Africa has a multitude of nature and game reserves across the vast continent. Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa are the most popular game park and safari destinations, where it is possible to see the “Big 5” land mammals of lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo in areas where animals can roam freely away from poachers or hunters. Away from the ‘Big 5’, Rwanda is famous for seeing gorillas in their natural habit.
Nature reserves do not focus on land mammals, but rather protect areas that are important to wildlife, flora, fauna or contain features that have geological or other special interest. These are found in every African country, with some reserves protected at local level, whilst others are designated reserves at regional or international level. Many reserves are open to visitors as part of a conservation program or rehabilitation project.
Here we look at some of the most popular African Reserves:
Reserves are keen to support biodiversity and a wide range of animals, but the 750 square kilometres of Madikwe Game Reserve is proud of being a “big 5” reserve. It is also home to 61 other mammal species some of whom gather at the Madikwe Dam to drink at sunset. There are also 300 birds including ostrich, vultures and the kori bustard.
At 22,400 square kilometres, Kafue National Park is one of Africa’s biggest. Established as a National Park in 1924 by the British Colonial Government, it was created by evicting the Nkoya people off the land. Calls for compensation to the Nkoya have not yet been answered. Considered one of the best game reserves to see leopards, the park is also home to the cheetah, elephants, hippos, crocodiles and African wild dogs.
One of the most famous sights at the Masai Mara is the great migration of thousands of wildebeest, Thomson's gazelle, and zebra that takes place between July and October as the herds move to the Serengeti plains. The park also has hippos and crocodiles in the Mara River plus the population of Maasai people who consider the National Reserve their cultural home.
A World Heritage listed park, the Serengeti is Tanzania’s oldest reserve, offering open plains and vast amounts of wildlife. From December to July, the Great Migration of more than one million wildebeest, zebra and Thomson's gazelle, who make their annual pilgrimage to the Maasai Mara is considered one of Africa's greatest spectacles. There are more than 500 species of birds, including the crowned crane and Fischer's lovebird.
Now independent of the Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a World Heritage-listed area that includes three volcanic craters, the Olduvai Gorge, and more than 8,300 square kilometres of savannah, dense forest, and African bush. The Maasai people live on their own land, with their own livestock, within this vast area of diverse wildlife. The area has one of Africa's densest populations of wild lions as well as black rhino, buffalo, leopard, wild dogs, cheetahs, and more than 500 species of birds. Between December and June each, the Great Migration sees 1.6 million mammals, including giraffes, zebra, deer and rhino make their way through the area.
Africa's highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro across the border in Tanzania, dominates this park which is famous for being home to large herds of elephants. Habitats within the park include a swamp system, dense woodlands, savannah, and the dried-up bed of Lake Amboseli that creates a varied and abundant wildlife including gazelle, impala, and more than 600 species of birds.
The oldest, largest and well-renowned national park in South Africa, Kruger National Park covers almost two million hectares. In addition to Africa's Big Five, the park is home to African wild dog, giraffes, zebras, hippos, cheetahs, and more than 500 species of birds including vultures, eagles and storks. The park also has archaeological sites and Bushman cave paintings among its mixed grasslands and river systems.
Located in north-eastern Botswana, Chobe National Park is the country’s first national park. The Chobe River runs along the park's northern border, and the Okavango Delta fans out to the south. Botswana limits the number of visitors allowed in the parks to help preserve their unique ecosystems.
Bordering Chobe National Park and established by local people concerned about declining wildlife, the reserve is the only protected area of Botswana's floodplain, the Okavango Delta. Here you will find the Big 5, as well as an abundance of other animals including hippos and crocodiles and more than 400 species of birds. The scenery includes sapphire channels and pools, plus lagoons, grasslands, and dense forests.
Covering 22,750 square kilometers in Northern Namibia, Etosha National Park is a salt pan hat supports more than 150 species of mammals including lions, zebras, jackals, springbok, hyenas, elephants plus rare species including the black rhino, oryx, tsessebe, and the black-faced impala. There are also hundreds of bird species, including flamingos.
Covering 9,059 square kilometres of eastern Zambia and fed by the Luangwa River, this national park is the most popular of the three national parks in the vast Luangwa River Valley and the most densely populated with 400 species of birds and an abundance of leopards, lions, giraffes, buffalo, and elephants. It is also home to hippos and crocodiles. The South Luangwa National Park is the only known reserve where lions have been reported to kill hippos.
Covering more than 3.6 million hectares, the Kgalagadi (Kalahari) Transfrontier Park is the first national park in Africa to cross borders. The landscapes are more sparse that other popular reserves, making it easier to spot meerkats, and the park’s Kalahari lions. It is also possible to see gemsbok, cheetahs, leopards, and hyenas here, as well as many species of birds.