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Modisa Game Farm Sirga showcase Kgalagadi

27 Apr 2021

An intriguing sight of lush, immaculate emerald thick blanket of grass covers the earth spreading on the sides of the sandy road stretch and beyond as we drive through the deep bush to Modisa Game Farm, some 110 km west of Tsabong.

Along the Bartrek farm game proof fence, light weight springboks and guinea fowls occasionally cross the road while various bird species grace the clear blue skies. A scenic view of a fox as it runs at brisk pace in front of the 4X4 Toyota Land Cruiser welcomes us to the bush, perhaps fearing to go into the thick grass and preferring to use the sandy stretch instead. After a short while, it cannot keep up with the vehicle, so it gives in and spins off the road.

The safari expedition gets more exciting as we are confronted with an awe inspiring sight of a cheetah taking a mid-morning stroll on the sandy road. The driver reduces speed to allow us to admire the startling beauty. After wowing us with her sight, she also sprints off and disappears into the dense bush, as we continue with our journey to track a game farmer who has a special friendship with a lioness.

Thrill and wonder engulf me as I pounder how a man can befriend a deadly predator such as a lioness. I have read thrilling fairy tales of children being raised by baboons and monkeys in the forest and becoming assimilated to the wildlife, and about dangerous animals being friends with man, but have never seen it in real life.

As we approach the camp, adrenaline rushes through my spine as I psyche myself up to meet 33-year-old Modisa Game Farm owner, Mr Valentino Gruener, whose interaction with wildlife is mind baffling.

Upon arrival at his camp, made up of a caravan, outdoor tents, and two old cargo containers, we are met by cheerful faces of the barefooted Mr Gruener and his partner Ms Sarah Wriedt, flanked by three domesticated ostriches and porcupines, walking comfortably about as we exchange pleasantries.

The German native narrates that he came to Botswana at the age of 21 when he was still wet behind the ears in business and the De Graaf family of Ghanzi introduced him to the African bush. Mr Gruener said he immediately fell in love with the wildlife as he had always been fascinated by animals from a tender age.

“I grew up seeing war stories in the media in some African countries, but Botswana is different because there is peace and tranquility. It is actually a nice country, but undersold in Europe,” he said.

He said he knew the Okavango Delta because he used to see it on National Geographic channel and read on the Internet that it had a lot of open spaces and was stable, hence he decided to move here.  He said it was the wildlife that fascinated him, so he registered his company a week after moving to Botswana.

Mr Gruener said he moved to Tsabong in 2017 after sub leasing a 7 500 hectare farm near where he keeps wildlife and a lioness, which he has raised since it was a 10-day old cub weighing 2kg. He revealed that the lioness was born at Grassland Safaris in Ghanzi and was rescued after its mother abandoned it.

He said he took over the responsibility of looking after it and at nine years now, she weighed about 200kg and had become a dear friend as they were play mates who met in a fenced predator proof fence.

“We sometimes go for long walks and she can hunt, she knows me but she can be very grumpy to other human beings,” he revealed.

Mr Gruener noted that the idea was to start a project to conserve predators as game was gradually disappearing because poachers tracked them down and killed them while some were victims of human wildlife conflict.

He said he recently lost a cheetah after poachers tracked it down, cut the farm fence and stole it, adding that they stole cubs and smuggled them into South Africa.  He buttresses the importance of educating communities on the value of wildlife.

Mr Gruener said poaching was a challenge and he intended to tackle it through community education, adding that global warming was also a challenge as drought seasons were longer and the parks did not have as much wildlife as they used to.

“The big migration that used to happen is no longer as big, so there is less food for the lions than there used to be before,” he said.

The youthful game farmer noted that Botswana was outstanding when it came to wildlife conservation, but that poachers somehow continued to kill predators for trophy, saying he was determined to conserve wildlife, especially lions. He said this before he entered the 2 000 hectare predator proof fence where he hugged and nestled with ‘Sirga,’ the lioness in a heart warming encounter.

Everybody is ordered to be quite and not make any provocative moves as the lioness could sense that and violently charge. Once inside the fence, Sirga treats him affectionately, wrapping his front legs around his shoulders and nuzzling his face. Mr Gruener noted that communicating with Sirga required absolute concentration and he was always lost in the moment. “She can be extremely affectionate. I have created an atmosphere of complete trust, she knows that I cannot harm her,” he said.

He divulged that his interactions with the gentle giant were often wondrous, terrifying and very real. However, he plays with caution because he knows that a wild animal could have a bad mood. His radio is also always on to communicate in case anything happens during their walks.

“When we go for bush walks she wears a digital collar so that we can keep track of her. Sometimes lions come from the KD15 Park in Khawa to visit her, but they only meet through the fence,” Mr Gruener said.

He said he believed that Sirga could be a great ambassador for lions, adding that she aired on a television series on Netflix last year and people showed interest in her, adding ‘her story is also on Instagram.’

Mr Gruener acknowledged that setting up a game farm was costly, and that it was hard for one citizen to go it alone, hence most Batswana ended up selling to foreigners because they probably did not have the requisite finances or did not know what to do with the land.

He said for citizens to be more involved in game farming there was need to bring communities together like the KD15 Park in Khawa, adding that the area had massive potential for photographic tourism.  He said there was also a need to train communities to give tourists a cultural experience, adding that the potential was enormous.

What could be baffling is that the young farmer runs an expensive venture, owns a chopper, but has been living in a caravan for the past five years.

In response, he said ‘priorities are key in this business.’

After a thrilling encounter of a lioness playing with a man, our expedition was sealed by a scintillating helicopter game viewing ride.  ENDS

Source : BOPA

Author : Calviniah Kgautlhe

Location : Tsabong

Event : Feature

Date : 27 Apr 2021