Michael Rattray, Luke Bailes & Varty Family

Conservation legends of Kruger

Michael Rattray, Luke Bailes & David Varty

Mala Mala, Singita, and Londolozi - many of you will have heard these famous names in reference to the renowned Sabi Sands Game Reserve bordering Kruger NP in South Africa. Below is a brief look into the founders of these establishments - leaders in pioneering, nurturing and developing the concept of private game reserves and high-end tourism in southern Africa.

(Michael Rattray &) MALA MALA

In 1964, Michael Rattray pioneered the concept of the photographic safari in South Africa and together with his wife Norma, they have built MalaMala into one of the most recognised game reserves in Africa. They saw the necessity of funding the sustainability of wildlife areas through non-consumptive tourism using ecotourism as the model. They devoted themselves to their beloved MalaMala and have established an internationally recognised brand that continues to set the benchmark for the photographic safari industry in South Africa today. Over the course of 50 years, the success of MalaMala, supported by the travel industry, has contributed enormously to the growth of South African tourism.

One of Michael Rattray’s most significant achievements was his negotiation with the South African National Parks which resulted in the removal in 1993 of the fence between the Kruger National Park and the private game reserves to the west.

Michael Rattray must also be congratulated for embracing the land restitution process and successfully concluding a long term co-management agreement with the N’wandlahmari community. We believe that this partnership with the community will be the blueprint for future land restitution transactions.

Michael Rattray stated "I am grateful to have been able to spend my life dedicated to the conservation of this incredible wilderness area entrusted to me. Simultaneously I am deeply honoured to have had the opportunity to work with a dedicated and passionate team of individuals, and we have, together as a team with our partners in the travel industry, taken MalaMala to the pinnacle of success." He went on to say "Over the decades there have been both successes and challenges but I believe that the time is right for me to retire. We have successfully led the way in the land restitution process in South Africa. Overall MalaMala has exceeded my expectations and as a result, the company is operationally very sound and positioned for continued success under the dynamic and respected new ownership."

“Satisfying a nation does not mean destroying the pristine nature of the various eco-systems, but rather ensuring that their renewable attributes continue renewing themselves for the benefit of posterity and of economic wellbeing." – Michael Rattray, July 1993

"I do not need to emphasise that the South African economy urgently requires revival and one of the quickest and easiest ways to this end is to boost international tourism to the country with ecotourism and our Game Reserves providing the initial key to success!" – Michael Rattray, July 1993

History of Mala Mala

The Sabi Sand Game Reserve was proclaimed in 1902. In area it was roughly twice the size of the present Kruger National Park. Some of the area was used as grazing by farmers; game laws were nebulous – farmers were allowed to shoot game in defense of their livestock (an arrangement far from ideal from a conservation point of view).

In 1922 the farm MalaMala was acquired by the Transvaal Consolidated Land and Exploration Company (TCL); later 800 cattle were shipped to Toulon by rail. In the next 6 years, managers from TCL were to shoot over 500 lions in defense of their cattle. This was before the untenable shortfalls of farming cattle in the arid, disease and lion-infested Transvaal Lowveld were finally acknowledged.

The National Parks Act was passed in 1926. The Sabi Game Reserve was effectively reduced by about half, resulting in the Kruger National Park in its current form (devoid of human occupancy, and governed purely by conservation principles). The land to the west was now open to private ownership. The land had proven useless for farming; however, its value as a wildlife haven was being recognised, and individuals bought properties to be used privately for game viewing, relaxation and hunting. In 1927 William Campbell (affectionately known as Wac) bought Eyrefield for 2150 Pounds, and in 1929, MalaMala for 3656 pounds. Loring Rattray, Michael’s father, bought the adjacent Exeter in 1937, and Wallingford in 1939.

The site of Wac’s first MalaMala camp was in the area where the Mlowathi stream flows into the Sand River. It was soon found that the rains made the river difficult to ford, and in 1930 the camp was moved to its present site, on the western banks of the river. It was used exclusively in winter as a base from which to hunt. But even then, guests were treated like royalty. And royalty (such as Princess Alice and her husband, the Earl of Athlone) were often guests.

Lady Cambell visited MalaMala for the first time in 1935. She embarked immediately on the task of transforming the camp, planting the bougainvillea that has become known as MalaMala’s signature bloom. Today still sees the shock of pink growing abundantly along the camps immaculately-swept pathways.

In 1960 Wac submitted his last game report. For more then 30 years he had carefully observed and recorded what had transpired in the field. In that last report, he noted that warthog were now fortunately on the increase, while sable antelope were on the decline. He mentioned in the end of his report that 130 guests had enjoyed MalaMala that season, more than half of these having been women and children (a new development). Wac signed the report as Colonel and was never to return to MalaMala.

Two years later, on the 17th September 1962, Wac died and MalaMala passed to his son Urban. The camera replaced the gun and Africa’s first photographic safari destination was born. Urban sold MalaMala in 1964 to a company named MalaMala Ranch (Pty) Ltd – the shares of which belonged to Michael Rattray. In 1970 MalaMala was described by TV Bulpin’s “Discovering South Africa” as “luxurious accommodation for up to 22 people. Tariff R30.00 per day” (which seemed a very high tariff when you consider that 5-star hotels were charging R12.00 bed and breakfast).

“I was all of five, but I shall never forget that five-day car journey in 1937, when I accompanied my parents from Zululand via Swaziland to the Lowveld, which adjoins Skukuza in the Kruger National Park. The petrol tank of my father’s Cadillac kept scraping against the ridged, dirt roads, which caused it to leak and to require constant plugging with ‘blue mottle’ soap! All very exasperating for him – more so when his two Doberman Pinchers killed all the laying hens in the supplies lorry, loaded with our provisions for the next two months. I’m not musical, but to pass the time I blew tunelessly into my ‘mouth organ’, severely adding to my father’s irritation. He eventually grabbed the instrument and threw it into the veld of Swaziland, prompting me to howl for hours.

Those were the days when hunters shot many animals without a conscience. Fortunately these same species now roam the MalaMala Game Reserve unhindered, and the flora and fauna are well-protected for posterity too. Today MalaMala boasts one of the greatest wildlife diversifications in Africa and thrilling game viewing that consistently draws nature lovers from across the globe – as well as some of the world’s most respected wildlife photographers and filmmakers”. - Michael Rattray

Courtesey: Mala Mala

(Luke Bailes) & SINGITA

It began in 1925 as a hunting concession in Sabi Sand, on the edge of what is now Kruger Park in north-eastern South Africa. Today Singita has grown into one of the world’s most recognizable brands in luxury safari tourism, with 12 lodges and camps spread over 500,000 acres in three countries.

“We have one mission,” Bailes says, “to protect land for future generations.” The key to success, he says, is trust and sustainability, attained by showing local communities that if they protect the wilderness and wildlife, tourism will flourish, leading to long-term jobs and a higher standard of living. It’s not just about employment; Singita also runs environmental education centres, a culinary school, teacher training, micro-finance seminars and anti-poaching units. In Tanzania, the anti-poaching force is 140 strong and consists almost entirely of ex-poachers —men who are now among the most strident defenders of Singita’s famously abundant wildlife. And there’s no letting up. “The UN projects that by 2050, Africa’s population could double to 2.4 billion people, and the resulting increase on the scramble for resources could take a fatal toll,” says American hedge funder Paul Tudor Jones, who found a kindred environmental steward (and partner) in Bailes, 57, when they met in 2006, after Jones acquired properties in Tanzania. (See “Update Grumeti,” page 158.) “Luke’s a third-generation conservationist, an advocate of ‘responsible tourism,’ a self-perpetuating strategy that strengthens communities and provides its own financial resources, thereby guaranteeing its sustainability,” Jones says. The definition of modern conservation.

Singita is the Shangaan word for ‘Place of Miracles’. In the spirit of miracles, Singita’s enduring purpose is to conserve, preserve, and protect the miraculous places of which we are custodians. Our concessions, reserves, and properties represent some of the most pristine wilderness areas on the continent and we are dedicated to maintaining these incredible pieces of earth for future generations.

Singita has a firm commitment to the conservation of each region, by continuing to build upon three core pillars: Biodiversity, Sustainability and Community.

“As a safari company, Singita differentiates itself in a philosophical way. Whereas the growth of many businesses worldwide is bottom line driven, Singita’s decisions take into account 20, 50 and even 100-year horizons,” says Singita’s CEO, Luke Bailes. “People feel privileged to stay in unpopulated, untouched wilderness areas and they choose to stay with us because our lodges have a reputation for being rare and authentic, while embodying a philosophy of sensitivity.” Adds Bailes, “there’s an authenticity of place at each of our lodges that is not only a rarity but touches guests on every level – spiritual, emotional and physical.”

Your visit is sure to have a far reaching positive impact as it contributes to numerous conservation initiatives and community empowerment programs. These programs help to ensure a better future – not only for the land and the wildlife, but also for the local communities. In every sense, Singita is committed to facilitating the development of neighbouring rural populations through partnering with them on specific initiatives including education, healthcare, nutrition, training and business development. Modern conservation requires a keen focus on keeping tourism, the community and wildlife in a constructive balance. The health and survival of each of these aspects is crucial to the survival of the whole.

Singita’s story began in 1925 when Luke Bailes’ grandfather purchased a piece of land in what would later become the Sabi Sand Reserve in South Africa. Situated in a remote corner of the Lowveld, the 45,000 acre traversing land has evolved from its early days as a hunting concession to become an exclusive conservation reserve where all species are protected. Singita’s first lodge, Singita Ebony Lodge, opened its doors in 1993 in this magnificent piece of family land and the brand has been growing ever since. Today, Singita’s unique philosophy lives on in each of the twelve lodges and camps across five diverse ecosystems. Singita Sabi Sand and Singita Kruger National Park in South Africa are home to the magnificent lodges, Ebony, Boulders, Castleton, Sweni and Lebombo, while a pristine patch of Zimbabwe, Singita Pamushana, houses a lodge by the same name. At Singita Grumeti in Tanzania, guests are spoiled for choice with Singita Faru Faru Lodge, Singita Sasakwa Lodge, Singita Sabora Tented Camp, Singita Explore and Singita Serengeti House, all located in the reserve, while the remote Lamai triangle offers Singita Mara River Tented Camp.

For what the future holds, Singita’s founder and CEO, Luke Bailes asserts, “We will only develop new properties if they are better than, or as good as, those we already have.” It’s a disciplined approach, ensuring that Singita’s reputation is continually elevated and continues to deliver the best possible guest experience, while still benefiting the land and communities in which we are privileged to operate.

(Dave Varty &) LONDOLOZI

Dave Varty, co-owner of Londolozi, a 15000-hectare slice of heaven in the Sabi Sand Wildtuin. A latter-day St Francis of Assisi, albeit with a bigger budget, he leads people into – rather then out of – the wilderness. Not that he wishes to increase his client base. His aim is to lessen the number of beds and increase the amount of land. He’s talking “environmental intelligence, sustainability, and not just preservation but regeneration”. Varty is the real deal. This is the man who championed transfrontier reserves and facilitated the dissolution of the borders between the Kruger and Mozambique’s Gonarezhou Parks. He was the first to fit a seat onto the front of game vehicles for the tracker – an innovation copied by every other game lodge in Africa. Like his mould-breaker brother John, co-owner of Londolozi and wildlife film maker famous for saving tigers , Dave’s passion for wildlife conservation is unequivocal. - Caroline Hurry at Travel Write 2016

What emerged was the Londolozi model for conservation development — linking land, wildlife and people together in a hospitality and interpretive wildlife viewing experience. - Dave Varty.

Londolozi’s history is entwined with the history of the Varty and Taylor families, the conservation dynasties that have dedicated their lives to saving a small part of Africa’s Eden. The foundations of the Londolozi dream were built nine decades ago when two friends stood on the banks of the Sand River for the first-time in June 1926.

These great-grandfathers of the Varty and Taylor clans established camps on the banks of the river where the water runs clear and the bushveld stretches out to the horizon. The first campfire, set amidst the roar of lions, signaled the beginning of a dream that would grow into one of the most sought-after safari destinations in the world.

For two generations, the family hosted presidents and princesses and sacrificed its wild beasts to the hunter’s gun. This era ended in 1969 when John, Dave and Shan Varty assumed the stewardship of the property. Sharing the dream of a different kind of relationship with the land, they created a blueprint for a new vision of conservation and restoration in Southern Africa.

The property was renamed Londolozi in recognition of the Vartys’ ethic of sanctuary; the name is derived from Zulu and means ‘Protector Of All Living Things’. Through the 1970s and ’80s, Londolozi’s guiding principle was to demonstrate that wildlife tourism was economically viable in a land torn apart by racism, division and fences.

The 1990s brought new hope to South Africa and with it an emergent belief in the possibility of unity. Londolozi was able to extend her message of partnership between humans and wildlife across the African continent and to expand the vision of promoting conservation through safari.

Today, we continue to seek out fresh challenges and opportunities, such as the ambitious 2020 Project. The people of Londolozi are as tireless and dedicated as ever in the quest to contribute to a new order of living that is in harmony with the natural world. Our intention in this fresh chapter is to be of service and to create a unique space in the world; it is our wish that visitors, guests and friends of Londolozi are deeply moved by their experience and grow inspired to inhabit the best, truest – and even wildest –versions of themselves.

During my long walk to freedom, I had the rare privilege to visit Londolozi. There I saw people of all races living in harmony amidst the beauty that mother nature offers. There I saw a living lion in the wild. Londolozi represents a model of the dream I cherish for the future of nature preservation in our country - Nelson Mandela.

Courtesey: 90 Years of Londolozi


The Wildlife Protector - Grumeti Reserve (video)

Inge Kotze, Singita GM: Conservation - March 2020 (video)

Singita Conservation Brochure 2018 (PDF)



A New Narrative – The Rise of Consciousness by Dave Varty - December 2018

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