Under a three-hour drive from Johannesburg, malaria-free and home to the Big 5, Welgevonden Game Reserve receives all too little recognition for its charms. A 37,500-hectare reserve in the superb UNESCO Waterberg Biosphere, it fittingly means ‘well found’ and is a place of rugged beauty, plentiful wildlife and abundant birdlife.
Unfortunately our trip was always going to be too short. We were there for just one night and with only time for two game drives, we saw just a fraction of what the reserve has to offer. With over 490km of road in the reserve, you really need a whole week to see it all!
Our timing was also somewhat unlucky as we arrived the day after the reserve had succumbed to a 4-day fire, which burnt an area nearly 5,000 hectares in size and nearly took 3 lodges. Welgevonden CEO Bradley Schroder told us that this was a unique fire due to the multi pronged fronts, the high Fire Danger Index (FDI) readings and strong winds. Without the use of a helicopter they would have had serious difficulty in securing the lodges and controlling the burnt area.
The estimated amount of water dropped by the helicopter on lodges and the fire front was estimated at over 158,000 liters. Though difficult to find humorous moments at a time like this, Bradley said that the water bucket had actually been snapped at by the reserve’s only crocodile whilst refilling in Rhino Dam – clearly not happy at having his habitat disturbed!
In spite of the charred landscape, you could not deny that Welgevonden has to be one of the prettiest reserves we’ve visited. Rolling hills covered in tightly packed acacia woodland cut by steep gorges and areas of endless savannah, the scenery is nothing short of majestic. With an admirable dedication to wilderness conservation there is ample game to see. Luckily, before the start of the fire, the reserve had completed their annual aerial game census by helicopter which is designed to monitor trends in populations of medium to large diurnal herbivorous mammals. As part of their conservation focus, Welgevonden is looking for any photographs of their cheetah to further develop the Cheetah Identikit in order to better understand the dynamics (including population size, structure, home ranges and paternity) of the cheetah population on Welgevonden Game Reserve.