In 1991, the South African government undertook what is still known to this day as the largest animal translocation project in the world: Operation Phoenix. This impressive feat, which involved the introduction of over 8 000 animals into the newly fenced Madikwe reserve, is a renowned accomplishment in the conservation world.
It was the first time that entire families of elephant were relocated, and also the first instance where African wild dogs (Lyacon pictus) were reintroduced into a fenced reserve.
The highly endangered wild dog population is now flourishing in Madikwe. The founding group of six wild dogs were moved to the reserve in 1994 and their journey over the past 19 years has been a challenging one, with several dying due to territorial clashes, lion attacks and rabies outbreaks.
A century ago, African wild dog packs of more than 100 members roamed free on the Serengeti Plains. Today, the picture is very different, with less than 5 000 dogs living behind fences in African reserves. Despite the odds, Madikwe has stabilised resident clans and even introduced new wild dogs from other reserves to strengthen the dogs’ gene pool. Today, there are three hunting packs in the reserve.
Since malaria-free Madikwe is located near the edge of the Kalahari Desert, there’s an overlap of a number of species, offering visitors greater viewing diversity. The field guides prefer to focus on the “Madikwe Top Ten” rather than the Big Five, so besides being able to spot lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino (both black and white), also look out for hippo, giraffe, our wild dog, hyena (spotted and brown), as well as cheetah, amid a huge variety of antelope and smaller game.
The larger antelope species include eland, gemsbok, sable and nyala, to name a few. Smaller buck species such as springbok, oribi, duiker and klipspringer are also seen in large numbers across the reserve. Some of the smaller animals include the honey badger, otter, serval, fox, meerkat, antbear, baboon, porcupine, warthog, bushbaby and hedgehog.
And of course, there’s Madikwe’s birdlife to consider. With over 350 species recorded on the reserve, attracted by the different tree variations like the shepherd’s tree, weeping wattle, lavender fever berry and marula, and the range of wild grasses, a day with the binoculars really is a dream come true for avid birdwatchers.
Please feel free to download a list of animals you can expect to find in the reserve below.