After two days of faux safaris in the private reserve, we managed to see 4 of the Big 5, missing only the mysterious leopards. We found out later on that no one in the reserve had seen leopards in the wild in 4-5 years, something they don’t tell you on the brochure! However, the guides reported seeing signs of them each year, so there appear to be at least a small number of them running around, living in underground bunkers I suppose? They also are breeding them in a special sanctuary across the road from the lodge, presumably with a view to release more of them into the park in the coming years.
The lions are also kept separate for the time being, they have their own little corner of the park where they are ensconced, fed separately, etc. The guides indicated that at some point once the food populations were large enough they too would be released into the main section and presumably all havoc would ensue? There certainly seemed to be enough food walking around to me, but I don’t claim to be a lion expert of any stature.
We did get to see the male lion embarking on a trek up into the hills that involved going through a gate in the reserve. One of his females went through the gate and started running up the hill. Next the male went through and it appeared would follow the first female up the hill. Then he apparently realized his second female still hadn’t made it through the gate (she had been detained at a scratching post), so he stood there waiting for several minutes, and after the second female finally caught up and exited the gate he walked up behind her and put his head on her implying he had been waiting in a move that seemed quite personal and almost human-like behavior. Some of this can be seen in the photos here.
Overall, I enjoyed the private reserve experience, the lodge and services were a bit weak, several claims they made were not met and we actually got a partial refund as a result. However, seeing the rarer animals running mostly free around a fairly large park was certainly an improvement over any zoo I’ve experienced. It wasn’t quite the real deal, as one might get in the more famous parks like Kruger, which is on the opposite side of South Africa, or at the Maasai Mara in Kenya, but it isn’t a bad experience if one has limited time as we did, and presumably a bit more efficient as well. With a smaller park the guides know basically where to find the major herds of animals, so one doesn’t spend all that much time looking for them, maximizing time at the pool or bar, or in this case bar in the pool! Still, it was entertaining enough to make me want to explore going back to Africa for something more substantial, and it was a great deal of fun to shoot as well.