Madikwe is a "Big Five" game reserve situated 90 km north of Zeerust. Covering some 60 000 hectare, it is one of the largest game reserves in South Africa. The rich diversity of vegetation ensures a wide range of game and the topography offers ideal game viewing opportunities.
The reserve was announced to the public in August 1991 and officially became part of the Board's estate on 31 October the same year. The reserve was proclaimed after a detailed feasibility study of the area was conducted by independent consultants. The study showed that wildlife-based tourism was the most beneficial option for this remote and economically depressed area.
One of South Africa's largest game reserves, Madikwe has the distinction of being one of the few game reserves in the world to be proclaimed purely on the grounds of being the most appropriate and sustainable land use for an area.
The reserve consists of vast plains of open woodlands and grasslands, dissected by the rugged Rant van Tweedepoort, and bordered in the south by the Dwarsberg Mountains. The area is dotted with huge rocky hills or inselbergs (ecological description). The entire reserve has been enclosed in a 150 km perimeter fence which has been electrified to prevent the escape of elephants and the larger predators.
Madikwe represents an extension to this philosophy in that it is run as a joint venture between the State, the private sector and local communities. The success of this approach has made Madikwe the role model for similar ventures being started up elsewhere in South Africa.
The reserve is divided into two main areas. The area north of the Molatedi Dam is fenced and stocked with all the historically indigenous wild animals including elephant, rhinoceros, lion, leopard and buffalo. As part of future developments for the park, the dam area will be fenced separately and stocked with smaller, non-dangerous animals - thus allowing free movement of tourists and maximum utilisation of the dam.
Even before Madikwe had been officially proclaimed, work had begun to clear the many derelict farm buildings and structures, the hundreds of kilometres of old fencing and the many alien plants. Some of the buildings were spared and now serve as Park offices and workshops, while various outposts have been built to house game scouts and other reserve staff. Approximately 60 000 hectares of the reserve were enclosed in a perimeter fence, measuring 150 kilometres. This was later electrified to prevent the escape of elephants and the larger predators. Where possible, local business and labour have been used to demolish and clear unwanted structures, erect fences, construct roads and build dams and lodges. Several game lodges have already been built. Other lodges will be developed in the near future.
The reintroduction of game began early in 1991, shortly before the perimeter fence had been completed. Operation Phoenix, as the reintroduction programme is called, is the largest game translocation exercise in the world. More than 8 000 animals of 28 species have so far been released into the reserve, including elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion, cheetah, Cape hunting dog, spotted hyena, giraffe, zebra and many species of antelope and herbivores. Leopard already occurred in the reserve. Operation Phoenix was completed in 1997.
Madikwe functions through a system designed to benefit the three main stakeholders involved in the reserve. These are the North West Parks Board, the private sector and the local communities. All three work together in a mutually beneficial "partnership in conservation." The Parks Board is responsible for setting up the necessary infrastructure and the management to run Madikwe as a major protected conservation area in the North West Province. It also identifies suitable sites within the reserve which are leased to the private sector for tourism-based developments and activities.
The private sector provides the necessary capital to build game lodges and to market and manage the lodges and the tourism in the reserve. In this way, private sector money, rather than State funds, is used to develop the tourism potential of the reserve