In September, 2002, Ed Clark, the President of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, was a speaker at a wildlife conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. While there, a Virginia Game Warden introduced Ed to Joe Viljoen, a South African who has created a large nature reserve there. Ed spent three incredible days at 'Chazen', Joe's nature reserve and lodge. As a result of that visit, Joe donated a 10-day photo safari to the WCV's Fall 2002 Benefit Auction, where I was the lucky person who 'won' it. My wife and I went in March 2003. It was an extraordinary experience, and it was obvious such a unique opportunity should be made available to as many others as possible.
The WCV created these safaris and is sponsoring them, in cooperation with Joe, in order to make them available to those of us interested in viewing African wildlife in its natural surroundings, while we enjoy viewing in comfort and safety. Result :-) 14-day safaris — 12 days with Joe in SA, plus 1 over, 1 back. We at WCV have now produced 30+ very successful safaris with plans for more.
Joe Viljoen, his wife Antoinette and two sons, Micha and Zen, are native South Africans and absolutely delightful. His Nature Reserve, "Chazen", is named after his two sons. Joe is one of the top trackers in South Africa, having an incredible knowledge of wildlife and their behavior, and he can interact with them in such a way that we are allowed exceptionally close viewing, even though they are all living naturally and in the wild.
More than 20 years ago Joe invested his winnings in 20,000 acres (32 sq. miles!) of land that is now Chazen. It was a sheep and cattle farm that had been stripped completely of grass with attendant erosion. Joe began a major renewal program to get the grasses back, and has admirably used environmentally-sensitive techniques to recover the land. He added grass seed to the feed for his various antelope species so they spread the seeds along with the fertilizer. He controls any wildlife tick infestations by moving his small herd of cattle around various sections of the reserve (cattle attract ticks like magnets) then the cattle are dipped in environmentally-safe tick dip. As a result of these and other clever techniques, the land is now supporting magnificent herds of wildlife.