The story of Gaven Holden-Smith is nothing short of incredible. Shunned as a “boerseun” who could never make it in this industry, the young Gaven was determined to prove his doubters wrong and follow his passion. With no funds available and still grieving the passing of his father and subsequent loss of the family farm, Gaven sold disused farming equipment until he had raised enough money to join our Ranger Training Program at Mabula Game Reserve in the year 2000.
Gaven passed his guide training course and went on into the Field Guiding sector, working at various Big 5 Game Reserves in Limpopo, North-West and the Greater Kruger National Park. Always keen to improve, Gaven worked hard at his guiding qualifications and eventually qualified as a FGASA Level 3 Field Guide (now known as Professional Field Guide) and FGASA Lead Trails Guide (now known as Trails Guide).
In 2003, Gaven took up a position in Zambia, where his duties involved not only guiding, but also leading a team of field rangers in anti-poaching activities. This was to be the precursor to the next phase of his career, and ultimately, to the niche that Gaven now fills today. His Zambia days still rank among his favourite times; he truly maximised the opportunity and experienced wild Africa.
Gaven’s time as head of the anti-poaching activities on his concession in Zambia proved to be hugely successful and poaching incidents decreased dramatically in the area. Always willing to give back to the industry, Gaven trained and mentored the field ranger team on site, instilling skills and proficiency that allowed them to continue after he vacated the position and returned to South Africa.
Upon returning to SA, Gaven realised that the poaching pandemic was about to explode, and true to his nature, he wanted to be at the forefront of the war. He drew upon the skills and knowledge of his siblings who work in the security sector in South Africa and quickly upgraded his legal requirements to comply with legislation, thus creating the ideal conditions to launch his Anti-Poaching company, Holden-Smith Tracking and Conservation (HSTC). As with most businesses in their infancy, Gaven had to also take up a full-time position as security manager at a local game reserve, while he grew the company.
In 2011, Gaven was eventually in a position to become fully self-employed and focused all his energy on security and Anti-Poaching activities in the Bushveld areas of SA. At this time Gaven launched the K-9 section of his business and began breeding and training anti-poaching dogs for deployment in the field. This unit of his business has proven to be hugely successful and HSTC now runs full-time kennels to keep up with demand.
Since 2015, Gaven and his incredible work with dogs, handlers, trackers and Anti -Poaching units in general has proved so successful that several mainstream conservation entities have made use of his services. Notably, Kruger National Park has made use of Gaven’s dogs and the training and mentoring that comes along with it. Each time that Gaven deploys K9’s in the field, he is personally there to ensure that the future handlers have a seamless transition with the dogs.
In 2017, Gaven and his wife Lara were involved with setting up K9 units in Namibia and most recently, in 2019, Gaven has been working with various conservancies in Kenya – also setting up K9 units and spending months on the ground with field rangers, training and mentoring them to ensure that they are best equipped for the ongoing poaching battle.
To say that this is a success story is an understatement. From humble beginnings, written off as mediocre, Gaven Holden-Smith has risen up against the odds for the past 20 years and created something special.
A true Limpopo Ranger, a true hero. Gaven, we salute you!