Memories of Madikwe

After a four-year gap, going on safari again was a real treat. I’m very lucky to have seen the Big Five a few times, so these days I like to choose a destination where I’m likely to see something new. This time my target was wild dogs, or painted wolves. For this I selected Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa, to be followed by a week’s holiday Cape Town. 

Madikwe is Northwest of Johannesburg, near the Botswana Border. I set off in early February with good friend and travelling buddy, Bernie, and (most important of all) my camera gear. We flew overnight to Johannesburg, then were taken on a five-hour drive to the reserve. It was lovely to be back in SA seeing the familiar and expansive countryside.

Despite the long journey and absence of sleep on the flight (thanks to BA’s ridiculous rationing of space in Economy), we couldn’t resist the opportunity to have a game drive on arrival. We saw lots – but no wild dogs.

Some Familiar Sights

Tuesday was the same. We had some memorable viewings and the photos quickly multiplied. We saw a female cheetah clearly on the lookout for a kill; a lion resting in the road, two cheetahs in the grass washing each other, and much more. Back at our lodge, we spent some enjoyable moments watching a hornbill tapping at our window, fearing his own reflection.

It doesn’t matter how many times you see animals in the wild, with a good guide, there’s always something new to see or an interesting fact to learn. Seeing two zebras standing nose to tail, we were told that zebras who are bonded help each other by standing this way so they can flick their tails and keep flies off each other’s heads. But they will bite off an enemy zebra’s tail to stop it from being able to flick away those troublesome flies.  I also learnt (and you might well know this) that a cheetah has black lines under its eyes because it hunts by day, and this helps keep the sun out of its eyes.

Finding the Wild dogs

All great stuff, but where were those wild dogs? I was a bit concerned to hear that their numbers have reduced because of rabies, which spreads easily between these pack animals. I wondered if we’d get to see any but, thanks to the guides keeping each other well informed, on Wednesday evening we finally good a good viewing.

A significant advantage of Madikwe is that it is closed to day visitors, which really helps keep the numbers down. As I mentioned in a previous post  [] too many jeeps at a sighting can rather ruin things. At Madikwe, as well as limiting the overall number of visitors, there is a three jeep limit at each sighting. A radio controller back at base manages the queuing system. On hearing wild dogs were around, we immediately got in the queue and waited our turn.

When it came, we could get very close to the dogs without crowding them. We timed it just right as the wild dogs had just killed an impala and we got some great shots of them feeding. Some great shots but also sadness at the demise of the impala, who we had seen happily running around not long before. That’s the food chain for you. We could only stay a short time as others were in the queue, but this way of managing us meant we all shared time and space fairly. Truly memorable.

Learning Lots

While I tend to focus (literally) on the big animals I’m gradually appreciating the smaller beings. A fascinating sight on this trip was a dung beetle. This was another first for me. I had no idea that they create balls of poo which they parade around to attract females who then lay their eggs inside them. An interesting approach!

Our guide was a mine of information about poo. He told us that elephant poo is excellent at deterring mosquitoes and equally good at clearing sinuses. Did you also know that because hyenas eat the bones of carcases, their poo is often white?

Moving on to other fascinating facts, we learnt that a group of zebras is called a dazzle. We all know about a pride of lions, but what about the others? Naturally I have since Googled this and am happy to share the following: a tower of giraffes, a parade of elephants, a coalition of cheetahs, and a clan of hyenas. On the subject of names, a buffalo is sometimes called a ‘widow maker’ as they can kill humans, while a full moon is a ‘poacher’s moon’ for obvious reasons.

So, lots learned and even more seen.

The Joy of Penguins and Cape Town

Still, it wasn’t the end of wildlife viewing, as no trip to Cape Town is complete without a trip to Boulders Beach to see the penguins]. It’s great to observe how they all interact, and we spotted lots of eggs and some newly hatched chicks being watched over by protective parents. Yet more photos. (You can see more photos of Madikwe and the penguins on my Instagram page: [See here]).

I’m a fairly regular visitor to Cape Town and it was great to be back after the Covid gap. It’s a fabulous destination with lots to see, including Table Mountain, the Waterfront, beaches at Camps Bay and beyond, the wine estates and much more. Plus, the penguins. A must visit.

Dark Times Too

One thing that stood out this time though is how much the squatter camps around Cape Town have grown. These tin huts no bigger than garden sheds, crammed closely together, are a familiar sight. They’ve been there for years but now there are so many more. There are also many more people sleeping on the streets, and we were told that unemployment is at least 40%. Another issue is load shedding – the frequent electricity outages leading to hours of darkness and other challenges for people to deal with; except those of us who benefitted from being in places with generators.

 We spoke to hotel workers from Zimbabwe who, despite having and lived and worked in South Africa for years, were being sent ‘home’ by the Government. Others repeatedly remarked on the high level of corruption and told us they feared for what the future might bring. Sadly, in South Africa, things seem to be getting worse rather than better.  Despite the great experience of being there, that’s hard to ignore. Nor should we.

Those of us able to return home to healthy, happy lives are indeed very lucky. All those photos are an added bonus.

Thanks and Links

As always, a great trip owes much to the generosity and support of others. Many thanks to the following;

Our fellow safari travellers, I’m not naming you for privacy reasons, but you know who you are!

Faith and Helen for fixing the tour to the penguins.

Bernie, and all other friends (visitors and locals) I spent time with.  

Lorri Leeman for helping fix it all.

Madikwe Game reserve:

Our lodge:

See more images on instagram