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Operation Phoenix: Madikwe Game Reserve

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When planning a luxury safari, South Africa will no doubt be one of the top destinations in your mind. However, choosing which park or reserve to spend your time in can be a daunting prospect. At Sanctuary Retreats, we think Madikwe Game Reserve is the greatest private game reserve South Africa has to offer.

The reserve is home to a fantastic host of game species including the "Big 5" (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard), the rare African wild dog, cheetah, giraffe, hyena, and more. The birdlife is also spectacular, with over 360 bird species being found there. This beautiful and diverse African wilderness encompasses 75,000 hectares of widely varying terrain. From rocky peaks, across open grasslands, to verdant valleys, each area, with its own distinctive inhabitants, provides visitors with an unforgettable safari experience.

Sanctuary Retreats Madikwe Operation Phoenix Lion

Driving through the game-rich grasslands, you could be forgiven for believing that this area has always been an ecological haven. However, up until 1991 the Madikwe area was used for farming which had almost completely destroyed the local flora and fauna. With the fertility degrading and the outlook bleak, the local communities and South African government had to find a new way to use the land; the answer came in the form of tourism.

Developed as a three-way partnership between the South African government, local communities and the private sector, Madikwe Game Reserve was established with the primary objective to stimulate ecological, sustainable economic activity in the vicinity. The driving force behind this change was to create an area which would benefit the local communities through employment and business opportunities which in turn conserved the biodiversity of the area. In 1991 one of the biggest wildlife trans-location programmes got underway: Operation Phoenix.

Sanctuary Retreats Madikwe Operation Phoenix Cheetah

Operation Phoenix was an ambitious wildlife reintroduction programme and remains one of the most successful in the world. Over a period of seven years, ten thousand animals were relocated into Madikwe, with twenty seven species, all historically occurring in the area, being released into the reserve. These species include lion, elephant, buffalo, black and white rhino, wild dog, giraffe, zebra and a host of antelope species.

In fact, so successful was Operation Phoenix that Madikwe is now home to the second largest population of elephant in South Africa, second only to Kruger National Park. Madikwe is also one of the best places in Southern Africa to watch the elusive wild dog, with their breeding programme being world-renowned.

Sanctuary Retreats Madikwe Operation Phoenix Game Drive Elephants

Madikwe's Operation Phoenix marked a turning point in how many of Africa's parks and reserves are run. Whereas in the past excess wildlife would have been culled, today the oversupply can be trans-located to other areas which have suffered from poaching and mismanagement.

Sanctuary Retreats are currently involved in one such project, relocating black and white rhino to the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana where they have a greater chance of protection and population growth. It is projects like this which give hope to a variety of species on the brink of extinction. From wild dogs to rhinos, Sanctuary Retreats is committed to protecting and growing Africa's wildlife population in a safe and sustainable way.

Sanctuary Retreats Madikwe Operation Phoenix Rhino Relocation

Madikwe Game Reserve is still strictly protected and self-drive or day trips are restricted in the area. This means that the best way to see the reserve is during a stay in one of the area's exclusive bush hideaways. Our newest lodge, Sanctuary Makanyane Safari Lodge, is situated on private ground within the reserve overlooking the Marico River. With limited off-road driving restrictions and full traversing rights over the entire 75,000 hectare Madikwe Reserve, Sanctuary Retreats guests will be treated to some of the best game viewing South Africa has to offer, safe in the knowledge that this area is one of the best examples of the country's dedication to conservation.