An eco-conscious game reserve cherished by both man and beast
With just eight (albeit individually beautiful) luxury suites, the Makanyane Safari Lodge certainly has a personable boutique approach for those in search of the safari experience. But safaris aren’t just about seeing lions and tigers anymore: once labelled a trend, responsible tourism is now a big and growing part of such an experience. If you choose a visit to Makanyane, (without sounding like an Oxfam advert) it’s easy – and satisfying – to see how your financial contributions as a tourist filter into the admirable, continuous efforts employed by those in charge of sustaining the agriculture, conservation, wildlife and wild species within the area. Glass spoke to the Makanyane lodge's Garth Kew about battles of beast v beast, the Madiwke Game Reserve and Mayankane lodge’s part in the conservation challenge and the local Tswana tribe.
Madikwe Game Reserve (conveniently malaria-free) consists of private land on which the Makanyane lodge resides. Its 75,000 hectares make Madikwe the second largest game reserve in South Africa, home to species which include lion, leopard, black rhino, white rhino, large herds of elephants and buffalo. The rare African wild dog, after which the resort is named (Makanyane means dog in Tswana) also makes a frequent appearance, as well as the brown hyena, giraffe, zebra, numerous antelope, porcupine and 340 species of birds. As with the film, The Lion King, it has virtually every species you can think of – and these ones won't sing annoying yet strangely catchy tunes at you (yes, they have warthogs too).
Action between the animals is actually quite possible to see here: “Madikwe Game Reserve has seen some spectacular battles in the acres of the Madikwe Game Reserve,” says Kew. There was once “a very unusual fight between an elephant and a white rhino. The rhino eventually, and sensibly, backed down. And there was one particularly memorable battle between two mature, dominant bulls in their prime. They raged all around the lodge, the incensed trumpeting of the battling elephants and the repeated thumps of their bodies ramming into each other rattled the windows for a good two hours. The cracks of their tusks colliding sounded like gunfire in the still night. The battle only ended when one of the bulls snapped a tusk clean off and retreated into the night.”
The lions are also keen on showing each other who’s boss. As Makanyane lodge overlooks a prime drinking spot on the Groot Marico River, the lions intensely defend this spot as their territory. “Over the years, we have seen several dominant male lion coalitions move into the area, establish their territory and reign supreme, until age or injury weaken them and new coalitions step up to challenge them for their territory, explains Kew. “The change in rulership is always a tumultuous time as battles between the various coalitions are bloody and intense, and accompanied by almost constant roaring.”
“Once the new rulers have defeated their predecessors, they then face the challenge of subjugating the groups of females, their kin and offspring found in their new territory – no easy task – so the battles continue to rage for some time until the new order is established. But sooner or later the order is disturbed and the process begins again as the saga of the lions around Makanyane gains another chapter,” says Kew. The wild dogs are also a source of interest for visitors, especially when they are on the hunt. A kill may even be seen on some occasions.
The vast knowledge the guides and conservationists have at Madiwke Game Reserve means that visitors can expect to learn much about ecology, geology, astronomy and the local culture. “People can also learn a lot about the challenges of conserving the world's diminishing natural areas, as well as the intricacies of the local ecology,” Kew says. Before the Madikwe Game Reserve was set up, this remote corner of South Africa’s North West Province was barely able to survive. Originally used for cattle farming and agriculture, vegetation became increasingly sparse and rain was rare.
Kew explains how it started, “Established in 1991, Madikwe Game Reserve was developed as a three-way partnership between the South African government, local communities and the private sector. The primary objective of the reserve is to stimulate ecologically sustainable economic activity, benefiting the local communities through employment and business opportunities.” This saw Operation Pheonix initiated, in order for the Madikwe Game Reserve to flourish. Over 10,000 animals relocated to the reserve over seven years.
As well as learning much about the African bush and most importantly, gaining a greater understanding of sustainable conservation, visitors can also meet and interact with the local Tswana tribe. “Although increasingly Westernised, they still maintain many of their cultural beliefs and rituals,” explains Kew. A meeting area known as a “boma” can be found at the centre of each village, where the prime leader, the tribal chief and his tribal council meet to discuss and resolve any issues regarding the village. “The head of each village is the tribal chief, whose word will be final. The traditional healer or witchdoctor (more correctly, the Sangoma) is also an important figure, dispensing potions and cures brewed from local and traditional ingredients.”
What is wonderful about the Makanyane lodge is that it has been designed around the life, people and wild animals that were there before it, which has helped maintain Madikwe’s biodiversity, also resulting from such a pro-active sustainable conservation programme. But in addition to it being an ode to Mother Nature and her creatures, Makanyane lodge is an exclusive, luxurious sanctuary for us other creatures – creatures of comfort. Al fresco showers in all the suites are blissful after a day on safari, as is a dip in the contemporary swimming pool or a visit to the spa. The viewing and sun decks make for excellent game-watching and the restaurant and award-winning wine cellar will provide a perfect ending to any day here.
If you're after an incredible safari experience (and then some), Makanyane Safari Lodge should be a prime target.