Michael Edwards travels to Founders Lodge in South Africa and meets a rhino who is becoming a social media celebrity.
Munu, a blind rhino with his own Facebook and Instagram account, is an unlikely social media celebrity. Even more impressively, Munu has two full-time staff working for him. Few hippos can say they have humans collecting around 40 kg of foliage a day for their never-ending browsing buffet.
An unlikely pin-up boy, Munu epitomises the spirit of Founders Lodge and their commitment to rhinos. Mantis’ acronym of Man And Nature Together Is Sustainable expresses the ethos.
Displayed by the entrance to Founders Lodge are the words, “Where it all began”. This is a celebration of founder Adrian Gardiner making the bold decision to buy up farms in the Eastern Cape and rewild the territory, attempting to return the land to its early 19th-century splendour when wildlife thrived.
As part of one 4 x 4 land cruiser game drive, guests drop by to feed Munu a bunch of his favourite food, blue-flowered plumbago. Scooms, our ranger, explains how Munu lost one eye in a territorial tussle with another rhino. Then infection spread from his wounded eye to the other eye. A ranger found Munu, facing imminent death, ambling around in a circle.
Now, using a sort of rhino Tinder, Founders Lodge is seeking female company for Munu. His rhino sub-species of southwestern black desert rhino is endangered with only around 250 of the pre-historic looking creatures remaining. Munu provides a valuable breeding opportunity to increase the number of his creatures in the wild.
Serious rhino fans can search for dates for a four-day hands-on immersion into rhino conservation at Founders Lodge. Guests work alongside an experienced vet as they undertake a health check on a rhino that has been tracked and sedated.
By the entrance to Founders Lodge stands a sculpture of two rhinos fashioned from abandoned oil drums. Founders Lodge’s welcoming joint managers, husband and wife team Craig and Glynis, ingeniously promote recycling and sustainability.
Take their latest project. A resplendent red and cream liveried yesteryear railway carriage has been repurposed into luxurious accommodation for five guests served by a butler and chef. From the carriage’s kitchen and recently built “Ticket Office” bathroom, recycled grey water will be channelled to a new watering hole. Looking out from the carriage’s expansive decking or boma or swimming pool, guests will be able to watch rhino, zebra and many species of antelope dropping in for a drink.
It is just under two kilometres from the railway carriage back to Founders, a small and intimate lodge of a mere seven rooms. A wall of two glass doors dominates our room whose light timber chalet has ski chalet notes. That glass wall gives vast views of Lion King sunrises across the deep valleys of the Eastern Cape hills.
One huge advantage of the Eastern Cape is what is missing from rooms. There are no mosquito nets. High winds blowing in from the Indian Ocean and a lack of surface water have discouraged malaria-carrying mosquitoes from colonising the region.
Rodney, a large white rhino who is something of a loner, is a frequent visitor at the bottom of the garden. As the Eastern Cape endures the eighth year of drought, rhinos are given additional food. It is left by the electric fence that separates the wildlife’s kingdom from the pristine mown lawns of Founders Lodge.
Sometimes Rodney’s mother Margaret, or other members of the rhino family, join him. As Founders likes to ring the changes with lunch venues, guests eating in the garden of their room or by the swimming pool can watch the rhinos as they take their lunch.
Inevitably, in typical African style, the Founders’ chef cooks a stunning BBQ, or braai, as the locals call it. South Africans enjoy their red meat, particularly when accompanied by a glass of red wine. A glass of Pinotage is even more enjoyable at Founders as local beers and wines are part of the all-inclusive package. One very special dinner takes place when guests are given their own private dining area: in the library, the formal dining room or another of Founders’ impromptu pop-up dining areas.
Undoubtedly, the early morning and late afternoon game drives are amongst the key attractions as rangers Nick and Scooms search for the Big Five of buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and rhino. Occasional, distant sightings of cheetah are a bush bonus.
Though for some guests at Founders Lodge, the Big Five is not enough. A 70-minute southerly drive, heading along the Sunshine Coast to Port Elizabeth, provides voyages that search for the southern right whale and great white shark. The Big Five becomes The Big Seven.
Tell Me More About Founders Lodge, The Eastern Cape, South Africa
Founders Lodge, Sidbury 6131, South Africa.
T: +27 (41) 404 9300 E: email@example.com
Accommodation at Founders starts from £551 per room, per night based on two people sharing (all-inclusive) at Founders; Exclusive use of the Founders Railway Carriage is £1,060 per night (all-inclusive) for an average family of two adults and two children.