PC Ferreira – Karoo farmer who reintroduced Northern Cape hippos sets his sights on saving rhinos and ‘fallen stars’

PC Ferreira, a Karoo farmer and owner of the Karoo Gariep Conservancy between Colesberg and Hanover, embodies the Afrikaans expression, ‘‘n Boer maak ‘n plan.’  In his case, the Boer or sustainable farmer who re-introduced hippos in the Northern Cape is making several plans – and his next big project is to establish rhinos on his farm and to invite tourists to spend a day with a rhino. Ferreira is also the driver of the Karoo Seekoei River Nature Reserve initiative, a conservation plan including 450,000 hectares of land belonging to 57 owners along the river in a reserve.  For Ferreira it is not only about nature conservation and tourism, however. He has also established three non-profit organisations in a project melding 16  towns around Hanover into a tourism route. He is working on a safe house for troubled ‘fallen stars’, a skills training facility, a heritage hub for the San people…. and a plan to use beehives to help street kids. Ferreira told BizNews that he believed that the Karoo is one of the last safe havens for rhinos and that you could give him a list of reasons why things shouldn’t work, but “there is always the possibility that it can work”. – Linda van Tilburg

The project to bring hippos back to the Northern Cape 

The first big thing for me was to bring the hippos back to the Northern Cape. In 1778, we shot the last hippos in the Northern Cape – about 200 years ago – this was Governor Van Plettenberg from the Netherlands. He was the guy that shot as many as 26 hippos per day in the mid 1700s and the one thing leads to the next thing. So, I got to know SANPARKS, I got to know the formal government structures of conservation, got some good contacts and good relationships going. We managed to bring the hippos back. That opened up the knowledge of what happened on this river way back in those early days when they first moved from the VOC to claim some land in the Karoo. This was 1730 when the first six guys claimed some land and all the harsh things that happened like in the rest of the country. I read about one morning when 162 San were shot and killed. These are the things that change your views and your visions of life and the way you see life and it had a huge impact on me as a believer, a Christian. Later on, I proclaimed my land as the Karoo Gariep Nature reserve. A couple of years later we proclaimed the Hanover Aardvark Nature Reserve, which is on another property, and we’ve developed all the houses on the farm as guesthouses and lodges to the point where it’s now done. It was a thirty-year project and the hippos are back there. One of the other things I really wanted to do was to bring Buffalo back. We’ve got a nice strong herd of about 27 now. 

Spend a day-in-the-life of a Karoo rhino, with 10% of the money for local communities 

The next big plan is rhinos for which we had our fence inspection only two days ago. So, the fences are up, I’m quite sure I’ll get my permits to bring them back. Maybe for the first time ever, I’ll be offering the public the opportunity to come and look after the rhinos, to be my eyes on the ground. So, you will be able to buy from me – I don’t want to call it the anti-poaching experience – I’d rather call it a day in the life of a Karoo rhino. I want to reinvent that old wheel. At this stage, the whole poaching industry is playing on our emotions. We can’t do anything with rhinos. We can’t shoot or eat or cull them. So, there’s no use, there is no income. I believe we need to add, we need to put a value on a live rhino, which I like to think I can develop into a tourism product. I can sell to my agents a product which will allow them to get clients to come and spend the day with the rhino. And they will pay me R2,500 for that experience, 10% of which I will give to my local community, my farm workers, who are normally targeted by the poachers just to get information on the whereabouts of these animals. So, once I do this for the first time ever, I think, there will be a value on a live rhino. The money will flow in from the formal tourism industry. We won’t go out and beg for money, and some of the money will end up with our poor black communities and they will, for the first time, make money out of a live rhino. There are all these nice projects going on that I am very excited about. 

Rhinos are better protected in the Karoo – there’s no place to hide

I think the Karoo is one of the last safe havens. In Gauteng, up along the Kruger National Park, you walk five metres and you’re behind a bush or rock. In the Karoo you have to walk eight kilometres before you find a bush or a rock. There’s no place to hide. If I see a helicopter, it must be on my property. If you see a helicopter in Gauteng, it can be over 20 properties. So, we have large properties in the Northern Cape. I don’t want to say it’s a foolproof thing. For sure not. I might have the ability to have people with my animals 24 hours a day, all day and I might have the ability to make those guys pay for being with the rhinos. It’s a nice experience. It’s a nice purpose.

Proposal for a 450,000-hectare Karoo Seekoei River Nature Reserve is gaining traction, could get protection from fracking 

The Seekoei River Nature Reserve is the river I live on. It’s a 300-kilometre river, starting at New Bethesda and it runs into the Orange River at the VanderKloof Dam. Then it runs through 75 title deeds that belong to about 50 landowners. The total land surface of those properties is about 450,000 hectares – close to half a million hectares. We know that South Africa wants to proclaim or wants to have about 20 to 25% of its land surface under formal protection. That’s with all the other countries of Commonwealth nations and in the Northern Cape, we need about 6 million hectares to do so. I don’t think the government has the money to buy those properties and if they can buy it, they can’t manage it. So, we do have a problem and that’s why I’d like to think we can build a bridge between the local farming community and government. There are some perks. If I proclaim my land as a nature reserve, I might ask the government to exclude me from paying land taxes. That’s a big plus for me. It might protect my property from fracking and other mining operations. It might be easier for me to go and market myself as a nature reserve or part of a bigger nature reserve to the world than just marketing a little guesthouse in the Northern Cape. So, the idea is to persuade farmers as much as possible on this river and try to ask them to proclaim nature reserves so they won’t lose anything. You keep on farming under a management plan…. Those 50 farms could generate about R200 million a year out of wool and I don’t think you have to lose any of that. 

A house of safety for ‘fallen stars’ and secure training facilities

I’d like to stay in this country and to be able to stay here you must make a difference and it has to come from our side. It can’t come from their side. They’re not the guys with the money. They’re not the guys with the education. So, I would say the guy with the money, the guy with the education, the guy with the resources, it will be his responsibility to initiate the changes. We need to educate. We need to save lives. The first thing which is important that I would love to see soon is what I call a house of safety. And I’d like to roll this out over 16 towns. So, I had my meetings with the police departments and the social development departments, and they will support [the initiative]…. Above a certain level in society, the social grant system works wonderfully, but below a certain level of development and if there’s no self-esteem, there’s no heritage, if there’s no identity, then I think you can fall prey. That’s what’s going on in the small towns of the Karoo. It’s a problem for the police, it’s a problem for the social system, it’s a problem for everybody and it’s also a problem for that specific person, whom we like to refer to as a fallen star. We might not have enough of those places where you can take somebody for one night and say listen, I’ve got a place where you go, stay alive, you won’t get raped, you won’t get robbed and tomorrow morning at eight, then we can process your case. So, I’d like to get that off the ground as soon as possible.  A house of safety. With that comes a secure training facility. If you pick somebody up off the street and you invest money in saving that life and trying to build that person, you need to give them the skill as well. You need to give hope. You need to try to break the cycle. So, a skills training facility for me is crucial. I think that’s where I will position myself in the next ten years, trying to raise funds for these projects. Those two projects will cost £2 million rent each per year to train 10 to 15 kids every five months or so. I’m talking to a lot of people and there’s a lot of movement. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m quite sure it will happen. It’s like the hippos, it’s something good. 

Beehives to get kids off the street

If you live in a small town like Hanover and you become one of my members on the Karoo Oasis route, that means you will have a guesthouse or tourism activity. Well, I will bring four hives to your lodge, and we will go in once a year and harvest that honey. We will label it and you will sell it in your lodge to the community at the premium price. I will take that money back from you and I will give it to the little shop in the street where most people stand and beg. If anybody in the community sees anybody begging,  you can send that person into the store and say, listen, there’s already R10,000 worth of bread and milk waiting for you. If you walk into the little store, the store owner who is now a partner will give you a garbage bag and you will first have to go and clean the street, fill up the garbage bag. Once you hand in the garbage bag, you will get the bread and milk. These are the ways that I would love to use nature.

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