The Madikwe Game Reserve is only some 28 km from Gaborone Botswana just across the border with South Africa. This 290 square mile reserve was created by the Government and some 8,000 animals were brought in over a five year period. It is as close to natural habitat as you can get with the only exception being they have to pump in water since the animals cannot migrate due to the 9,000 volt electric fence surrounding it. The experience is designed so one can see the Big 5 and many species of birds.
At afternoon tea we sat with two folks from Warsaw Poland who were working in Gaborone who ended up sharing the Land Rover with us driven by Ranger Garth. Garth is a young chap who has loved nature since he was five and with his conservation diploma makes a perfect guide since for him this is not a job but a passion. He really knew his animals and birds. We managed to see four of the big five (Elephants, Rhino, Water Buffalo and Lion) I've included a few of the many photos and wish you could have seen through my binoculars. The animals are now quite used to the Land Rovers and don't see them as a threat so pretty much ignore us as long as we stay out of their way. The lioness was having an after lunch nap when we stumbled across her and her daughter. After she stretched by the tree she strolled toward our vehicle and passed inches from the rear bumper with me just above her, close enough to reach out and stroke her head (a dumb idea so I remained silent and still). This is when you appreciate how big they really are. All of the rangers have high powered rifles "just in case" but which are rarely used.
The big 5 designation was created many years ago by hunters who considered these the five most difficult and dangerous animals to hunt. There are some who refer to the big 7 by adding Giraffes and Cheetahs. I would have added the crocodiles who happened to be outside the cottage where I slept. One surprise was the bird life. Sally is interested in birds and we logged some 56 species that she identified in the two half days we were there.
Garth told us that animals identify predators as having eyes in the front of the head and ears on the sides, making humans predators (a well deserved distinction). Animal predators will kill but not eat other predators to reduce competition for food. So Lions don't usually attack humans as we don't pose a threat in Madikwe but could based on the head theory. I suppose it was intended to be comforting to expect that a lion would not eat me but somehow if he killed me anyway I fail to find that reassuring.
Operation Phoenix is one of the largest game translocation exercises in the world. More than 8,000 animals of 28 species were released into the Madikwe Game Reserve. This included 11 lions in 1991-1997 which grew to 110, but Garth said they have moved all but 49 to other reserves to keep a balance within the Madikwe reserve. All of the species seem to have flourished but need to be managed. A current problem is poaching of Rhino horns which is hard to detect and stop in such a large area.
Oh yes and just to clarify: during the week we DO work (and work hard even) but one must experience that "local enviornment" when an opportunity is available.