By Elizaveta Dyatko, Semester at Sea, Spring 2017

My favorite Disney movie will forever be the Lion King. As a child, I would sing along the Hakuna Matata song and dream of having Timon and Pumbaa as my pets one day. While I didn’t get a chance to bring any South African wildlife back home during my trip to Aquila Private Game Reserve, I’ve had an exposure to some challenges and opportunities of preserving the wildlife and educating and empowering the local communities in the rural areas.

The mission of the Aquila Private Game Reserve is to promote sustainable tourism in South Africa and create social change. Aquila Game Reserve is named after the rare and endangered Black Eagle that thrives in the area. The Aquila Eagle Crest Conservation fund has been born out of a joint venture between Aquila Private Game Reserve and Swartland Winery in order to give something back to the environment that helps sustain both businesses.

The main objective of the project is to educate visitors about threats facing the Black Eagles in order to facilitate conservation efforts of the endangered raptor species and other wildlife species. Aquila is also home to a newly created Education center which houses information on their Eco Synergy systems as well as information on the plight of the Rhino.

Additionally, Aquila focuses on social enrichment, job creation, skills development, sustainable charity programs and empowerment efforts in the town of Touws River, which is situated 12kms from Aquila, where Aquila’s workforce resides. The town was built around a railway servicing plant that closed down in the 1980s leaving 97% unemployment amongst the approximately 12,000 previously disadvantaged residents. Over the past 14 years, Aquila has paid approximately R150 million in salaries, which has empowered locals and created flourishing primary, secondary and tertiary small businesses.

Aquila has facilitated hundreds of temporary staff members in learning new building skills. 95% of all previously disadvantaged staff has been trained with no prior experience to be fully competent and certified as game rangers, drivers, waitresses, cooks, registered security officers and anti-poaching guards, cleaners, front and back of house staff, game capture and translocation rangers, environmental and maintenance, etc.

Aquila also runs a winter Food for Litter campaign, where local residents are encouraged to collect litter, and trade it for recycling, whilst receiving meals for the collected litter. Over 350,000 meals have been provided to the local community during winter for the past several years.