Wildlife in Madikwe

Madikwe Game Reserve is home to an abundance of animal life. Can you spot them all?

Africa’s famous Big Five – that’s the lion, elephant, buffalo, black rhinoceros and leopard – were named by colonial-era big-game hunters, who pegged that handful of animals as being the most difficult to hunt on foot. Fortunately, those hunting days are over… but visitors to this beautiful continent now use the same checklist for spotting (and, if possible, photographing) the Big Five on their safari game drives.

Madikwe Game Reserve is proud to be home to that Big Five, providing a safe habitat for their conservation.

But the Big Five is just one wildlife bucket list: Africa, and Madikwe Game Reserve, also offers a Little Five and Ugly Five – and the people of Madikwe Game Reserve have their own local Top Ten, too.

The Big Five

Lions, being the proverbial Kings of the Jungle, sit at the top of the food chain, and they really are a magnificent sight to see in the wild. The lions in Madikwe Game Reserve were originally introduced from Namibia’s Etosha National Park, with more recent additions introduced from the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park to expand the gene pool.

The African Elephant is the largest living terrestrial animal, and it’s one that you may not even need to leave your Madikwe Game Reserve safari lodge to see. There are over 900 elephants in the reserve (a very high density), and herds are known to visit lodge watering holes to bathe and drink.

The reserve is home to both black rhino and white rhino (although pedants will tell you that the latter aren’t technically part of the Big Five). You’ll have to look twice to spot the difference: the white rhino is larger and has a square lip that helps it to graze; while the black rhino is smaller and has a pointed lip for pulling leaves off plants. Black rhinos are also notoriously bad-tempered.

Buffalo are well represented in the reserve, with more than 800 of them roaming the plains. Two things to know about buffalos: they can be aggressive if they feel threatened; and they’re quite susceptible to disease… so don’t get too close.

Leopard, meanwhile, are the smallest of the big cats and are very hard to (forgive us!) spot. They tend to be elusive, solitary beasts, and a sighting is a very rare event.

The Little Five

Checked off the Big Five? Try spotting these diminutive alternatives…

The antlion is a small insect that digs easily recognisable pits to form traps for passing prey. Watch out for them near sandy footpaths.

The elephant shrew is a small (and fast!) mammal, which gets its name from its long, trunk-like nose.

Then the rhinoceros beetle is the littlest member of the Little Five: a completely harmless sub-species of the scarab beetle family, with buffalo-esque horns on the thorax and head of males.

Red-billed buffalo weavers are small birds which are quite easy to spot, because they’re so noisy! Look out for their striking dark bodies and red beaks on your safari game drive.

Finally, the leopard tortoise is a large (up to 40 centimetres and 13 kilograms) beast with distinctive spots, dashes and stripes on their yellow shells.

The Ugly Five

There’s nature’s wondrous beauty… and then there’s these guys.

Remember Pumba from The Lion King? The warthog is a fierce-looking pig with a placid temperament, who loves mud and dust baths. They’re mostly bald, with tufts of hair along their jaw and a thicker mane along their backs, giving them the mullet-and-beard combo you’d normally expect on a grizzled ice hockey player.

The wildebeest looks like it was assembled from spare parts, sporting the hind legs of a hyena, body of a zebra, head of a buffalo and – oh dear – the very small brain of a guinea fowl.

Hyenas, meanwhile, have a reputation for their cackling “laughter”… although their unflattering features are nothing to smile about. While the adults have an appearance that only a mother could love, the cubs are undisputedly some of the cutest babies in the bushveld. It all goes wrong when they grow up, though…

Then there’s the vulture: a carnivorous bird that feeds on carcasses and carrion. They have featherless heads and necks which prevent parasites from causing infection, while simultaneously robbing them of the good looks boasted by other birds.

Finally, we present the Marabou stork. Ouch. With a bald head, large bill, bad posture, skinny legs, a pink sac at the base of its throat, it also – we are not making this up – has a tendency to poop on its own legs. Perhaps skip the photographs with this one.

The Madikwe Top 10

Many southern African reserves and national parks feature the Big Five, and a few even offer the Super Seven (adding in cheetahs and wild dogs). Madikwe Game Reserve goes even better, with 66 resident mammal species allowing the reserve’s field guides to have their own Top 10. Take the Big Five, extend it to the Super Seven, and then add hippo, giraffe and hyena… and there you have it.

The Madikwe Top 10 are:

  • Lion (panthera leo)
  • African Elephant (loxodonta africana)
  • Cape Buffalo (syncerus caffer)
  • Black Rhinocerous (diceros bicornis)
  • Leopard (panthera pardus)
  • Cheetah (acinonyx jubatus)
  • Wild Dog (lycaon pictus)
  • Hippopotamus (hippopotamus amphibius)
  • Giraffe (giraffa giraffa)
  • Brown Hyaena (parahyaena brunnea)

Add in the Small Five and the Ugly Five, and see if you can spot them all.


All Madikwe Game Reserve safari lodges offer guided safari game drives as part of their guest experience. These are led by expert field guides, who will always do their best to help you get your “bucket list” sightings.

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