Madikwe Game Reserve in North West province is one of South Africa’s famous miracle conservation stories. Think Pilanesburg, Shamwari, Phinda.
But scroll back over 2 decades and all you’d find in this enormous, dry 75 000ha area bordering Botswana would be overgrazed cattle farms, rusting fences, overgrown bush and abandoned kraals.
Today, thanks to the aptly named Operation Phoenix (when thousands of animals were relocated to the new Madikwe Game Reserve), the whole area has been restored to its pristine natural state and is pumping with game – and yes, the Big 5 are all here.
The whole area has been restored to its pristine natural state and is pumping with game – and yes, the Big 5 are all here.
But what brings many visitors here (apart from the fact that the reserve is malaria-free and only a 4½-hour drive from Johannesburg) is the opportunity to see Africa’s ‘painted wolves’. Madikwe is one of the best places in southern Africa to see the highly endangered wild dog (Lycaon pictus).
These attractive animals are also the continent’s most successful hunters, strategising their hunt and then running their prey down until it is exhausted.
I was staying at Madikwe Safari Lodge in September and had the best sighting I’ve ever had.
The dogs were denning across the Marico River, but early every morning and just before sunset, the adults would set out on their hunt, crossing the river to get to the game-rich other side. The 16 5-month-old cubs – not yet old enough to hunt with the adults – would then emerge from the den and romp and play.
We stayed with them until the sun set, and next evening repeated the never-to-be-forgotten experience.