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VVisitors to South African game reserves are usually thrilled to see Africa’s big cats. But what of Africa’s smallest cat, the black-footed cat? This tiny carnivore is rarely seen, other than at Benfontein Nature Reserve near Kimberley in the Northern Cape, where it has been studied for 19 years.
The Benfontein Nature Reserve in the Northern Cape offers visitors a rare nocturnal adventure during which they can experience the black-footed cat, the aardwolf and other elusive nocturnal species.
This is made possible through the research that zoologist Beryl Wilson and other scientists have been conducting at Benfontein and its nearby sister reserve, Dronfield Nature Reserve – both of which are owned by the De Beers group.
'Visitors can accompany me or one of my colleagues on a night drive through the reserves to see species that very few people in the world have seen,' says Wilson.
On Benfontein Nature Reserve, 4 black-footed cats are radio-collared and can be tracked. Otherwise it is almost impossible to view Africa’s smallest cat, which is entirely solitary and nocturnal.
'Weighing between 1kg and 2kg, they are one of the most effective hunters of all the carnivore species, making 8 to 16 kills a night, mainly of rodents,' Wilson says.
Then there's the aardwolf, which is a member of the hyena family, but which only eats termites and ants, making it one of the most specialised mammal feeders in the world. This shy, elusive animal is also being studied at the reserve.
On your night drive, in addition to the black-footed cat and aardwolf, you will have the opportunity to spot a bat-eared fox, Cape fox, black-backed jackal, aardvark, porcupine and caracal.
Both reserves are also renowned for birding (boasting a long list of species, ranging from the African fish eagle to the lilac-breasted roller), and offer drawcard wildlife species such as black wildebeest, roan, sable, rhino and buffalo. Dronfield has a vulture hide where visitors can get up close to the enigmatic white-backed vulture, which has also been studied there for many years.
During your visit you stay at Dronfield, which has attractive self-catering chalets in a compelling setting of Kalahari thornveld and expansive grass plains.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Benfontein Nature Reserve
How to get here
Drive or fly to Kimberley. Kimberley is about 430km from Johannesburg (about a 5-hour drive) and 150km (about a 90-minute drive) from Bloemfontein. The reserves are a short drive from Kimberley.
Best time to visit
All year round.
For the night drives, speak to the organiser as you will generally transfer to their vehicle. You can also explore in your own vehicle – the reserves have excellent self-drive routes.
What will it cost?
Around R750 per self-catering chalet, which sleeps 2 to 4 people.
Length of stay
Stay at least 2 nights.
What to pack
Bush gear, clothing for warm and cold conditions, raincoat, binoculars, camera, South African bird and mammal guides.
Where to stay
Dronfield Nature Reserve's beautiful self-catering chalets.
What to eat
Dronfield is self-catering and you can purchase food and drinks in nearby Kimberley.