With an even more varied and beautiful terrain than Waterberg, right near on the Botswana border, this is prime game-viewing turf. And, like the Waterberg, it's malaria free. It's not quite in the same league as the Sabi Sands in terms of game densities, riverine forests, and pristine vegetation, but it's catching up: At the end of the 1980s, this 75,000-hectare (185,250-acre) area was overgrazed farmland, but in a financially astute decision, it was proclaimed the Madikwe Game Reserve in 1991, transforming it into South Africa's fourth-largest reserve. Within 6 years, 10,000 animals were once again roaming the Madikwe plains in what was dubbed Operation Phoenix, the largest game-translocation exercise in the world. The decision to do this here was based on the area's highly diverse eco-zones -- bordered by the Dwarsberg Mountains in the south and the Marico River in the east, the reserve's rocky hills, perennial rivers, seasonal wetlands, acacia bushveld, savanna grassland, and Kalahari's desertlike sandveld allow it to support an unusual range of animal species. Today it has the second-largest elephant population in the country, and visitors are virtually assured of sighting what they term the Magnificent 7 on a 2-night stay. This includes the Big 5 as well as cheetahs (very rare in the reserves around Kruger) and wild dogs, Southern Africa's most endangered predator. Commercial expansion over the last few years has been rapid, seeing construction of a host of new-generation lodges, yet Madikwe remains large enough to satisfy visitors craving solitude and exclusivity -- something the more popular reserves adjoining Kruger can't always deliver
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