Madikwe Game Reserve, one of South Africa’s foremost Big Five malaria-free reserves, was envisaged not by conservationists, but by economists. They found conservation would create more income and jobs than the existing land-use, which was cattle-farming. This successful reserve is now a model that has inspired South African conservation.

Did you know?

A conservation corridor is envisaged, that will eventually join the Madikwe and Pilanesberg game reserves.

Madikwe Game Reserve, right up against the Botswana border in the North West province, is a strange anomaly in the world of conservation.

It was transformed from a number of low-yield cattle farms to a high yield conservation area. This was not land chosen by ecologists for its rare vegetation or animals. It was chosen by economists because they found that a game reserve here would generate more jobs and money than any other land use option. Madikwe is now a model of the way conservation can benefit communities.

Another remarkable factor is that this was pioneered in 1991, within one of South Africa’s apartheid-era Bantustans – Bophuthatswana – which was reintegrated into the country in 1994.

Bop Parks, as it was then called, created an initiative where the state would manage the land and wildlife, the private sector would profit through game lodges, and the surrounding community would benefit through sustainable jobs and income.

On paper it seemed idealistic. Yet in practice it worked. Bop Parks launched Operation Phoenix in 1991. By 1997, it had brought in more than 8 000 individual animals, the largest translocation of its kind in the world. Several private companies set up very successful bush lodges within the 75 000 hectare park. And the three villages around Madikwe – Supingstad, Lekgophung and Molatedi – are doing very well.

Women are particularly empowered – a high proportion of them are employed in the park.

Social and financial upliftment aside, Madikwe is now better known as one of the best places to see the Big Five, and it also has the advantage of being malaria free. Madikwe is seen as a model of the benefits conservation can bring.

You may not be in an exclusive private game reserve (it's actually a provincial game reserve), but you’ll feel as if you are – the experience is almost indistinguishable.

The only difference is that you might catch a special sense of pride from some of the people you encounter in and around the park.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Madikwe park manager
Tel: +27 (0)18 350 9931

How to get here

From Pretoria or Johannesburg, it's about 350 km, or a four-hour journey on good roads. Depending on the lodge you are staying in, the directions might be quite different, so inquire first. Or you could inquire from your lodge of choice about air charters - there is an airstrip in the reserve.

Best time to visit

Summers are very hot. Consider going between March and November, when temperatures are lower.

Around the area

You're very close to the Botswana border, so Madikwe makes a lovely stopover if you're heading into that country, or coming back. It's also close to Sun City and the Pilanesberg National Park.

Length of stay

Stay at least two nights, or three or more if you can.

Where to stay

You have a choice of more than 20 game lodges - all of them with varying degrees of luxury and comfort. Most of the lodges are five-star, so expect to pay accordingly.

What to eat

Most lodges provide three meals a day as part of their daily rate.

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