From Cattle Herder to Safari Owner – the Story of Alex and Renias

By Seth Coetzee

In 1975, I emerged into a world vastly different from Renias Mhlongo’s early experiences beneath a jackalberry tree in the Kruger National Park. Our beginnings were diverse: mine rooted in the cattle farms of Southern Cape, his in the Shangaan hunter-gatherer traditions. However, both our childhoods hinted at destinies beyond the ordinary.

My youth unfolded amid dunes in Plettenberg Bay, marked by games of hide-and-seek. Meanwhile, Renias delved into the Shangaan version, “Xitumbelelani,” a precursor to his eventual acclaim as a world-renowned animal tracker.

Renias faced the harsh realities of apartheid South Africa, with his family’s life upended after false accusations of poaching against his father. Forced to leave their land, Renias vividly recalls the night they sought refuge in a settlement named Dixie, wading through rivers with the aid of a cow’s tail to arrive there.

Our paths converged two decades later at Londolozi Game Reserve. United by echoes of childhood games and an unexpected affinity for cows, we discovered a haven where diverse cultures coalesced under a common conservation purpose.

Navigating the animal trails of Londolozi, Renias and I acknowledged our differences, fears, and the unlikely partnership we had forged. Renias, a name synonymous with legendary tracking, mentored me into an adept leopard tracking team with him that contributed to Londolozi’s pioneering wild leopard viewing.

Driven by a shared vision, we departed from secure positions at Londolozi to establish Tracker Academy alongside Gaynor Rupert. The academy aimed to revive ancient African animal tracking, leading to 266 graduates finding employment in the conservation sector over a decade.

Our ambition evolved into creating a sanctuary for these skills. After years of pursuing our dream, overcoming financial obstacles, and enduring numerous rejections, we realised the establishment of Tshokwane River Camp in July 2023. The fruition of this dream marked a profound achievement, reflecting not just a business venture but a testament to our shared commitment to South Africa’s future.

In an industry where transformative initiatives are rare, we exhibited the tenacity of honey badgers to prove that change is possible. Despite setbacks, Renias remained unwavering, believing it was the wish of his ancestors.

The ecotourism landscape witnessed a rare success story with the birth of Tshokwane River Camp. What began as an uneasy alliance at Londolozi had blossomed into a deep kinship, emphasizing the strength of unity over time.

Renias’ message, “Hi swi kumile. 🐆” (We found it), encapsulates the triumph we achieved. The once cattle herder on the dusty savanna is now a shareholder in KrugerUntamed, a legitimate safari business symbolizing more than profit – it stands for hope and unity in South Africa’s future.

For more information on Alex and Renias click here –