Tag Archives: Mark Witney

Conservation at our Core

September 17, 2015 - Conservation,Environment,Sustainable Conservation,Wildlife

For most safari travellers, the first image that’ll spring to mind when they think of Singita is a luxury lodge parachuted effortlessly into the wilderness. It could also be the smiling face of the guide that took them deep into the bushveld, and returned them safely home that night. Perhaps it’s the crackling fire and star-spangled sky during a memorable boma dinner.

Singita Mara River Tented Camp, Tanzania

Singita Mara River Tented Camp, Tanzania

For Dave Wright, it’s more likely to be the image of water running freely across the cracked red earth as long-dry streams burst back to life, or elephants trundling through bushveld where wire fences once penned them in. “For many years the perception has been that we are a hospitality company,” says Wright, Environmental Manager at Singita Sabi Sand. “In fact we’re all about conservation.”

Unlike most safari operators, Singita is unique in taking full responsibility for the conservation of the land it operates on, ensuring eco-tourism and eco-systems work hand-in-hand. “Many companies contribute financially to conservation through lease and concession fees, but they don’t actively conserve the land,” explains Singita’s Chief Operating Officer Mark Witney. “Except for the Singita Kruger National Park concession, we do all the conservation work ourselves. Particularly in Zimbabwe and Tanzania, where specialists within the committee are responsible for the conservation of those areas.”

Zim_Pamushana - Elephant (88)

Underpinning and guiding the group’s work is the unique Conservation Committee, what Witney calls “Singita’s conservation brains trust”. The highly trained Environmental Managers – three of whom hold PhD qualifications in ecology – from each of Singita’s properties form the backbone of the group, bringing decades of scientific and conservation experience to the table. Witney and an outside ecologist provide further input and expertise and the Committee meets regularly through the year, travelling to one of the Singita properties to share research and conservation lessons.

Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in south-eastern Zimbabwe, home to Singita Pamushana Lodge, is a perfect example. This 50 000-hectare wilderness, previously an old cattle ranch, has been rehabilitated and transformed into “a successful conservation project that has been given back to wildlife,” says Witney. Before the establishment of the Reserve only a handful of common antelope were found on the land. Today, game is abundant across the property with healthy populations of endangered rhinoceros, as well as the rare sable which were successfully reintroduced to the region.

Likewise in Tanzania, the 150 000 hectares of land under Singita’s custodianship were once poorly managed and over-utilised hunting concessions.


Another significant success story is the dropping of fences between the privately-owned Sabi Sand Nature Reserve and the state-owned Kruger National Park in the mid-1990s. Within days the reserve changed from a fenced-off island of bushveld, to part of a wider ecosystem. “For the elephants it was like opening the gates of an ice-cream factory,” chuckles Wright. “Previously bush encroachment was a big issue and we had to introduce elephant. When the fence came down that changed completely, particularly in the winter when elephants follow the conduits of green vegetation along the Sand River. Now we have well over 1000 elephant on the property.”

While managing and restoring the land is key, ensuring the lodges touch the earth lightly is equally important. At each property the Environmental Manager ensures that the footprint of the lodge is kept to a minimum, with everything from waste disposal to power generation constantly assessed for ways to reduce any adverse impact on the environment. “Here at Singita Boulders Lodge we’ve moved all of our electrical power lines underground, and we’ve also improved the sourcing of water by tapping into underground aquifers adjacent to the river, so there’s a reliable water supply,” explains Wright.

Conservation at Singita

While guests may leave with a lifetime of wilderness memories, the luxury lodges and superlative game viewing is really just the tip of Singita’s conservation iceberg. And if you find yourself at Singita Boulders Lodge in the Sabi Sand; don’t forget to ask Dave about that fence…

You can find out more about Singita’s ongoing nature and wildlife conservation projects on our website. These include a rhino reintroduction programme in Zimbabwe, support for wildlife research in the Kruger National Park and a successful anti-poaching unit in the Serengeti. 

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Singita Ebony Lodge Comes Full Circle

May 08, 2015 - Accommodation,Experience,Sabi Sand,Singita Ebony Lodge

Singita was originally founded in 1993 with the opening of Ebony Lodge on family owned land that became part of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. When Luke Bailes, owner of Singita, bought and consolidated the land from his grandfather, he set about restoring it.

Singita Ebony Lodge, South Africa

In 1992, Bailes asked his old school friend, Mark Witney, if he was interested in taking time out from the city to open a new safari venture. He was. Soon after, Witney moved to the bush where he assumed multiple roles for many years – lodge manager, safari guide, maintenance man, and even relief pilot for the inter-lodge Cessna Caravan shuttle service – before employing an assistant lodge manager.

Twenty-two years later, Singita Ebony Lodge is set to reopen after an extensive reinvention, elevating the lodge to the same forward-thinking standard of innovation as the recently reopened Singita Boulders Lodge. The end result is a conscious departure from what may have been expected – or anything that has gone before. Instead, a quintessential safari aesthetic that captures the spirit and sentiment of the original while adding a youthful, relaxed charm, has been added.

Singita Ebony Lodge, South Africa

Singita’s evolution from a single-lodge company to one that is now responsible for more than half a million acres of land, operating 12 lodges and camps in five wilderness regions across three African countries, has always been characterised by a pioneering spirit and a sincere desire to preserve wilderness areas for future generations. Its low-impact, high-value tourism model – fewer guests paying a premium for the privilege of experiencing vast open spaces – exists to sustain these wilderness areas and their resident wildlife, while providing an exclusive safari experience.

Singita Ebony Lodge stands on the banks of the Sand River in the heart of South Africa’s “big cat country”, beneath the leafy branches of the ancient and enormous trees for which it is named. The lodge is due to re-open in mid-June 2015; please contact our Reservations team to find out more.

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Globetrotter Guide Interview with Singita COO Mark Witney

August 14, 2014 - Did You Know?,Experience,Lodges and Camps

Mark Witney, COO at Singita

Singita COO Mark Witney has always loved the wilderness in all its forms. His great thirst for adventure has led him from flying light aircraft across the Atlantic to scuba diving in Mexico and tracking wild animals through the African bush. In 1994, he helped to open Singita Ebony Lodge, the first Singita property, and ran it for many years before moving into his head office role. With over 20 years of history with the company, he is uniquely qualified to explain what makes Singita unique and, in this excerpt from an interview with ShopLatitude’s Wanderlust blog, he does just that:

Singita Grumeti, Tanzania

Q: Describe Singita and its mission.
A: Singita’s mission is to secure and protect pristine wilderness in Africa for future generations. We achieve this by creating a balance between sustainable tourism operations, a complete commitment to conservation and sound community projects. When we find opportunities to create conservation projects our basic goal is to restore or maintain the land in as near as possible to its original state of biodiversity before the interference of man.

Singita Pamushana Lodge, Zimbabwe

Q: Which location is your favourite Singita Lodge and why?
A: That is a very difficult question. Each of our locations is so different and each has its own unique features, species and landscapes. I love the wide open spaces and abundant herds of Singita Serengeti, the wildness of our Kruger Park property with its unspoiled landscape and large lion prides, the leopard and cheetah sightings at Singita Sabi Sand are unrivalled and Singita Pamushana is one of the most bio-diverse areas under conservation, rich with species that we do not see on any of our other properties.

Singita Serengeti House, Tanzania

Q: What are the three things you never leave home without?
A: My Zeiss binoculars, a supply of strong painkillers (for that unexpected injury in the middle of nowhere) and a good guide book of the birds, mammals and trees of the destination.

Singita Faru Faru Lodge, Tanzania

The Globetrotter column on the Wanderlust blog profiles stylish jet-setters and well-known world-travellers. Mark has also recently been featured in a piece on Jacanda Travel, where he elaborates on what makes the Singita experience so special.

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