Who They Are
Zarafa Camp is probably the greenest luxury lodge on earth and was opened in 2008 by Great Plains. The small and luxurious four-roomed tented camp is located in the 320,000-acre Selinda Reserve in the north of the country and straddles the Okavango Delta in the west and the Linyanti and Kwando rivers and waterways to the east. In spite of its enormous size, the reserve has only three small camps with a total of sixteen tented rooms, a staggering 20,000 acres per room – low-impact tourism at its best.
What They Are Doing
When planning was started for the flagship Zarafa in 2007, nothing was spared to ensure that it would be the most environmentally sustainable luxury lodge anywhere. Today the camp is where extreme green meets sumptuous luxury, with appropriate safari atmosphere and style. All the hardwoods are recycled, and the flooring is made from 100-year-old discarded railway sleepers. The camp’s major achievement, though, is its being probably the only luxury camp of its kind and size in the world to be entirely solar powered.
The principal dream at Zarafa was to create the planet’s greenest luxury lodge and prove that sustainable living and luxury can go hand in hand. Zarafa has all the appliances, sumptuous rooms, and deep freezers that a high-end luxury lodge requires, yet all the electricity is created from a solar farm. Zarafa has one of the biggest solar farms anywhere in Africa, with more than 170 solar panels. The electricity they generate is stored in long-life batteries, in turn feeding electricity 24/7 via an inverter system not only to the guest tents but also to the power-hungry back-of-house machinery and appliances – right down to the ice-making machines. The lodge’s 4×4 game-drive vehicles are run primarily on recycled cooking oil (largely sourced from waste collected from fast food restaurants in Botswana), thus helping to ensure that Zarafa’s carbon footprint is the lowest possible.
Until 2005, the Selinda Reserve was used for both photographic and hunting safaris. Photographic safari guests could be admiring, lion, leopard, elephant or buffalo in the morning but, unbeknownst to them, those same animals could be shot by professional big game hunters later on, as the animals migrated away from the waters and into the woodlands to feed.
Thousands of animals were shot in the region. Wildlife numbers plummeted and the gene pool shrank; wildlife was skittish and elusive. Elephants, the iconic animal of today’s Selinda, were shy and aggressive. Times changed when Dereck and Beverly Joubert, five-time Emmy Award-winning filmmakers, and their partners in Great Plains bought the reserve in 2005. The next day hunting was stopped, with hundreds of thousands of dollars of potential profits immediately lost. The slow process of renewal began.
Despite hunting industry claims, the Selinda Reserve is proof that hunting in wildlife areas, free of fences, is neither sustainable nor the most productive form of land use, for the country or for the people of Botswana . Low-volume, high-tariff, high job-creating photographic safari tourism generates countless more benefits for everyone. Best of all, the wildlife now sense that Selinda is a place of peace. Towards the end of the dry season, in October, a recent wildlife census conducted in the reserve showed that there were some 9000 elephants, huge herds of buffalo and plains game, as well as lion, leopard, cheetah and wild dog.
Almost five percent of Zarafa’s turnover gets paid directly and distributed, via the land boards of the region, to the communities that live in northwest Botswana. That represents about twenty percent of the net profits of the lodge, and is in addition to the substantial lease fees that are paid each year.