Located at the meeting point of the Kalahari Desert and the South African bushveld, the 165,000-acre Madikwe Game Reserve is one of the continent’s lesser-known safari destinations. The story behind the reserve, however, is nothing short of extraordinary. For years, the lands that comprise Madikwe were ravaged by hunting and intensive farming. In 1991, the local government decided to develop the property as a wildlife sanctuary, setting in motion what is perhaps the largest wildlife repopulation project in history. More than 60 species of mammals and 350-odd species of birds flourish here today; the natural flora has returned; and the safari lodges within the reserve offer steady jobs and opportunities for growth to locals from surrounding villages.
From wetlands to bushveld to savanna, the Madikwe Game Reserve harbors a range of habitats—and a corresponding spectrum of wild residents. The African “big five”—lion, buffalo, elephant, leopard, and rhino—are arguably among the most popular, but rare African wild dogs can also be spotted here. Cheetahs stalk their prey amid the tall grasses; zebras, antelopes, and giraffes congregate at watering holes; and crocodiles and hippos drift quietly at the shores of the Marico River. Not to be overlooked are Madikwe’s dazzling avian species, which can often be seen—and heard—under the shade of the bush willows, marula, and shepherd trees that dapple the landscape.
Stone tools recovered along the Marico River suggest that prehistoric humans lived and hunted in Madikwe tens of thousands of years ago. The area was settled by the Sotho-Tswana people around the 14th century, who established some of southern Africa’s largest settlements at the time. In the 19th century, the warlike Zulu moved in, followed by Dutch farmers, British colonists, and Catholic missionaries. Madikwe lay largely unused and unpopulated for most of the 20th century; today, these once depleted lands have become a thriving sanctuary for South African wildlife, thanks to the efforts of the government, private sector, and local communities.
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