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Meet the 2023 Winner: Adrian Gardiner, Founder & Chairman, Mantis Collection (Accor)

Category: Leadership

In 1989, Adrian Gardiner purchased a 1000-hectare farm as a weekend retreat for his family. However, this farm soon became one of the most ambitious rewilding projects in the world. Within a matter of years, the land expanded to 25,000 hectares, and Adrian began reintroducing the wildlife that had been wiped out over the past 200 years. From elephants, rhinos, and buffalos to lions and leopards, he brought back every species that once roamed this part of South Africa.

Today, this piece of land is known as the Shamwari Game Reserve and attracts thousands of tourists from across the globe. The reserve, which comprises 20 farms, now employs over 400 people, whereas previously it employed only 20.

Adrian’s rewilding legacy did not stop there. He went on to establish a game reserve the size of Singapore called Sanbona, not far from Cape Town. The 54,000-hectare reserve is now home to an abundance of wildlife that once roamed the semi-desert landscape. Although Adrian sold both game reserves in the 2000s, he did not stop there. He continued to spread his rewilding DNA and eco-tourism model to other parts of the world, including the Middle East, Scotland, and other parts of Africa.

In 2000, he established an eco-tourism hospitality business called Mantis Collection, which today manages hotels and eco-lodges across Africa. The brand is now expanding into the Middle East, with ongoing eco-lodge projects in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Ras Al Khaimah. In 2018, Adrian sold half of his eco-hospitality group, Mantis, to the hotel group Accor. As part of the deal, both partners set up a not-for-profit foundation called the Community Conservation Fund Africa (CCFA). Today, this foundation is responsible for initiating community and conservation projects within all Mantis hotels and lodges.

Now 80 years old, Adrian is on a new mission. He has identified a piece of land, called Nyosi, tucked between two cities in South Africa, Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage, and wants to create a sanctuary much like Central Park in New York, but much larger (3000 hectares) and home to free-roaming wildlife. For him, it is more about the community, as the reserve borders a very large impoverished community, and he is determined to involve them in his vision. He wishes to create jobs, bring education and learning facilities to the reserve, develop a museum highlighting the journey of the destruction of wildlife in the region, and pioneer something remarkable related to the plight of rhinos in South Africa, which may ultimately save them in the long run.

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