In July of 2016, Australians Mark and Sophie Hutchinson together with their twin girls and long-term business partner Anton Lategan, visited a 4500-acre buffalo hunting property near the small town of Hoedspruit, in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. They had a dream of creating a wildlife conservancy in Africa. Driving around the property, it was very clear that this was the one they had been looking for and it was quite a special feeling being there, dreaming of the future potential and possibilities.
Despite it being one of the worst droughts in decades, Mark and Sophie saw potential in the property, and together with Anton and his father John Lategan, they decided to buy the farm which they would become known as Pridelands Conservancy.
In February of 2017, Mark, Sophie and their twin girls Ayla and Maia packed up their belongings in Sydney, Australia and moved their lives to the African bush, calling the small town of Hoedspruit home. They were joined intermittently by their elder children Issy and Dan.
There was no time to waste. The property was littered with disturbing scenes from decades of hunting and overgrown with sicklebush.
There was a lot of cleaning up to do. One of the first jobs was to do an entire inventory of all the farm equipment. This mammoth task went to Pridelands partner and new farm manager, John Lategan.
Next was to secure the fences and protect the property from poachers. Thomas became our first employee and helped John run the day to day operations on the farm.
The next priority was bush clearing. The farm was overgrown with Sickelbush due to mismanagement and poor farming practices. Many months were spent cutting it down to donate to the local community as firewood as well as using it for bush-packing to repair erosion sites on the property.
Meanwhile, the Hutchinson’s 5-year-old twin girls were hard at work settling into their new life in Africa. Their days were spent covered in dirt, delighting in the sights and sounds of the African bush.
Megan Loftie-Eaton joined the team as our resident Pridelands ecologist and got to work setting up camera traps for her mammal mapping survey, part of a baseline biodiversity study on the property.
Her first batch of images confirmed we had a resident leopard!
Over time, the WildArk team learned a lot about the poaching crisis, meeting the brave men and women putting their lives on the line to protect wildlife.
The reality of what was happening around us was hard to ignore, and it added fuel to the WildArk fire to do our small part to try and help protect the magnificent wildlife in the area.
Our dream was to be able to drop our northern boundary fence on Pridelands to become part of the 20 million hectares of the Greater Kruger region and extend the corridor for wildlife movement in the area.
We were visited by many wonderful supporters along the way, including our ambassadors Mick Fanning and Dave and Emma Pocock.
In mid-September, after months of hard work and negotiations with our neighbours, members from Pridelands and Balule shook hands on a very momentous day for local conservation.
The fence was cut for the first time in many, many decades giving another 4500- acres to wildlife.
On the 29 September 2017, six bull elephants crossed the boundary just where the fences were cut and entered Pridelands for the first time!