Private Landowners Cooperate to Sustain Wildlife Habitat: The Case of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve


  • David Schmidtz,

    1. DAVID SCHMIDTZ is Kendrick Professor of Philosophy, joint Professor of Economics, editor-in-chief of Social Philosophy and Policy, and founding Director of the Center for Philosophy of Freedom at the University of Arizona.
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Elizabeth Willott

    1. ELIZABETH WILLOTT manages Butterfly Magic at Tucson Botanical Gardens. She is affiliated with the University of Arizona and Prescott College and continues to work in the area of Environmenal Ethics.
    Search for more papers by this author

  • This article is an updated and condensed version of the authors' “Reinventing the Commons: An African Case Study,” which first appeared in the December 2003 issue of Environs, The Environmental Law and Policy Journal of the University of California, Davis School of Law.


Now over 60 years old, the Sabi Sand Game Reserve is a cooperative “for-profit” arrangement among a group of private landowners in South Africa that has succeeded in protecting wildlife and wildlife habitat while substantially increasing the economic value of the landowners' property. On a per acre basis, the Sabi Sand's wildlife populations are at least as large and healthy as those of the adjoining Kruger National Park.

The lands that make up the reserve were once several fenced-off properties that were managed unsuccessfully as cattle ranches in the early 20th century. The founding members concluded they would be better off using their land as a game reserve. To do that, they had to pool their landholdings to accommodate populations of large animals such as elephant, rhino, and buffalo that required more room than any one property could provide.

The authors describe how the rules governing Sabi Sand evolved in ways similar to those in other successful cases of common resource management that have been studied by, among others, the late Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom. The asset is managed by a local community where those with a right to its use are clearly identified and others are clearly excluded. The reserve's private property owners use a mix of collective and individual decision-making procedures, have procedures for resolving conflict, and have ways to punish those who would abuse the land or wildlife.