In the early 1950’s a group of like-minded landowners realized that inappropriate land use could lead to habitat degradation and loss of wildlife for future generations. Working together, they formed the Timbavati Association in 1956, with the aim of preserving the natural integrity of the area.
Since that early start, the reserve has grown and now covers an area of 53,396 hectares with 47 landowners. Bound by a common constitution, the association is a non-profit body solely committed to preserving the fauna and flora of the area.
An important milestone in the history of the reserve was the dropping, in 1993, of the fences between itself and the Kruger National Park and other adjoining privately owned conservation areas. This expansion of the open system initially included Timbavati, Klaserie and Umbabat Private Nature Reserves, and later the Balule Nature Reserve, adding some 184,000 hectares to what is today referred to as the Greater Kruger National Park. More recently the fences between the Timbavati and its neighbour to the west, Thornybush, were also dropped, which opened an additional 14,500 hectares, further encouraging natural species migration.
Since its humble origins in the 1950s, the reserve is now a highly professional organisation, that protects sustainable populations of many endangered species such as black and white rhinoceros, pangolins, saddlebilled storks, southern ground hornbills and many others.
The Timbavati is home to a number of Safari lodges that cater to local and international tourists, bringing a thriving tourism economy to the region, and promoting employment within the reserve and in the neighbouring communities.
If we stand tall it is because we stand on the shoulders of many ancestors. – African Proverb
The reserve also finances an outreach body, the Timbavati Foundation that runs a series of programmes that help neighbouring communities in areas such as boreholes, sustainable shaded vegetable farming as well as environmental awareness programmes for schoolchildren.
Human incursion into this part of the Lowveld has always been temporary and brief, from the stone age down to the early 20th century. Large tracts of land in the northern part of the Lowveld were never permanently settled by people. The lands now comprising the Timbavati were barely touched and are still only sparsely inhabited. This part of South Africa's bushveld region may therefore be regarded as truly pristine and unspoiled; it is genuine wilderness, different from the "restored" and "restocked" lands commonly found elsewhere.