Tiger Canyon recently launched its innovative 20/20 project, a pledge to plant 20 000 trees in 20 years on the reserve. The project seeks to sustainably transform the reserve terrain with the holistic implementation of bio-mimicry.

An increasingly popular system employed the world over, bio-mimicry functions by imitating natural ecological processes in order to work in synergy with the environment. Because these processes are constantly self-improving, bio-mimicry works with inherent adaptiveness to natural habitats.

The 20/20 project was first conceptualized by Tiger Canyon founder John Varty (JV), who recognised that the land needed to be adapted to the needs of its growing tiger population – stalk and pounce predators that rely on sheltered areas in order to hunt; these areas will also support tiger breeding and allow tigresses to better capture new territory.

Added to this, the introduction of trees to the reserve will establish separated grazing areas for prey species, resulting in swathes of placid herds interrupted by the sudden and enthralling appearance of a stalking tiger.

In keeping with the concept of bio-mimicry, the trees will be planted in a so-called “system of three”, a process that occurs in nature and which allows for three tree species to grow close to each other in a grouping of mutual protection throughout the seasons.

This system will make use of three indigenous tree species, namely the Vachellia Karroo (Sweet Thorn), Searsia lancea (Karee) and Ziziphus mucronata (Buffalo Thorn). The Karee will work to protect the trees against frost in the winter, the Sweet Thorn will provide abundant amounts of browse in the summer (particularly beneficial to large browsers), while the Buffalo Thorn will provide browse throughout the rest of the year, particularly in the winter period. Buffalo Thorn and Sweet Thorn, as suggested in the name, are both thorny trees that may further protect the system from overbrowsing during the early growth period during early summer, when young trees and new growth are particularly attractive for their sweeter quality.

Sweet Thorn and Karee trees already grow alongside each other naturally on the reserve

The trees will also be supported by means of subtle land manipulation.The False Karoo region in which Tiger Canyon is located consists of vast open grasslands speckled with rocky hills (or koppies) and knuckled by deep gorges and ravines. While our tiger population does benefit from the shelter provided by these picturesque gullies, the reserve’s potential will be more fully utilized with the introduction of water furrows and drainage lines, allowing for surface water to run off during the heavy summer rainfall period and trapped in open wetlands. These form easily due to the regional heavy clay soils on shallow shale banks that afford excellent water retention. The drainage lines will be supplied with added rocks and soil, contributing to the holistic development of the land.

The trees will be planted along the embankments and drainage lines in order to be protected from strong winds and frost, and in turn their roots will prevent soil erosion during the run-off period. As the trees grow they will drop seeds that will be dispersed throughout these lines and across the lower lying areas of the reserve, causing a flourishing tree succession.

In planting 1000 trees per year, we will prevent over-browsing from our resident antelope, while improving the grazing conditions. This will also serve to restore an area previously degraded by overgrazing from livestock, and will work to enhance rainfall and surface cooling, in an area that once supported massive migrations of antelope.

By adopting this holistic means of bio-mimicry, we will not only be improving the wellbeing of our tiger population but the habitat itself. The Karoo region of South Africa is in an early phase of soil development, steadily evolving from a rock-based terrain to verdant grassland, and therefore still has a shallow layer of organic soil (between 15cm and 40cm): by introducing water to the area we are feeding the existing grasslands which in turn stabilize the soil and prevent excessive run-off, again strengthening the grass; an increased tree population will introduce new nutrients to the soil, improving the nutrient cycle of the area. The Karoo is an ancient canvas, having passed from a prehistoric ocean to a vast semi-desert scrub-land with sub-regional grasslands, a basis for the establishment of natural oases that may support a myriad of local wildlife.

Over this twenty year period we envision the development of a seasonal wetland Savannah facilitated by flourishing trees with roots that penetrate the harder shale banks, a naturally enhanced terrain that will sustain the wild Bengal tiger population as it continues to thrive in symbioses with its African sanctuary.

Sidney Salakupa, Connor Thompson and Lebo Mokgatla, from the 20/20 team, with a small batch of the first 1000 trees