From The Times
October 3, 2008
This ambitious lodge project in southern Africa is on a global hunt for eco-conscious investors
If you want to preserve the African bush, save endangered species and help to develop tribal communities, then build some new houses. That is the thinking behind an ambitious project by Alan Marneweck, a South African engineer turned property developer who is transforming a plot the size of Malta in Botswana into a private game reserve with luxury safari lodges. It's a huge undertaking that demands vast sums of money from investors. But can Marneweck pull it off at Limpopo-Lipadi?
The vision for the reserve fits in with a drive by the Government of Botswana to promote high-end, low-impact tourism in a country whose gentle charm is captured in the bestselling novels of Alexander McCall Smith, and particularly in the character of Precious Ramotswe, head of The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.
Since the start of the project, in September last year, six former cattle farms have been stripped of their barbed-wire fences and returned to nature. Elephants, white rhinos, giraffes, lions, hyenas, kudus, impalas and hippos are just some of the species that roam the 32,450-hectare (80,000-acre) reserve in the Tuli Block in eastern Botswana. The animals are kept in - and the poachers out - by a 29-strand electric game fence stretching 144km around the park.
Yet the aim is to double the size of the reserve. Marneweck, who has already spent US$7.8million (£4.3million) acquiring the land, is selling shares in the company for $195,000 (£109,000) each. So far, 141 shares have been sold and there are 320 more up for grabs.
Buy one share and you can bring five guests and visit as often as you like for up to two weeks at a time. Three shares entitle the investor to stay for up to 90 days and bring 11 guests. Shareholders stay at one of the two luxury lodges by the river or four bush camps spread throughout the reserve. However, those with five shares can build their own private lodges.
Building work in progress
Building works should be completed by the end of next year. Local villagers are being trained as builders; many are also being recruited to provide services and goods to the reserve.
Interested buyers are vetted by like-minded shareholders. So who is buying? Charly Gräf, a German who works in sports marketing, was among the first to buy five shares and has his own private lodge. He says: “The number of people with substantial wealth around the world is growing and they will be looking to do something different with their money.”
Anita Jordaan, a South African shareholder who works for an IT company, says: “If you go on a safari holiday, quite often you have to stick to a rigid timetable. I wanted to be able to do what I liked with my time - to sit on some rocks and watch elephants for a whole day or be up all night tracking a lion if I felt like it.”
The absence of packs of tourists is another benefit. The high price of the shares reflects the very low numbers of people on the reserve. No matter how big it gets, Marneweck states that the maximum building footprint will never exceed 0.01 per cent of the land, including all the roads.
Botswana's position in the same time zone as Europe means that it is possible to zip down for a long weekend if you take an overnight flight. Most visitors fly to Johannesburg then transfer to Gaborone; the total journey takes about 15 hours. However, there are plans to build a runway at Limpopo-Lipadi, which would cut the journey time from Johannesburg to an hour and a half.
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