Inverdoorn was once the second largest dry fruit farm in the southern hemisphere. It focused on agricultural farming until 1962, when a ten-year drought in the area resulted in unforetold loss. Consequently, the farm was sold in 1972.
When Jean-Michel and Cathy Vergnaud first bought Inverdoorn in 1994, it was a barren and lifeless expanse, decimated by a century of fruit and livestock farming. Having spent years working and raising their family in the jungles of the Ivory Coast and Gabon, their deep love for wildlife and commitment to conservation fuelled their dream to restore Inverdoorn to its former glory: teeming with wildlife of every description.
Jean-Michel, a mechanical engineer and road architect, and his wife Cathy saw the potential of the land and worked tirelessly to re-introduce species once endemic to the region. Inverdoorn was the first to release free-roaming white rhino, zebra and kudu back into the Karoo in the nearly one hundred and fifty years since they had come close to being wiped out through hunting and agriculture.
By 1996 word of the two white rhinos roaming freely at Inverdoorn started to spread and curious spectators began showing up at the reserve to see these animals. Up until that point, opening up the reserve to the public had not been a consideration for Jean-Michel and Cathy; but seeing an opportunity to grow and share their dream, Jean-Michel built a rudimentary safari vehicle and Cathy invited guests to enjoy a home-cooked meal – and so Inverdoorn found its humble beginnings in two dilapidated farmhouses converted to guesthouses to accommodate the growing interest.
It was in 1999 that Jean-Michel fell in love with a beautiful male lion. Inverdoorn's resident Cape Barbary Lion, Robby, was destined for trophy hunting. On seeing this magnificent specimen Jean-Michel spared him, and his two female companions, from a terrible fate and brought them back to Inverdoorn. Today these lions enjoy a safe environment that closely mimics their natural habitat.
Their youngest son Damien, having spent a large part of his life growing up in the West African jungles with his parents, had a similar love affair with yet another striking predator: the cheetah. When he came across a cheetah cub living in appalling conditions on a farm, the stage was set for what would later become one of the most important cheetah rescue and rehabilitation sanctuaries in South Africa – the Western Cape Cheetah Conservation. The initiative was created in 2001 and Inverdoorn is now home to 14 healthy and thriving cheetahs.
Today Damien runs Inverdoorn with creativity and a fierce commitment to the environment and wildlife conservation. His latest initiative, RhinoProtect, is at the forefront of the fight to end rhino poaching in South Africa. In April 2012 he staged Stand Up!, a concert featuring legendary reggae artists The Wailers as the headline act, to raise awareness and encourage the public to get involved. RhinoProtect advocates a treatment of the rhino's horn with a chemical that will make it useless to the poacher and end-user, thereby destroying the illegal trade in rhino horn. It is their mandate to roll out this treatment to as many game reserves as possible to see more rhinos protected than poached.
With so many different species roaming freely across the 10 000-hectare reserve, luxury accommodation for up to 45 guests and a team of dedicated staff, Jean-Michel and Cathy's dreams has come true. With such a rich history to build on, there are many more exciting plans afoot for Inverdoorn.
Become a part of the Inverdoorn Story and book your safari now!