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From Cattle Herder to Safari Owner

Alex van den Heever and Renias Mhlongo’s story is that of a dream — a fantasy perhaps — that came true.

In 1975, Alex emerged into a world vastly different from Renias Mhlongo’s early experiences beneath a jackalberry tree in the Kruger National Park. Their beginnings were diverse: Alex’s rooted in the cattle farms of Southern Cape, and Renias’s in the Shangaan hunter-gatherer traditions. However, both their childhoods hinted at destinies beyond the ordinary.

While Alex’s youth unfolded amid the dunes in Plettenberg Bay, marked by games of hide-and-seek, Renias’s youth delved into the Shangaan version, “Xitumbelelani,” a precursor to his eventual acclaim as a world-renowned animal tracker.

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Renias faced the harsh realities of apartheid South Africa, with his family’s life upended after false accusations of poaching against his father. Forced to leave their land, Renias vividly recalls the night they sought refuge in a settlement named Dixie, wading through rivers with the aid of a cow’s tail to arrive there.

Their paths converged two decades later at Londolozi Game Reserve. United by echoes of childhood games and an unexpected affinity for cows, they discovered a haven where diverse cultures coalesced under a common conservation purpose.

Navigating the animal trails of Londolozi, Renias and Alex acknowledged their differences, fears, and the unlikely partnership that they had forged. Renias, a name synonymous with legendary tracking, mentored Alex into an adept leopard tracking team that contributed to Londolozi’s pioneering wild leopard viewing.

But the heart wants what it wants, and Alex and Renias wanted a different trail. Driven by their shared vision, they departed from their secure positions at Londolozi to establish Tracker Academy.

Together with Gaynor Rupert, Tracker Academy was founded to empower young rural people. Over a decade later, the Academy has seen 266 graduates finding gainful employment in the conservation industry.

Together, their dream matured, and they aimed to create a sanctuary and venue where these skills could flourish, and their graduates could demonstrate their exceptional tracking skills to discerning travelers.

For fifteen years, they chased the elusive dream of owning their own game reserve — submitting tenders, negotiating with banks and courting investors. They could track leopards, yet navigating the complex terrain of high finance eluded them! But despite many rejections, Renias remained steadfast, believing it was his ancestors’ wish.

Over time the concept of ‘stronger together’ became obvious to them, and in fact, drove them. In an ecotourism industry where true transformation is so scarce, they adopted the tenacity of a couple of honey badgers to prove it could be done. “Buti, we will dig even if the bees sting us,” was Ren’s best.

Their perseverance to showcase the remarkable potential of a South Africa unified by a shared and clear purpose eventually bore fruit with the establishment of Tshokwane River Camp in July 2023. One of the best days of their lives.

The day they signed the shareholders’ agreement, Ren sent Alex this short message “Hi swi kumile.” (We found it).  The message encapsulates the fruition of their achievement , reflecting not just a business venture, but a testament to their shared commitment to build a better tomorrow.

The once cattle herder on the dusty savanna is now a shareholder in KrugerUntamed, a legitimate safari business symbolising more than profit – it stands for hope and unity in South Africa’s future.

 

Tracker Academy Students
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Alex van den Heever and Renias Mhlongo’s story is that of a dream — a fantasy perhaps — that came true.

In 1975, Alex emerged into a world vastly different from Renias Mhlongo’s early experiences beneath a jackalberry tree in the Kruger National Park. Their beginnings were diverse: Alex’s rooted in the cattle farms of Southern Cape, and Renias’s in the Shangaan hunter-gatherer traditions. However, both their childhoods hinted at destinies beyond the ordinary.

While Alex’s youth unfolded amid the dunes in Plettenberg Bay, marked by games of hide-and-seek, Renias’s youth delved into the Shangaan version, “Xitumbelelani,” a precursor to his eventual acclaim as a world-renowned animal tracker.

- Advertisement -
Franchise Expo

Renias faced the harsh realities of apartheid South Africa, with his family’s life upended after false accusations of poaching against his father. Forced to leave their land, Renias vividly recalls the night they sought refuge in a settlement named Dixie, wading through rivers with the aid of a cow’s tail to arrive there.

Their paths converged two decades later at Londolozi Game Reserve. United by echoes of childhood games and an unexpected affinity for cows, they discovered a haven where diverse cultures coalesced under a common conservation purpose.

Navigating the animal trails of Londolozi, Renias and Alex acknowledged their differences, fears, and the unlikely partnership that they had forged. Renias, a name synonymous with legendary tracking, mentored Alex into an adept leopard tracking team that contributed to Londolozi’s pioneering wild leopard viewing.

But the heart wants what it wants, and Alex and Renias wanted a different trail. Driven by their shared vision, they departed from their secure positions at Londolozi to establish Tracker Academy.

Together with Gaynor Rupert, Tracker Academy was founded to empower young rural people. Over a decade later, the Academy has seen 266 graduates finding gainful employment in the conservation industry.

Together, their dream matured, and they aimed to create a sanctuary and venue where these skills could flourish, and their graduates could demonstrate their exceptional tracking skills to discerning travelers.

For fifteen years, they chased the elusive dream of owning their own game reserve — submitting tenders, negotiating with banks and courting investors. They could track leopards, yet navigating the complex terrain of high finance eluded them! But despite many rejections, Renias remained steadfast, believing it was his ancestors’ wish.

Over time the concept of ‘stronger together’ became obvious to them, and in fact, drove them. In an ecotourism industry where true transformation is so scarce, they adopted the tenacity of a couple of honey badgers to prove it could be done. “Buti, we will dig even if the bees sting us,” was Ren’s best.

Their perseverance to showcase the remarkable potential of a South Africa unified by a shared and clear purpose eventually bore fruit with the establishment of Tshokwane River Camp in July 2023. One of the best days of their lives.

The day they signed the shareholders’ agreement, Ren sent Alex this short message “Hi swi kumile.” (We found it).  The message encapsulates the fruition of their achievement , reflecting not just a business venture, but a testament to their shared commitment to build a better tomorrow.

The once cattle herder on the dusty savanna is now a shareholder in KrugerUntamed, a legitimate safari business symbolising more than profit – it stands for hope and unity in South Africa’s future.

 

Tracker Academy Students
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