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Madikwe Game Reserve

The Malaria-Free Madikwe Game Reserve is a Wilderness Haven

Madikwe Game Reserve covers about 75 000 hectares of bushland stretching all the way up to the Botswana border, and is one the largest and most popular game reserves in South Africa.

Once farm land (up until 1991), the Reserve has now been restored to its former natural environment with 86 mammals (from mice to elephant), 420 bird species (110 being rare) and 104 tree species. Predominantly grasslands and bushveld, intermingled with lone mountains and rocky outcrops, the Reserve is home to Cheetahs, Wild Dogs, Leopards, Hyenas, Lion, Elephant, Black & White Rhino, Buffalo, Zebra, Giraffe and various antelope.


The Madikwe Game Reserve, which is a malaria-free area boasting the ‘Big 5’, is the North West Province’s most extensive conservation area, being over 75 000 hectares  in extent. Development of the Reserve and reintroduction of game began in 1991.

Madikwe is unusual in many respects. The rich diversity of the vegetation in the Reserve is a reflection of its complex geomorphology. The vegetation, hydrology, topography, climate, soil and other factors such as the previous farming activities in the area, have a direct bearing on the varied fauna present in the Reserve. The unusual variety of fauna range from Impala in the bushveld areas, Gemsbok in the dry savannah sections, Bush buck along the Marico (Madikwe) River and species such as Klipspringer and Mountain reedbuck that prefer the various rocky outcrops and mountainous regions.

Madikwe’s Operation Phoenix is the code name for the largest reintroduction of game (10 000 large mammals) undertaken by man in any Game Reserve in Africa. During the early 1990’s, the relocation of entire breeding herds of elephant, various antelope species, buffalo, black and white rhino, zebra and more recently lion, cheetah, spotted hyaena and endangered wild dog have increased the large mammal population to over 16 000. Some species such as kudu and leopards occurred naturally in the area; in fact the Dwarsberg kudu bulls are reputed to have the most spectacular horns in the country.

The area is also rich in cultural history reflecting times of turmoil and peace.


From the centre of the Dwarsberg range through to Derdepoort runs the famous Mafeking Road (now spelt Mafikeng), which during the 19th century was the main road Northwards from Cape Town to Bulawayo. Many explorers, traders, hunters, missionaries and of course Mzilikazi and his followers passed this way during the making of South African History.

Herman Charles Bosman lived among and wrote about the inhabitants of this area, also travelling along this road. You can easily visualise his Oom Schalk Lourens sitting under a Karee boom, contemplating the finer points of life, or recovering from some of the alcoholic delights of its berries. A visit to the historical town of Groot Marico, featured in Bosman’s stories, is essential if only to sample his infamous “Mampoer”, a locally made alcoholic beverage, and to meet its hospitable inhabitants.

A dilapidated Jesuit Mission Station steeped in history and now in need of restoration work can also be found along the Mafeking Road within the Madikwe Reserve.

Spectacular Mountain Ranges

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The Dwarsberg Mountain range geologically related to the Magaliesberg range, forming the southern boundary of the Reserve, runs from east to west. This range has been drastically eroded; with Brandwacht in the highest point in the Dwarsberg range within the Reserve, reaching only 1228 metres, with a slightly higher peak of 1250 metres situated to the west of Brandwacht on the Reserve’s border.

Northwards into the Reserve an undulation plateau covered in dense bushveld vegetation suddenly drops away at the Tweedepoort escarpment to a lower flat savannah plain. Scattered inselbergs dot this savannah bringing relief to an otherwise flat area. The Tshwene Tshwene group of hills, more or less in the centre of the park reach 1326 metres, making it the highest point in the Reserve.

The Molatedi Gate on the eastern boundary is close to Lotteringskop, and the entrance gate on the western side has a good view of Abjaterskop which at 1144 metres and 1377 metres respectively, are both landmarks referred to later.


Wild Dogs, also known as ‘Painted Wolves’, were once called Cape Hunting Dogs. The Wild Dog is the largest of the wild canids in Africa and is now one of Africa’s most endangered carnivores. It is estimated that less than 5,000 Wild Dogs still survive in the wild and viable populations are only found in larger reserves and uninhabited areas in Southern and Eastern Africa.

Wild Dogs are extremely gregarious animals and are usually found in packs of between five and fifteen members. Each pack has a clearly defined social hierarchy and is led by a dominant (or alpha) male and female. Working together in these highly organised units, the Wild Dog is an effective predator, capable of bringing down prey as large as Buffalo. They are also able to defend themselves against their natural enemies, Lions and Spotted Hyenas.

The bonds between all the members of the pack are very strong, all the dogs cooperate in caring for and feeding any pups as well as any sick or injured members of the pack. In most packs only the dominant (alpha) male and female successfully reproduce. Although persecution by man, susceptibility to diseases such as rabies, and diminishing natural areas have all taken their toll on Africa’s Wild Dog population, there is now a concerted effort to conserve and protect these fascinating animals.

In December 1994, as part of the huge game translocation operation called Operation Phoenix, wild dogs were relocated into the Madikwe Game Reserve. Three female dogs, captive bred at a breeding station for rare and endangered species, were put into an enclosure in the reserve with three male dogs captured just outside the Kruger National Park. The six animals formed a new pack and were then released into the reserve. The project was resoundingly successful and today the Madikwe Game Reserve has a viable and thriving population of Wild Dogs.


This history of cheetah in the Madikwe Game Reserve dates back to 2012, when 6 males were introduced into the reserve. Four males were from the Eastern Cape, and two were sourced from another reserve. Later that year, one of the two males was killed, most likely by the four from the Eastern Cape.

In 2015, two males were sent to Welgevonden and two were sent to Phinda. That same year, two males from Phinda, two males from Sable Ranch and two females from the Eastern Cape were received. Unfortunately, one female died after choking on a piece of meal, one female was killed by the males, and one female was caught outside the reserve and sent to Pilanesburg.

In 2016, another female was introducted into the reserve, but after getting out and then recaptured, she disappeared. The next year, three unrelated females were brought in from De Wildt – tagged red, blue and green as per their GPS collar IDs.

In 2018, an unknown female was found in the park, shortly after which she was killed by a leopard. That year, the female cheetah with the green tage died from a lung infection. She did receive treatment from the vet, but unfortunately, it was too late.

In early 2019, one of the males from Sable Ranch was attacked by the Phinda males. The vet tended to him, but he was found dead the next day. The blue and red tagged femals are doing fine so far – blue gave everyone a scare when she got sick in early 2019, but she was treated by the vet and is being monitored.

Madikwe Game Reserve Animal Checklist