that once called the area home.
They say when you take on a massive challenge or project, you need to break it into bite-sized pieces. Which is what Adrian did, beginning with the purchase of a small, insignificant piece of the patchwork quilt of drought-stricken land.
Slowly he bought up more disused farms and restored indigenous vegetation of Albany thicket and grassland, then gradually reintroduced the wild game species that once roamed the land of the Eastern Cape. From oxpecker to antelope, dung beetles to giraffe and naturally the Big 5 -the land was restored into the wilderness it once was and a thriving ecosystem was restored.
And so Shamwari Private Game Reserve was born. One of the most successful private conservation initiatives in Southern Africa.
‘Shamwari’ in Shona means ‘my friend’ and certainly Adrian has been ‘friend’ and mentor to this previously neglected piece of the wilderness. He was also the first person to put the Eastern Cape on the game safari map and today the area is a booming tourist destination and home to countless other private game lodges and reserves.
This first private game reserve in the Eastern Cape has since become a blueprint internationally for successful sustainable conservation tourism and its development was instrumental in forming the next phase in Adrian’s life. As a true entrepreneur, he sets his sights high and wide and founded a new reserve – the size of Singapore – called Sanbona Wildlife Reserve in the Western Cape.
Borne of Africa, the start of a new legacy
And so, in 2000, Mantis was born – expanding into a collection of 18 hotels, eco-lodges and waterways across the globe. Friend, advisor and confidante, Ian Player, christened the collection Mantis – an acronym for Man And Nature Together is Sustainable. This mantra was close to the hearts of both these legendary conservationists and is the pillar on which the company is built.
Later, Adrian sold his share in Shamwari Game Reserve but kept his private home and traversing rights and looked to the future. This private family home has since been aptly named Mantis Founders Lodge and converted into a destination where visitors can enjoy his legacy.
Mantis Founders Lodge ticks all the boxes in terms of celebrating our heritage, with authenticity and a passion for the environment. The moment you arrive you are enveloped into this cocoon of discreet luxury.
A safari destination for the soul
Only an hour’s drive from Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, this is a game reserve offering 5-star hospitality, tailored and convivial service, authentic South African cuisine and magnificent game viewing. The 7-suite Lodge offers a pampered safari with an intimate, romantic experience for couples or an engaging, interactive social environment for families and friends. The newly renovated Founders Railway Carriage, which is available for exclusive use for families, overlooks Munu’s sanctuary – home to this blind – and fiercely protected Black Rhino.
Set atop a hill with panoramic views of the natural surrounds, the Lodge features a boma, gym, steam room and two swimming pools. It is the platform from which you will reconnect with nature and your African roots and experience the Mantis mantra first hand.
It is more than just a safari destination. It is an embodiment of the legacy of which Adrian dreamt. It is about preserving and nurturing, as well as conservation of our wildlife and nature for future generations.
Founders Lodge is set on the highest point overlooking the immense wildlife reserve with its unique biomes and abundance of wildlife, fauna and flora. It’s rather like a beautifully appointed eagle’s eyrie, from where you view the valley and waterhole below.
Adrian, born in Zambia, schooled in Zimbabwe and educated in Cape Town has the African soil in his DNA. Particularly the conservation of wildlife. Considering his work in this field, in 2000 he was invited to join the highly respected African Wildlife Foundation whose mission is to conserve and protect critically important wildlife and landscapes in Africa.
In particular, he is keen to highlight the rhino poaching crisis which is currently at catastrophic proportions in Africa. One black rhino is kept at Founders Lodge – Munu who is blind- is cossetted by the Lodge and cared for 24/7 by the rangers. Conservation of animals and the environment is pivotal at all Mantis Collection properties. Founders Lodge is no different and is the safe house for white rhinos
Creating a lasting legacy
Adrian feels that as global populations grow, Africa is set to be the food and mineral basket of the world. But, with such extensive natural resources, exploitation is happening so we need to protect Africa from the global influx. Tourism plays a big part in this. However, we need to think of the bigger picture. In a world where mass exploitation of natural resources is rife, Africa has the opportunity to position itself at the “Conservation Continent” and make the protection of its wild places a priority.
Education is key to preserving the future of our country and our Continent – be it education in the hospitality industry or about our wildlife, the environment and the abundance of natural resources. I am passionate about being an agent for change and hope my legacy to reflect my conservation efforts. Having said that, conservation needs to work hand-in-glove with local communities.’
Adrian does not pay lip service to conservation and collaborating with the community. He has put both his money and considerable resources into working with and supporting communities that surround the Mantis properties.
In April 2018, Mantis joined the Accor Group, a strategic partnership which reinforced the Group as a leader in curated one-of-a-kind experiences and resonated with the Accor’s conservation platform. Together, Mantis and Accor created the Community Conservation Fund Africa (CCFA) – the Mantis foundation – in response to the urgent need for the tourism industry to play a greater role in conservation and community upliftment. CCFA is a registered NPC which helps raise funds to support a variety of community and conservation projects across Africa.
‘We will do anything in our power to advance the cause of sustainability and to promote further appreciation of the land, its creatures and our communities. We believe that the truly rare needs to be looked after and protected for future generations.’
Founders Lodge is a celebration of essential beginnings in sustainable tourism, innovation culture, conservation and community inclusion. It is a monument to conservation history and offers soul-reviving safaris in the place where Adrian pioneered private game reserves and eco-tourism in the Eastern Cape.
It is indeed an exceptional place to find yourself, and this is where it all began.