See the Big Five just two hours from Johannesburg and Pretoria in one of the country’s most popular wildlife areas – Pilanesberg Game Reserve. Set in an ancient volcanic crater, this well-stocked reserve has a dramatic landscape that supports a wide variety of plants, animals and birds.

Did you know?

There is an initiative under way to join Pilanesberg with Madikwe, creating a new superpark.

Pilanesberg is a popular game reserve in South Africa’s North West province. As a true Big Five area it features elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard and rhino. But there’s a lot more wildlife to discover. Some of the other animals that roam the park include African wild dogs, brown hyenas and sable antelope.

Like nearby Madikwe Game Reserve, Pilanesberg used to be farmland. Between 1969 and 1979, the land had to be rehabilitated. Alien plants were removed, eroded land was restored, houses and windmills were knocked down. An old fluorite mine was also dismantled.

During Operation Genesis nearly 6 000 animals of 19 different species were introduced to the reserve. At the time, this was the largest game translocation in the world.

The landscape was formed over a billion years ago, when overflowing magma shaped the area. The explosive turbulence spat up all sorts of interesting rock formations and rare minerals. Geology buffs will be interested to find red, white, green and Ledig foyaite, nepheline syenite, kimberlite, fluorite and uranium tuff.

Birders can look out for the southern pied babbler, sabota lark and rufous-naped lark on the grassy hill slopes while you’ll find the ever-spectacular lilac-breasted roller, pin-tailed whydah and black-shouldered kite on the grasslands.

Soaring above them all, you might see black-breasted snake-eagles, African hawk-eagles and Verreaux’s eagle. The more thickly wooded areas yield various hornbills, the Marico flycatcher, chinspot batis and small fire finches.

Because of its location in the former homeland of Bophutatswana, the game reserve is still referred to as Pilanesberg National Park, although it is in fact a provincial park and not officially part of South African National Parks.

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