Just as leopards and Sabi Sand Game Reserve are synonymous, think of Madikwe Game Reserve and wild dogs in the same way. This is probably your best chance in South Africa to have an almost guaranteed sighting of the "painted wolves."
More than two decades ago the 765-square-km (475-square-mile) area bordering Botswana was a wasteland of abandoned cattle farms, overgrown bush, and rusting fences. A brilliant and unique collaboration between the North West Parks Board, private enterprise, and local communities changed all that when Operation Phoenix—one of the most ambitious game relocation programs in the world—relocated more than 8,000 animals of 27 different species to Madikwe. Soon after, it became one of the fastest-growing safari destinations in South Africa.
Madikwe today is teeming with game. Spot the Big Five, plus resident breeding packs of the endangered painted wolves—the wild dogs of Africa. On your morning, evening, or night game drive, you also might spot cheetahs, hippos, lions, elephants, and buffalos, but you’ll certainly see zebras, wildebeests, and several kinds of antelope (South Africans refer to all antelope generically as buck, whether they’re male or female). Birders can spot more than 350 birds. Be dazzled by the crimson-breasted shrike, the lilac-breasted roller, yellow-billed and red-billed hornbills, blue waxbills, and many more.
Madikwe can’t claim the great rivers, giant riverine trees, and range of habitats that Kruger or Sabi Sand have, but it has a diverse landscape including wide plains, thick bushveld, an area steeped in history, and a background of low purple mountains. The reserve also has three advantages over many of the others: it’s only 3½ hours from Johannesburg on good roads, it’s malaria-free. and it doesn’t allow day visitors. Choose between more than 20 top-class lodges, get your binoculars ready, and off you go.