The 75 000 ha ‘Malaria Free’ Madikwe Game Reserve is situated in the far north of the North West Province of South Africa, adjacent to the Botswana border. Three hours drive from Pretoria or Johannesburg, it is now one of South Africa's prime wildlife safari destinations.
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. The entire reserve has been enclosed in a 150km perimeter fence that has been electrified to prevent the escape of elephant and the larger predators. Guests are taken on conducted day and night game drives or bush walks. Excellent accommodation is available at various private lodges in the reserve. There are no day visitor facilities; only residents at a lodge may enter the reserve.
Madikwe was announced to the public in August 1991 and officially became part of the North West Parks and Tourism Board’s estate on 31 October the same year. A detailed feasibility study showed that wildlife-based tourism was the most beneficial option for this remote and economically depressed area.
Madikwe Game Reserve is home to 66 large mammal species including the Big Five, lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino as well as cheetah and wild dog. The area has approximately 300 resident and migrant bird species along with a wide diversity of other fauna. It is one of South Africa's largest game reserves and 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. Madikwe is run as a three-way partnership between the state, local communities and the private sector. Without doubt, it is the private sector on which the entire project ultimately depends. The private sector develops and manages a variety of tourism developments and activities in the park. A portion of the revenue generated is paid to the Board in concession fees. These concession fees are used partly to maintain the conservation infrastructure and game stocks in the park, which underpin the private sector’s investments and operations. A portion of the concession fees is also paid to local communities to help finance a variety of community-based development projects. In addition to community projects, communities also benefit from jobs and business opportunities that are created both within and outside the park. This in turn further stimulates the local and regional economy. This partnership, therefore, is of benefit to all parties involved. Conservation objectives are met, the private sector generates profits, jobs and businesses are created, communities are developed and valuable foreign exchange is brought into the country.
The success of this approach has made Madikwe the role model for similar ventures being started up elsewhere in South Africa. Madikwe, therefore, should not be viewed solely as a protected area or tourism destination, in reality, the park acts as a major social and economic core and engine around which the development of the entire region can be based.
It is strongly believed that the approach being practiced in Madikwe will have significant beneficial impacts on both local and regional economies, as well as greatly contribute towards the overall improvement in the quality of life of largely disadvantaged, rural communities. People-based wildlife conservation, therefore, should be considered as a viable development option elsewhere in South Africa and in developing countries in general. It is particularly relevant in rural areas where development options are often very limited. In this respect, it is believed that people-based conservation offers the only long-term successful approach to wildlife conservation in South and southern Africa, and the continent of Africa as a whole.