INTO THE BUSH
Nothing quite matches observing things through the eyes of children. This month we had the unmitigated pleasure of spending quality time with our two grandsons, Jack 13, and Max 11, in a South African game reserve.
Let me say unequivocally, the experience of spending a few days in the African bush observing nature, what my American friends call “going on safari,” is unique. It also provides a respite from all that inundates us from every direction. In South Africa there are a profusion of places to choose from, some in malaria areas and some malaria free. They range from the Kruger National Park, a vast area of genuine natural flora and fauna, to many contemporary smaller parks that have been taken back from agriculture and stocked with a selection of wildlife. The experience at many of the latter can feel contrived, certainly to locals, although most provide the opportunity to experience the ‘big five’ and satisfy most foreign tourists.
I chose malaria-free Madikwe as the best choice for a first experience of the bush for Jack and Max. A chimera of the above 2 types of reserve, Madikwe is 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 such an area. Run as a joint venture between the State, the private sector, and local communities, Madikwe resulted from a detailed feasibility study of the area that concluded that wildlife-based tourism was the most beneficial option for this remote and economically depressed area. Immediately after it was proclaimed in 1991, in what was dubbed Operation Phoenix, between 1991 and 1997 more than 8,000 animals of 28 species were released into Madikwe Game Reserve, including elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion, cheetah, Cape hunting dog, spotted hyaena, giraffe, zebra and many species of antelope and herbivores. Leopard already occurred in the reserve. This was one of the world’s largest wildlife translocation programs ever. Today Madikwe is home to over 66 mammal species and more than 350 migrant bird species. Madikwe is vast, one of the largest game reserves in South Africa.
Lesson number 1 in the bush – your day starts before dawn so be prepared to wake up early. Our adventure started with a 4.00am wake up so we could catch the first flight of the day from Cape Town to Johannesburg. At OR Tambo airport we were transported to the Fedair terminal on the opposite side of the airport to make our Cessna 208 flight to Madikwe.
This will be a newsletter of few words. Rather let the photos speak for themselves. Suffice to say that the boys saw everything except leopard, were continually excited, enthralled, enthusiastic, engaged, happy beyond belief, and an absolute pleasure to be with. We were especially fortunate to have only our family with Lisa the guide and driver of the Toyota Landcruiser. Jack was a remarkable ‘spotter’ and Max often had more information about some of the animals than our experienced guide Lisa, and that is saying something.
A usual day in the reserve is a pre-dawn wakeup for coffee and a rusk, and then drive into the bush at sunrise for about 3 hours. After breakfast on return to the lodge, the day is free, usually relaxing at the pool watching the game at the waterhole in front, then lunch, afternoon tea, and an evening drive also of about 3 hours, with a stop in the bush around sunset for sundowners, and a night drive back to the lodge in time for dinner, and then to bed.
Sadly, just 2 weeks before our arrival, 2 of these magnificent beasts had been killed for their horns after a poaching free period dating back to August 2021. We were fortunate to see several of these magnificent beasts, both black and white.
Witnessing wild dog take down a young impala and immediately start devouring it, followed by the rest of the pack getting into a feeding frenzy, was something we and the boys will surely never forget. The rapid movements, the sound of snapping of the bones and deep breathing of the dogs, their going at each other to take back a piece, the vile stench in the air, the law of the jungle…
This is the only adventure I plan to report this month. Being with Moira as we experienced the excitement of Jack and Max, listening to their observations, laughing at each other’s jokes, was all such a privilege. One can never really plan or control one’s life, but as far as I was able, this is exactly what I would have planned as one of the highlights of mine.
I intend this to be my final Letter from South Africa for the 2021-2022 season. We return to Cleveland mid-May. Before that I have a Board Meeting in Brussels, and I will definitely not be reporting on that. So, I end this month wishing you Chag Pesach Sameach, Happy Easter, or just the very best, and may all of you be tempted to visit the South African bushveld.
Cape Town and Madikwe, April 10, 2022