Big Five

November 3, 2023

The African elephant, absolute king of land animals, and it’s not a rare sight at Madikwe Game Reserve. The count is way over 900. These beasts are not just huge, they’re super smart, and they roll in family groups, which we call herds. A typical gang is made up of the moms and their little ones, all closely related. The big boss of the herd is an older lady, the matriarch. Once the guys hit puberty, they get the boot from their crew and usually team up with other dudes.

Madikwe’s elephant population has exploded, and now the reserve’s got more of these gentle giants than any other protected area in South Africa. They make up about 43% of the plant-eating crew in the reserve.

Madikwe’s also home to both black and white rhinos, but, technically, the white rhino’s not in the Big 5. Now, these big fellas have some differences: the white rhino’s the bigger one and has a ‘square’ lip that’s perfect for munching on grass, while the black rhino’s a tad smaller and has a ‘pointy’ or ‘hooked’ lip to grab leaves from plants. The black rhino? Well, let’s just say it’s not exactly sunshine and rainbows – pretty cranky most of the time. So, give ’em some space and respect when you spot one.

Rhino poaching is a big, ugly issue in South Africa, putting these species in danger. But there’s some good news: Madikwe’s anti-poaching program has been fighting back against the bad guys and helping protect the rhinos. Buffaloes, they’re quite the crowd in Madikwe, with over 800 of ’em. They like to stick together in big groups, and you better believe you need to be on your best behavior when you see ’em. These guys have a rep for being a bit hot-headed and might get nasty if they feel threatened.

Unfortunately, buffaloes are prone to catching diseases, including bovine tuberculosis. But Madikwe’s got a disease management plan in place to stop these illnesses from spreading.

The first lions in Madikwe were brought in from Etosha National Park in Namibia, and a couple of new guys from Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park joined the party to mix up the gene pool. The park folks are super careful about managing the lion population to keep everything in balance – you know, making sure there’s a harmony between the predators and the plant-eaters. Lions, the kings and queens of the animal kingdom, are the real showstoppers in Madikwe Game Reserve. When you see one in the flesh, you’ll understand why they’re at the top of the food chain. A male lion can weigh up to 250kg (about 550lb), while a female can go up to 180kg (around 395lb).

Even though leopards are the smallest of the big cats, they’re on everyone’s wildlife bucket list. These cats are drop-dead gorgeous with their unique spotted coats. Usually, they’re loners unless they’ve got little ones. Leopards are like the ninja of the animal world – they can adapt to any environment like a boss. So, when you’re at Madikwe, keep your eyes peeled for leopards, especially in the morning and evening. They love to chill on rocky outcrops, big boulders, and tree branches.


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