Adrian Gardiner, founder of the Mantis Collection of hotels and “eco-escapes”, including private wildlife reserves, has travelled to St Helena after years of cajoling by island tourism bosses. But who is he?
In an article reproduced on the Mantis Collection’s website, founder Adrian Gardiner says his company’s mission statement is “conserving a vanishing way of life.”
That might go down well on St Helena, where many fear that the island’s unique and friendly culture might be lost with the arrival of its first aircraft in 2016, and the hoped-for birth of a meaningful economy.
The profile says he is best known for turning degraded farm land into Shamwari, the Eastern Cape’s first private wildlife reserve – with five-star comfort for high-paying guests. In the face of local opposition, he re-introduced the Big Five animals, including lions.
The article also speaks of his pride at creating employment for hundreds of local people in successive projects, despite a “smaller is better” ethos.
“We don’t want to be press 1 for reservation, press 2 for that, or 3 for that,” he says. “That’s not our game. Ours revolves around personal service.”
A comment about land being protected in the name of conservation – a controversial issue on St Helena – is intriguing, and suggests the island government may not always find him an easy associate. Evidently, it’s the manner in which it’s done that matters to him.
“I fight with our local government and it’s because they have 26 reserves in our area which they do nothing with,” he says in the website profile.
“If I was a neighbour living near one of the reserves that are totally useless and protected for just some wildlife which is not really being protected, I would be the first to break the fence down.”
He justifies charging very high prices for his safari holidays, saying, “There are no hand-outs from any conservation company or other organisation so you have to make your own money.”
He also says governments should reward conservation efforts through tax breaks and the like.
Given his criticism of South Africa’s national parks – somewhat more extensive than those on St Helena – his response to a question about people who can’t afford to see Shamwari and its white rhinos may seem contradictory: “They can visit national parks,” he says.