TERESA- As we packed our bags to head to the airport in Paris, destined for our safari in South Africa, I became more concerned with the lack of communication from the tour operator. As I called, emailed and WhatsApp’d, I learned the safari company that we had arranged through our Chase Points card cancelled on us. So, in 12 hours, no one would be at the airport to pick us up and no accommodations were scheduled for the next 5 days in Africa. I was in a bit of focused panic.
Happy Accident #2 of the trip.
After many calls and emails, there was one opening in the same game reserve due to a last minute cancellation so we booked it. Since it was so last minute, we got a steep discount off the bill. Madikwe is one of the areas that is malaria free so we had not been taking antivirals as we would normally do for other park reserves in South Africa. We lucked out and grabbed the last room available. It ended up as a luxury blessing in disguise.
As luck would have it, we were assigned the lead game guide in the reserve who coordinates with all of the other guides and trackers, Kegapetswe (Sam). It happened that he was scheduled to work with the reserve conservationist from the University to track, vaccinate and provide contraception to a pride of lions. We were invited to observe and take part.
We got up extra early (4am) to search for the lions. If we found them and the conditions were right, the veterinarian and conservationist, along with the other guides and trackers, would conduct the field work. By 6 am, we found the cubs. The two female lions were hunting but would return. We then found the two male lions and watched as one of them chased down a warthog for a kill.
We returned in the afternoon and found the large pride again. The guides and trackers from all of the resorts had worked together to monitor their location. In total, this was a large pride with 2 males, 2 adult females and 8 cubs. Our Jeep moved further away to act as spotters when their team simultaneously shot 4 tranquilizer guns at 4 lions. They hit 3. We watched where the tranquillized lions fell and where the male lions ran to. After 7 were safely down and transported to the shade, the vet and conservationist worked with their team to vaccinate and provide contraception so a new line of male lions could be introduced into the park. This is to produce a stronger line of healthy lions and genetic diversity in the future. We were able to pet the sleeping lions, feel their paws and tongue, and learn from the field experts. The leaders were careful to ensure everyone utilized appropriate procedures and sanitation to ensure the safety of the staff, us and the lions. They continued to monitor the pride overnight and through the next day to confirm everything went according to plan and the lions returned to their normal activities. It was an amazing experience, plus a biology and science lesson we never expected.
In addition to the safari, the accommodations and staff at Madikwe Hills were above and beyond. This is one life experiences that our family will always be amazed by and for which we will be eternally grateful
Ava- Madikwe Hills Safari was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. We saw so many beautiful animals, including all of the big 5! We got really lucky, and saw them all in the first day! Our guide, Kegapetswe, is truly gifted, and uses animal tracks, past locations, and the help of other guides to track down animals. It was amazing. Our vehicle did some serious off-roading. Sydney, or spotter, was also really nice. I cannot believe that we saw all of these animals. I was especially fond of all of the baby elephants. I did learn a lot on this safari. I learned about rhino poachers, the overpopulated elephant population, how animals catch prey, and of course lions. We got to pet lions! Live, sleeping, tranquilized lions. It was cool to think that we could be a part of it. The fact is we were just really, really lucky. It was a right time, right place kind of situation. The lion’s fur feels like it has crusty water all over it, but the head is very soft. The blue paste you see on the lions acts like a band aid for the lion when they get their vaccinations, so it doesn’t get infected. I learned that the ear of the lion is most sensitive, so the professionals would lightly touch the hairs of the ears to see if the lion was waking up. The tongue was crazy. It has these little curved spikes where we would think taste buds would be. This is for cleaning themselves (think of a cat licking itself), and for when they need to strip the kill of its skin. It was fascinating! We were the only tourists there. It was a crazy experience I will never forget, and am so grateful for. I would also like to thank David (staff) for setting up the most amazing song and dance that we were surprised with the night before we left. What a journey.
TUCKER- I just left Madikwe Hills and I loved it! As soon as we got there I knew it would be amazing. We got a tour of the place and settled in. We had some food and then went on our first game drive. We saw lions, rhinos and elephants. The next day on another game drive, they said they had a surprise for us. We drove for half an hour through the bush and saw two cheetahs and even a leopard! We had seen the big five within 24 hours of arriving!
But the best was yet to come. The next day, we went out for a drive very early. We tracked a pride of lion cubs and found them by a water hole. Later we saw two male lions stalking prey. The lions darted out of their hiding spot and stole a kill from a female lion. Later we learned that our driver, Sam, was part of a conversation effort for these same lions. They let us come along and see them dart the lions. After that they brought the lions over to a small tree and gave them medicine and vaccines. We were very close to the lions and we got to pet them!!! WE GOT TO PET LIONS!!!!! That night (being our last night) the staff came and said farewell by way of a traditional song and dance. They sounded very good, but sadly our time was up in the lodge. We said our goodbyes and left the park with great memories that we will cherish forever. This has been my favorite place to stay on the trip so far.
CARMEN- On our safari we saw tons of different animals such as African elephants, hyenas, and so many more. It was incredible to see lions and rhinos in the wild, and our guides were so nice. While driving into the game reserve we saw three of the big five. The big five are lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and water buffalo. It was also really cool to see giraffes, monkeys, springboks, warthogs, and kudu. By far my favorite animal that we saw was the hippopotamus. One of our guides, Sam, went out of his way to go take us to a spot that he knew we would be able to see hippos. When we got there he was able to do spot-on hippo noises to attract the hippos, because they are very territorial animals. One thing I learned while we were there was that the elephants used to roam in much larger areas so the earth could replenish the trees, but since the game reserves are fenced in and the elephant population has gone unchecked, the environment in the reserve is being destroyed at a rapid rate. There are people that are working to find a solution to this problem. Overall it was an amazing learning experience and I had such a fun time.
DAN- There are some gifts of experience that can never be repaid. I suppose that is why it’s a gift. Our time at Madikwe provided so many moments of magic and I am truly grateful for the friendships that began there and the view they were willing to share into their culture and dreams of the future.
Like so many of the places we have visited, our time spent was too brief. But in Madikwe, as in much of South Africa, their hearts were open and it allowed for an easy, genuine exchange. We discussed their hopes for their communities involvement in the preservation of the wonderful Madikwe Reserve. They shared dreams of new businesses, built to grow that community involvement while simultaneously ensuring greater care for the wildlife we all must shepherd to the generations to come. Finally, they sang, danced and let us be a part of it. The music and dancing in the video is from a night when a new friend, David, got permission from his manager to gather friends and show us a glimpse of what they enjoy and how they preserve culture and create community. I’m so incredibly grateful he was allowed to do so. I have felt the rhythm in my chest ever since.