In 1990, Adrian Gardiner, a successful businessman from Port Elizabeth bought a small farm as a week-end getaway for his family, this consisted of 1200 ha of African bush, a dream he had always had, growing up in Zimbabwe.
Drought and financial difficulties led a number of neighbouring farmers to place their land on the open market and Adrian managed to buy up these parcels of land at very reasonable prices. His African dream soon extended to 7000 ha.
Being an avid reader, Adrian spent time researching CJ Skead’s historical accounts of the Eastern Cape, as well as journals and historical diaries of the 1820 Settlers. In doing so he discovered that the Eastern Cape was once considered the richest wildlife areas in Africa. Over years all of the indigenous fauna and flora had been eradicated by agriculture, farming, hunting and drought.
Early hunters and pioneers, Cornwallis Harris and Sparrman documented the existence of the “legendary BIG FIVE” in the area. Substantive evidence dating back to the 18th century, was found to indicate that the Eastern Cape supported vast herds of Cape Buffalo, Zebra, Black Wildebeest, Rhino and that prides of Cape Lion roamed freely in the hills. In 1853 the last Black Rhino in the Eastern Cape was killed. In 1856, the last free-roaming lion was shot on the parcel of land now called Shamwari. In 1857 the sub-species of Cape Lion, was hunted to extinction and in 1919 the last Cape Buffalo was hunted and killed.
In 1919 a legendary hunter was invited by the Administrator of the Cape to hunt down and exterminate a small herd of Elephant, which was considered a danger and a menace by the local farmers in the area of Addo, near Shamwari. By 1931, when Addo Elephant Park was established as an Elephant sanctuary only 11 Elephants were left of the once vast herds.
What began as a small family retreat, has now possessed Adrian and captured his passion – to return the land and the area to it’s once proud and pristine condition, teaming with indigenous plant, insect and bird life and supporting herds of free-roaming animals of all species once prevalent in the area. He wished again to hear the majestic roar of lions as they hunted and ranged where they once did 150 years ago.
His vision soon extended to include the preservation of history and indigenous tradition and culture. The viability of sustaining and growing this dream took on, of necessity, a commercial aspect. Thus in 1992 Shamwari Game Reserve was born, with a small passionate staff of 7 and immense commitment and determination to make Conservation profitable. Extensive scientific research was undertaken and the convergence of 5 ecological bio-systems, malaria-free climate and summer and winter rainfalls ensured that an unequalled diversity of wildlife could be supported. A systematic and scientific re-habilitation program was launched, hand-in-hand with carefully considered game re-stocking procedures.
Adrian developed a close and enduring relationship with renowned conservationists, Dr Ian Player and John Aspinall. The concept of conservation and tourism working in synergy was possible.
On 15th October 1992, Shamwari was officially opened, receiving it’s first guests into Long Lee Manor, circa 1916, the original Manor House, once owned by the Fowld’s family. Highfield and Carn Ingly, two 1820 Settler cottages were also, at this time lovingly restored and opened to guests.
An Animal Rescue and Educational program was launched, in partnership with the Born Free Foundation to home rescued big cats from captivity. The Julie Ward Centre was opened on 30 September 1999 with five bush enclosures.
Over time Shamwari grew and established itself and by the year 2000, the Reserve was large enough and stocked sufficiently to support large predators. A dedicated and systematic re-introduction program was launched and finally in October 2000, the first lions were brought back to the Eastern Cape and released at Shamwari to fulfil a dream.
Today over 5000 head of game range freely, having been bred and/or re-introduced into Shamwari, now a Game Reserve stretching over 25 000 ha, consisting of 6 separate lodges, employing over 325 local staff and most importantly has been returned it’s rightful ownership – Pristine Eastern Cape Fauna and Flora. Rather than expand at the existing Julie Ward Animal Rescue Centre, a new education centre and sanctuary has been established in the Northern part of Shamwari, near the town of Alicedale.
Opened on 5th November 2006 and named after the main sponsor, the Jean Byrd Born Free Animal Rescue and Education Centre operates in the same way as the other centre and provides increased educational facilities for schools as well as provide further enclosures for more rescued big cats.