Willem Pretorius Game Reserve, Free State
Did you know?
Black wildebeest make a high-pitched honking call, 'ge-nu' - hence their other popular name.
On the wild grassy plains of the Willem Pretorius Game Reserve you may be lucky enough to catch the black wildebeest herds in a frolicsome mood.
For reasons no-one can quite explain, these curious creatures may spontaneously sprint to the horizon and back, or suddenly begin a strange, twirling dance, tossing their heavy heads, prancing and flicking their horsey white tails.
Black wildebeest (distinctly different to the more common blue wildebeest) are endemic to South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, and it seems every early explorer had something to write about them - either about their strange clownlike antics, massive herds or their weird appearance. They have meathook-shaped horns, stiff hair on their muzzles and manes, heavy shoulders and delicate hindquarters, plus a pale, fly-whisk tail.
Unfortunately, Europe developed a liking for their skins, and within four decades, black wildebeest numbers had plummeted from millions to a few hundred.
Records show that in 1866 alone, nearly 157 000 skins, most of them wildebeest, were exported via a single trading firm in the Free State province. But by 1890, a certain Free State farmer near Kroonstad called Piet Terblans had had enough of the ruthless hunting, and he quietly turned his property into a black wildebeest sanctuary. When he died two decades later and hunting resumed on his property, most of the animals fled and took shelter on the nearby farm of another sympathetic farmer, Hendrik Delport.
It was these Delport herds that were eventually used to restock other conservation areas, including the Willem Pretorius Game Reserve between Ventersburg and Winburg in the Free State. This 12 000-hectare provincial park now has the world's largest herds of black wildebeest.
A convenient stopover point between Johannesburg and Cape Town, this is also a good place to see eland, blesbok, springbok, white rhino and giraffe. The reserve is set around the large Allemanskraal Dam, which means you'll certainly see aquatic birds, including fish eagles.
And at dusk, with hundreds of black wildebeest making abstract patterns in the veld, raise a glass to the farmers who saved this charismatic species.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Willem Pretorius Game Reserve
Tel: +27 (0)57 651 4168