Mantis Founders Lodge – Eastern Cape intimate safari adventure

Mantis Founders Lodge is where the rewilding of South Africa’s Eastern Cape began. Michael Edwards meets the rhinos.
Mantis Founders Lodge
Mantis Founders Lodge from the air.

Mantis Founders Lodge is where the rewilding of South Africa’s Eastern Cape began. Michael Edwards meets the rhinos.

Munu, a blind rhino, is the star of the show. A true celebrity, he has two staff to feed him the 30 to 40 kg of vegetation he gets through every day. Then there are his social media accounts to run, plus organising his love life.

Found walking round in circles by a ranger, Munu had lost one eye in a territorial skirmish with another rhino. Then infection spread to his other eye leaving him blind.

Safari - Mantis Founders LodgeSafari - Mantis Founders Lodge

With just over 250 of Munu’s sub-species surviving, conservationist Adrian Gardiner gave Munu a home. Currently Mantis, standing for Man and Nature Together Is Sustainable, is looking for a girlfriend for Munu. The aim is for Munu’s progeny to be released into the wild to bolster numbers. Meanwhile, guests can feed Munu his favourite blue-flavoured plumbago tree.

Arriving at Mantis Founders Lodge, two rhino sculpted from oil drums send a message that rhino are central to the conservation events. Whilst the “Where it all began” credo is a reminder that Adrian Gardiner used the former farmhouse as his headquarters to rewild South Africa’s Eastern Cape. Buying up farms from struggling farmers, Gardiner steadily introduced the Big Five. Though buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino are just a part of a complex system. Dung beetles had to be introduced too as did buffalo weaver birds to peck ticks off of buffalo.

rhino health checks mantis founders lodge
Tourism and conservation go hand in hand on Mantis Founders Lodge experiences.

Now, Founders Lodge is providing a new type of interactive wildlife experience. On selected days, guests can take part in rhino health care. Rhino are tracked, on foot, by land cruiser or helicopter, and then darted. Once the rhino is sedated, the medical begins. Participants assist with taking measurements, recording data and observing the rhino’s well-being during sedation.

It is a hands-on experience that helps with conservation. The vet can also prescribe meditation for any problems. In a seventh year of draught, extra food is provided for the rhinos, so medication can be added into the feed. Consequently, Rodney, a rhino who is something of a loner, is often found feeding by the Mantis Founders Lodge fence. Sometimes he is joined by his mother Margaret and the rest of the family. 

Cocktail hour - Mantis Founder Lodge

Beyond Founder Lodge’s grounds, game drives find more rhino and the rest of the Big Five. Though there is more to a safari than ticking off the Big Five. We see a huge tortoise, visible from several hundred yards away, trudging up a hill, glimpse dwarf mongooses on sentry duty and spot the two cheetah sleeping in the long grass. It is worth remembering to take the binoculars provided in the room, for every game drive.

One key feature of the Founders Lodge rooms, which all have spectacular views across the hills and valleys, is the lack of mosquito nets. The Eastern Cape is malaria free, probably because infection-carrying mosquitoes cannot thrive in the winds that blow in from the Indian Ocean, also a lack of surface water.

Restored Railway Carriage - Mantis Founders Lodge
The elegant restored railway carriage is offered as a private retreat on the Founders reserve.

As well as rooms, Founders Lodge, also has a resplendent red and cream liveried railway carriage that sleeps up to five guests. Just over a mile from the lodge, the railway carriage’s nearest neighbour is Munu. Guests are served by a private chef. Ever mindful of conservation, waste water from the Railway Carriage is being used to create a new watering hole. Guests will be able to sit on the decking by the carriage, with a sundowner, and watch as wildlife comes to the waterhole for an evening drink. In true South African fashion, the carriage also has its own boma for a braai.

Mantis Founders Lodge dining

Back at Founders Lodge, one evening of the guests’ stay is devoted to a private dining event. Each group of guests is given their own candle lit venue around a lodge that began as a 1940s farmhouse. We dine in Adrian Gardiner’s library. Surrounded by his priceless collection of books on South African wildlife, there could not have been a more appropriate spot for our last meal at Founders Lodge – “where it all began.”

Mantis Founders Lodge fact file

You can find out more about packages offered by Mantis Founders Lodge here.

Discover the Eastern Cape region.

Flights to South Africa are subject to change. UK to East London is approximately £845 return (as at October 2022). To check availability and prices see SkyScanner.

If you found Mantis Founders Lodge – Eastern Cape intimate safari adventure interesting, you might be interested in more safari reviews by Michael Edwards Mantis No 5 at Port Elizabeth, Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge and Sabi Sabi Selati Camp.

Tags: , , , Last modified: October 31, 2022

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