A strange request, with a Cederberg angle - April 2010

Dear Reader,

“Cederberg Accommodate” is our Red Cederberg monthly newsletter. Our newsletters cover a variety of topics, written in the same way as we speak.  

Carrying Capacity

Recently I got a call from a friend who is a regular visitor to Bakkrans, with a strange request. He wanted me to write on my ideas about carrying capacity, which he wanted to use in a discussion group he was planning. Not the normal carrying capacity for animal stocking rates. No, it had to be about the carrying capacity for people, with Bakkrans and Cederberg tourism as an example. More bluntly put, the issues around over-population.

But why me, I’m hardly qualified to handle such a topic, I asked? ‘Because I think you are already practising sustainable utilization by applying the basic rules of carrying capacity – for animals and for people’.  

I refused his request, protesting that it was way above my head to write about such a potentially controversial subject. We all know of the enormous stress that excess numbers of people can bring to bear by over-population. In the end I capitulated.

Where would I start? Is there perhaps a definition for carrying capacity? I Googled “carrying capacity” and discovered that it is even a registered domain in the USA. I never knew, but carrying capacity for humans turns out to be a huge topic, being daily mulled over by many people across the globe.

I thought the best I could do to comply with the request was just to give an exact reflection of our planned and present situation at Bakkrans. But I wasn’t going to make or include any deductions to judge our efforts. That I would leave to the discussion group.

Bakkrans is not the only place where nature is protected against over-exploitation for income. There are many other excellent examples of sustainable tourism. But there are also many examples where these rules have been ignored for the sake of profit. Frankly, this is what irks my friend and like-minded people most.

In short, this is what I wrote about Bakkrans:

“I’m not sure that our endeavours at conservation and sustainable development at Bakkrans are actually worth telling. There are probably many better examples elsewhere to use. But, I guess, if there are many such small contributions as ours, then collectively we could make a huge difference in conserving the environment.  

When we decided to allow visitors to Bakkrans, we at the same time committed ourselves never to over- develop the reserve for the sake of profit. We would always have a soft approach and a small footprint, which had to be in keeping with the size and sensitivity of the Bakkrans environment.

This approach also ties in with the way we try to manage the greater reserve. It is based on the rules as determined by nature. Just as we are applying the rules of carrying capacity for animals and limit our stocking numbers accordingly, we would likewise apply the rules for carrying capacity of people.

These rules are really simple. For instance, if the reserve can accommodate 50 mountain zebras, one does not daily cart in lucerne and increase their numbers to, say, 250 animals. Likewise, if one should not have more than 10 people and 4 vehicles at any one time in the reserve, you should not build lodges and facilities to accommodate 100 people and 40 vehicles.

What many people seem to struggle with is getting the right balance between sustainable utilization and exploitation. One example: should we not rather resist the temptation to conquer the wilderness and not invade pristine untouched areas, setting up opulent dinner tables, laden with silver, cut glass and fine cuisine, for guests that are sometimes even flown in by helicopter? Should we occupy such spaces, just because we can?

Somehow, it seems to be fine to always bend the rules for people, almost always at the expense of animals and their natural habitat. At Bakkrans our game stocking rates are strictly applied according to a scientific management plan, and we don’t mind saying that the numbers of people allowed into Bakkrans at any one time are also strictly limited.

We had various opportunities to upscale our tourist facilities by involving big touring companies. This we declined since it meant we would have had to introduce a much bigger tourism footprint and in a much grander style.

We have since proved to ourselves that there is a great need for many people to experience a down to earth tourism approach, wherein nature is most important. The reserve is foremost an important  research area, where nature is put first and all visitors are expected to fit into this approach. Our tourist accommodation and facilities are without high-tech applications and we cater for a maximum of 8 guests. Overcrowding is definitely not an issue we are prepared to compromise on.


At Bakkrans we insisted on handmade simplicity. To our surprise our range of doors and windows became favourate photo shots for visitors.

If I have to point out the single most important aspect of Bakkrans, it would be the fact that we consciously avoided using high–tech resources to develop and maintain the reserve, especially the facilities for tourists. Almost everything is “handmade”, apart from our flush toilets, gas appliances, cutlery and cookware. Our carbon footprint is minimal. Amazingly, what we find is that our visitors wouldn’t have it any other way. They understand our principles and value our endeavours. Their approval of our efforts serve as a constant encouragement for us.

Recently, Bakkrans, together with seven other neighbouring properties, formed the 65 000 ha Rooi Cederberg Karoo Park, a unique and rare Succulent Karoo area in the Cederberg Karoo. We strive to conserve the genetic and biological diversity of this Park by conserving and maintaining its ecological processes and systems. We have appointed a board of scientists to assist us in protecting this hidden gem and treasure trove of rare plants, rock art, ancient artefacts, etc”.

Picture by John Wilson

This is a view of the Wolfberg in the Cederberg, as seen from the Tierhoksberg, Keurbosfontein. This is what is under thread - mountains such as this, views such as this. If you can be instrumental in protecting just one such mountain and view, do it!

About the Cederberg Conservancy, I said:

“I cannot pretend to be in a position to talk about the Cederberg Conservancy in a representative way, but being a founding member and directly involved with the Conservancy, I can say that we constantly have to deal with issues pertaining to the utilization of Cederberg resources and facilities – i.e. the human footprint. Over the years we have spent many hours debating and handling issues such as the maintenance of our roads, management of our hiking trails, fires hazards, refuse removal, tree planting, invasive plants, our river systems, telephone services, problems with constant littering, illegal hunting and much, much more.

We have made great strides in dealing with these issues effectively. The Cederberg Conservancy is regarded by many as being one of the finest Conservancies in South Africa. We plant Cedar trees, clean our rivers, have our own eco-friendly burners for refuse, accommodate the head office of the Cape Leopard Trust and its Educational Trust, run a trust fund to restore our important historical buildings, have established an environmental research base, promote local community activities and employment, to name but a few. In 2008 we put a total ban on hunting and on the use of gin traps – a first in South Africa.

These are not issues that just affect the inhabitants of the Cederberg. They affect every visitor to our Conservancy - our very important guests. When in the Cederberg, our visitors expect to be able to experience nature in its natural state.

As one of South Africa’s prime holiday destinations, this is our challenge. It is our foremost responsibility to safeguard our environment and guard against exploitation”.

In conclusion

If you think carefully about what is written above, you will notice that this all pivots around the one issue, that of carrying capacity. Yes, carrying capacity for people - inhabitants and visitors. There is no way of getting away from it.

Greetings from the Red Cederberg.
Johan van der Westhuizen


At our Red Cederberg accommodation destinations you don’t share your facilities, space or privacy with any other tourists. When you or your group visit any of our tourist destinations, it is allocated to you exclusively, at no additional cost above our normal rental rates.