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Focusing in on a little bit of paradise

Author: Christopher Clark

As we drive through the reserve — without another vehicle in sight and surrounded by acacias and red Kalahari earth — for the most part, it’s hard to imagine that Madikwe wasn’t always like this.
Then every so often, there’s a small glimpse of its past life: the foundations of an old stone house poking out of the earth here; an old borehole there.


“All the farmers laughed and said it would never work,” says Jaci van Heteren, owner of two of Madikwe’s first lodges, as she speaks about the idea of turning an area of largely abandoned and crumbling cattle farms into a 75,000ha game reserve. “But we believed in it. We’ve seen it change so much since the beginning.”


Today, Madikwe Game Reserve is lauded around the world as a great conservation success. A seven-year project called Operation Phoenix, which culminated in 1991, saw about 8,000 animals trans-located and reintroduced into the area that now comprises the reserve, in what remains the world’s largest trans-location project.


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