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North West

MMadikwe Game Reserve, right up against the Botswana border in South Africa’s North West province, is a strange anomaly in the world of conservation – it was envisaged not by conservationists, but by economists.  

They calculated that conservation would create more income and jobs in the local area than the existing land use at the time, which was cattle farming. As a result, Madikwe Game Reserve 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 who had determined that it would generate more jobs and money as a wildlife preserve. Madikwe is now a model of the way conservation can benefit communities, and it has become one of South Africa’s foremost Big Five malaria-free reserves. 

Also remarkable is the fact that this far-sighted change in land use was pioneered in 1991, within one of South Africa’s apartheid-era bantustansthe quasi-independent ‘homeland’ of Bophuthatswana – which was only reintegrated into the country in 1994. 

Bop Parks, as the local conservation authority was then called, created an initiative in which 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, but 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 75000-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 is in fact a provincial game reserve), but you’ll feel as if you are – the experience is almost indistinguishable. 

The only difference is that you might sense a special sense of pride in the people you encounter in and around the park, participants as they are in a successful experiment that could provide a model for the nation. 

Did You Know?

TTravel tips & Planning  info 

Who to contact 

Madikwe Game Reserve 
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 (December to February) are very hot. Consider going between March and November, when temperatures are lower. 

Things to do in 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 from it. Its also close to Sun City and the Pilanesberg National Park. 

Length of stay  

Stay at least three nights, 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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