Patsy the Cheetah Tastes Freedom

…but not without some coaxing! 

Picture the scene: A slightly sunburned, blonde Brit crouched in the back of a pick-up truck (or a bakkie if you come from round here) holding both a DSLR with a weighty lens and a Canon PowerShot with a hefty zoom in one hand, and a rope in the other hand. You know those 20m or so plastic type ropes? Well one of those – green and white if you are wondering – that has been looped through a cut in the hind-leg of an impala carcass.

Now, I can almost hear you wondering how on earth I (or indeed anyone) had found myself in this situation. The answer, of course, is that together with the team, I was trying to tempt a female cheetah we were set to release whilst also hoping to document this exciting moment!

The outcome was not exactly what we had hoped for. Things started out well. We had got the attention of the female cheetah, Patsy to her friends, and I had managed to catch a few shots of her as she started to follow us around the enclosure. Sure, we hit a couple of bumps along the road when the impala carcass got stuck on all the citrus trees in the enclosure (and there are a lot of them). But all round we felt positive about how things were progressing. At one point, Patsy even picked up the impala in her mouth but on discovering she couldn’t simply drag it away she became an increasingly suspicious cheetah. Undeterred, we inched ever closer to the open gate and to Patsy’s freedom.

Garonga, cheetah, South African safari, wildlife safari, Great Makalali Reserve
“Something smells ‘fishy’ here” © Sophie Barrett / Garonga

For the fastest mammal on the planet, Patsy followed us agonizingly slowly, stopping to rest in the shade of her favourite orange trees and continuously assessing our intentions. We passed her inspections, barely, and finally we (and our sad impala comrade) were through the gate! We deposited our hairy friend about 7m from the gate and snuck off into the distance to watch Patsy take the bait. Or, as it happened, to watch Patsy lie in the shade about half a metre from the gate and show no inclination whatsoever to go through it.

I can’t say I blame her. This whole drama had taken about an hour and a half and, at this stage, was punishingly hot. This was on top of the Garonga Pride paying the cheetah boma an early morning visit, during which time they circled the boma and tested her eardrums with some intense roaring. In the end we gave up with our cheetah release. Patsy lived for another week in the boma with the impala carcass to devour for her troubles, whilst we slinked away to attempt the release on another day.

Garonga, cheetah, South African safari, wildlife safari, Great Makalali Reserve
“Maybe this freedom thing is overrated” © Josia Sibuyi / Garonga

I suspect at this point you are all bursting with questions. Why don’t we just open the gate and let Patsy wander to freedom in her own time? And why was Patsy in the enclosure in the first place?

To answer the first question, when wild animals have been in enclosures for a while they get used to the ‘room service’. So, when released they tend to spend their first week waiting for their next meal to be brought to them. That’s why it’s important to ensure they have had a decent feed, hence the alluring impala carcass. We had an extra factor at play here at Garonga as our pride of lions had taken an unhealthy interest in our cheetah friend. We were concerned that if we opened the gate to let Patsy wonder out in her own time, we would run the risk of the lions finding her before she had mustered up the courage to venture through the gate.

Garonga, cheetah, South African safari, wildlife safari, Great Makalali Reserve
Males from the Garonga Pride © Garonga

As for why Patsy was in the enclosure in the first place, that is a sad tale and it relates to the fate of cheetahs in the wild. There are currently approximately only 6,700 cheetahs in the wild across the world and they are listed as Endangered with Extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Best estimates are that cheetahs have disappeared from about 76% of their historic range on the African continent. One of the major causes of this decline is habitat loss.

Cheetahs are best adapted to have enormous territories but as the human population continues to expand, there is decreasing space available to cheetahs and, left to their own devices, they are adapting slowly to this change. At Garonga, in the Greater Makalali Private Nature Reserve, our cheetahs have adapted to a different style of hunting. They still use their amazing speed but now in conjunction with the human-made fences, which they use to chase prey as if the fence is an extra hunting partner.

Garonga, cheetah, South African safari, wildlife safari, Great Makalali Reserve
“This feels familiar” © Sophie Barrett / Garonga

Patsy will be our second adult female in the reserve. Having come from a different part of South Africa, she brings the gift not only of her femininity but also a rejuvenation of the cheetah gene pool for the reserve. As our wild spaces continue to dwindle, we see four major challenges facing our cheetahs, namely habitat loss, lack of genetic diversity, human and animal conflict, and competition with other predators. By introducing Patsy into the Greater Makalali Private Nature Reserve we are hoping to do what we can to help in the conservation of this stunning species.

Now, coming back to Patsy’s release! Working with nature is often bizarrely like working as a comedian because it’s so often about the timing. About a week after the shenanigans described above, we dragged a second impala carcass behind a vehicle and this time Patsy was after it like a shot. This time the whole process took just five minutes!

Garonga, cheetah, South African safari, wildlife safari, Great Makalali Reserve
“Farewell, see you soon!” © Sophie Barrett / Garonga

Patsy is now freely roaming the reserve and we sincerely hope that she thrives here – keep an eye on Garonga’s social media feeds for updates on her progress!

Written by Sophie Barrett (Guide, Tracker, Photographer and Videographer at Garonga. 

Book with us and enjoy wild South Africa.

Behind the Scenes: Meet the Marketing Teams

As with any successful lodge, we have several companies who support us in the various fields of marketing. Without marketing you cannot survive in any business.

Our Marketing Teams are made up of dedicated staff who pound the streets during the days, attend functions in the evenings, organise workshops, marketing trips, PR, reporting, and are just continuously putting a good word out. They work incredible hours striking up brilliant and loyal relationships with the trade. Garonga is forever thankful for their professionalism and dedication. Meet the teams…

United Kingdom and Ireland

Ethos Marketing have been representing Garonga since day one. That in itself speaks wonders. Alison, Amanda, Sue, Claire and Kevin have been totally professional and successful in what they do.

Behind the Scenes, Marketing Teams, Garonga, South African safari, safari camp
Alison Whitfield, Founder and Managing Director of Ethos Marketing

A very experienced team for Africa marketing; they don’t just represent Garonga as they have a large portfolio that they represent.

Marketing Teams, Garonga, South Africa
Garonga’s owner, Bernie Smith, with James Jayasundera and Hattie Coleman of Vivid Travel

One of the things we do is arrange sales trips around the UK for Bernie with one of the Sales Team usually accompanying him to ensure continuity of the relationship building and smooth follow ups. This was Bernie on his latest trip with James Jayasundera and Hattie Coleman of Vivid Travel.

Germany and Benelux

Hella has been representing Garonga for many years. Raised in Namibia, she has a very full knowledge of Africa and is an “old Africa hand” (meant in the most respectful way of course!) She also represents a large portfolio of African products, most of which are part of the Classic Safari Africa Group. She is ably supported by Roland, who has the responsibility of dealing with PR such as organising press trips, magazine articles etc.

Behind the Scenes, Marketing Teams, Garonga, South African safari, safari camp
Hella from Garonga and Classic Safari Africa

South Africa

 Africa In Focus is owned and run by Andrew McEwan. Andy set up AIF in 2005 after having operated as a professional safari guide at Singita for many years. This experience has given him a true knowledge of how a lodge works and can give the trade a genuine picture of how things are done.

Behind the Scenes, Marketing Teams, Garonga, South African safari, safari camp
The team at Africa in Focus

AIF have been representing Garonga for about eight years now and we have a truly awesome and friendly relationship with Andy and his team. Andy is ably supported by Rogan, his GM, Cherly, in Johannesburg and Leonie in Cape Town. AIF also represent a portfolio of stunning properties in Southern Africa.

Classic Safari Africa

Classic Safari Africa is an association of privately owned camps and properties in East and Southern Africa. Each property is unique in that the owners are very much hands on and the property itself is small and intimate. A tough inspection must be passed to become a member and a very high benchmark is necessary to qualify. All the properties, together with Classic Safari Africa, often attend marketing trade shows, local and international, together on the one stand which makes a formidable presence.

Annually we attend an AGM at one of the properties where we swop ideas and have discussions about the association and properties etc., which is priceless. We would easily recommend any one of these properties for your holiday. Classics is a well-known and highly respected brand in the African Tourism Industry. It is superbly organised and controlled by our Executive Officer, Pauline, who runs the office from Cape Town.

Behind the Scenes: Meet the Safari Guide Team

Meet the safari guide team who hold the dreams of our guests in their hands, when they set out in search of the perfect safari experience.

There is nothing quite like the excitement and anticipation of your first game drive. The wind in your hair and the scent of the bush whizzing past as you set off. This experience is what draws our guests to book at Garonga Safari Camp. Operating on 22,000HA private game reserve in the Makalali Conservancy just west of Kruger National Park, we have all the big game and heaps more. Being situated in a large wilderness area also contributes towards such an amazing game viewing area. With passion driving them, all members of our safari guide team are here to give you maximum game viewing experience.

Safari Team – Guides

Jaffeth:
As Head Guide at Garonga, Jaff started here as a tracker when we first opened 21 years ago.

Over time he has passed various qualifications and progressed through a position of guide to now our Head Guide. His key strength is his tracking skill. Currently he is trying to accomplish his Senior Tracker Level which is one step below the highest tracking level achievable.

He runs his own ‘Guest Walk Experience’ to show guests an insight into how he tracks, and also gives an in-depth knowledge on his cultural roots, ending with a fun ‘Catapult Shoot Competition’ with the guests. Something which is enjoyed by all. See more about our walking safari here

Josia:
When Jaff is on leave, Josia picks up position as 2nd in charge. He also has a “Walk Experience” to share with the guests – ‘The Solitude Walk’. Not always easy keeping people silent throughout a walk. He is a very accomplished safari guide and brings in great humour and fun to his safaris.

Garonga Safari camp, guide, Josia, Phineas
Josia and Phineas

Samantha:
Samantha is currently attempting her Trails Guide, which will then enable her to also carry out walks, or to substitute if Josia is away. She is an extremely keen and enthusiastic guide, and very willing to go the extra mile to find the game for her guests.

Derrick:
One of the ‘old school’ who has been guiding for over 20 years. Derrick is a very accomplished and experienced guide. Although only just started with Garonga Safari Camp, he has fitted in very well with the ‘Safari for the Soul’ philosophy. We aim to up-skill him even more to enable him to lead more diverse safaris.

Sophie:
Although having just joined us via the Bushwise Training Programme, Sophie has been guiding for over two years. She has traded her legal career in the UK for her passion – guiding in the African bush. She can communicate confidently in French, and can get away with passable Spanish, which is extremely handy for our European guests. Sophie is very passionate and enthusiastic about her new-found career. Sophie is also an excellent photographer and has the added responsibility of sending video and image content as well as written copy for use on our website and social platforms.

Garonga safari camp, guide, tracker, Sophie, Kaizer
Sophie and Kaizer

Safari team – Trackers

Kaizer:
Kaizer teams up with Sophie and is very knowledgeable and has that 6th sense as to where the animals are heading. A very capable tracker indeed and converses well with our guests. He has just passed his FGASA 1 Level Guides Exam theory and practical, so he is also a qualified guide.

Phineas:
He teams up with Josia and always carries a great smile and sense of humour. Phineas is a very capable tracker and works extremely well with Josia, making them quite an amusing team. He also has just passed his FGASA 1 Level Guides Exam.

Richard:
Richard has been here the longest amongst the trackers and he teams up well with Jaff. A very thorough and experienced tracker. You may also come across Richard behind the Manhattan Bar in the Boma, serving after dinner drinks. Richard has also just passed his FGASA 1 Level Guide Exam.

Steward:
He tracks with Samantha, and is a very likeable, well-spoken and intelligent person. Steward is fairly new to tracking but has taken to it extremely well. He received top marks out of all the trackers for the FGASA 1 Level Guides Exam and so holds great potential.

Garonga Safari camp, guide, tracker, Samantha, Steward
Samantha and Steward

Bongi:
Bongi is a very enthusiastic tracker and teams up with Derrick. Being very new to the team, our aim is to get him fully qualified up to a FGASA 1 Level Guide over the next 3 months. We foresee him being a great asset to the safari team.

Garonga safari camp, guide, tracker, Derrick, Bongi
Derrick and Bongi

This is a big team with a big heart. Their responsibility is a great one as guests arrive full of hope and expectation to see as much wildlife as possible. Time and time again the team continue to deliver using their experience, knowledge and passion. Thank you to all at Garonga Safari Camp for your hard work, energy and commitment to your roles!

Here we leave you with just one example of a rare sighting to the delight and astonishment of our American guests…

Behind the Scenes at Garonga: Meet the Farm & Maintenance Team

Our small team with the big job of making sure everything runs as it should.

This month we are going further behind the scenes to meet the team of men who aren’t scared to get their hands dirty. They run a tight ship, making sure that everything at the lodge and on the farm is up and running as it should be. Their skills range from painting to plumbing and even mechanics for our vehicles. It’s for sure that things would grind to a halt without them.

Steffen:
Leading the team as Farm and Maintenance Manager, Steffen has been at Garonga for 18 months and is married to Charlotte (Safari Camp Manageress). Steffen is extremely committed to performing great tasks and always puts 110% into what he does.

Albert:
Having moved across from Makalali some 15 years ago, Albert is our Assistant Farm and Maintenance Manager. He is perceptive in finding any problems and resolving them. He is very committed and proud of his work. A great asset and someone who always has a smile on his dial!

Farm and Maintenance team at Garonga
Albert

Fixon:
Fixon has been on the Farm for over 30 years, since the previous owner of Garonga. This makes him extremely knowledgeable of where things are and capable of putting his hand to everything. He is also not afraid at all to get stuck into those drains! He is always happy to help out.

Farm and Maintenance team at Garonga
Fixon

Given:
Given oversees the Farmhouse area, which is considerable, and Bernie’s house in the afternoons. He is very proud of his work and ably assists in maintenance when required. A very keen footballer and a great team asset.

Patrik:
Having joined the team permanently 3 years ago, Patrik was originally only called in for casual work as and when we needed more hands. He is a very capable person on maintenance issues and also with vehicles. Patrik is very committed to his job.

Farm and Maintenance team at Garonga
Farm and Maintenance team

With this incredible team, Garonga is able to run like a well-oiled machine and we are forever grateful!

10 signs you may need to get back to Garonga

“Way over expectations.”
“The only way to do a safari!”
“Like a dream!”

A visit to Garonga in South Africa’s Makalali private conservancy bordering the Kruger National Park impacts our guests in the most magical ways. Luxurious bush life and all its unexpected perks stick with them when they go back home and inevitably make them want to return again and again for more. And we’re so glad it does.

If you’ve visited us before, here are 10 tell-tale signs that you are missing your Garonga experience and it’s time for another visit soon.

1. Slumbering under the South African stars, listening to the wild sounds of the bush below you on the private Sleep Out Deck ruined any other treehouse experience for you.

Sleep out deck

2. You now look for animal tracks on the ground and tails in the trees when you go for a walk in your local park.

bush walk

3. You can’t fall asleep at night without a teddy bear in your arms.

safari camp accommodation

4. You drop everything you’re doing to stop and appreciate the sunset that unfolds before you. It was mandatory when in the South African bush after all. Why not everywhere else?

African sunset at Garonga

5. You can’t walk into a New York restaurant and feel at one with nature like you do dining in a boma that has the coolest outdoor bar you’ve ever seen.

Bush bar and boma

6. Your bathtub at home, between the four walls just doesn’t quite manage to set the scene for a relaxing bubble session anymore.

Bush bath

7. And back rubs from your partner in front of the TV don’t cut it anymore either.

Massage sala

8. When you hear something that sounds like a falling tree branch you look outside to see if there’s an elephant nearby.

elephant in camp

9. You leave a little note for your spouse to read when they come home from work. Maybe not as creative as the ones you found left by Garonga staff on the small zen garden in your room, but it’s the thought that counts.

zen garden in room

10. You’re saving up your annual leave days because you’re ready to go back!

Game drive

Leopard Spotting at Garonga Safari Camp

From agile antelopes to impressive elephants there is always something intriguing to see in the thick Makalali bushveld. But it is predator sightings that tend to be the most rejoiced.

Claire Birtwhistle, who recently visited Garonga, describes her most memorable sighting during her stay:

‘At first glance, there was nothing but bush. However, slowly but surely, the unmistakable rosettes of a leopard became visible and an enormous male leopard emerged from the thickets.

Makalali leopard sighting

I could barely contain my excitement, let alone focus my camera. As quickly as he had appeared, he was gone again. Like a unicorn of the bush, he left us wondering if we’d even seen him to begin with. After all, spotting a leopard in the wild seemed like a far-flung dream for me at the time. I was desperate to see one of course, but after several different wildlife safaris, countless game drives and still no leopard sighting, my hopes weren’t high.

As soon as the leopard disappeared into the bush, our expert guide, CJ, and tracker, Phineas, sprang into action. Their familiarity with the bush was unbelievable as we bundu-bashed our way down to the dry river bed. Positioning us with a clear view of the river bed in front of us, CJ switched off the engine and we waited. Sure enough, just a few minutes later, we detected some movement in the bush and the leopard revealed himself again. This time I was ready with my camera, and despite the low light conditions, managed to capture a couple of photographs of this magnificent creature.

It was incredible to watch as he casually strolled past us, stopping every few meters to mark his territory. In true regal leopard fashion, he barely acknowledged our presence, reminding us of our low ranking on the wildlife hierarchy. It was a privilege to witness this leopard in the wild, and an experience that will likely stay with me for life.’

3 Reasons to Visit Garonga

Nestled in a private concession in South Africa Garonga Safari Camp offers visitors a unique travel experience, or a ‘safari for the soul’ as the staff likes to describe it. From wildlife viewing to luxurious pampering, a stay at the camp is nothing less than an exceptional experience.

Here are three reasons to visit Garonga:

1. No Crowds

Spot a pride of lions or catch a glimpse of a leopard hiding in the bushveld as your game viewer slowly makes its way across the savannah. Makalali conservancy, a 22 000 hectare reserve situated west of the Kruger National Park, is home to an incredibly diverse range of wildlife.
Visitors can enjoy intimate wildlife encounters and a true Big Five safari experience without having to share the moments with hoards of tourists.

Game drive with Garonga Safari Camp in Makalali, South Africa

2. Sleep Out

Set deep in the African wilderness, the Garonga Sleep Out provides a safari experience of a uique kind. Sleep under the night sky on a deck out in the bush with nothing but the sounds of wildlife and the Milkyway keeping you company. Enjoy an intimate 3-course dinner in the bush, accompanied by a bottle of bubbly before letting nocturnal Africa lull you to sleep.

Garonga Sleep out, Makalali, South Africa

3. Bush Bath

Being on safari doesn’t always mean ‘roughing it’. A bush bath is an utterly unique way to enjoy nature whilst taking some time to relax and unwind. Set on a platform, overlooking the Makalali bushveld Garonga bush bath offers guests front row seats to enjoy the wonders of wilderness from the comfort of a lavish bubble bath.

Garonga bush bath, Makalali, South Africa

Exciting Elephant Encounters at Garonga

You don’t always have to trek deep into the heart of the African bushveld to see wildlife whilst on safari. Sometimes just staying at your safari camp provides you with plenty of wildlife excitement. Garonga Safari Camp’s guests were recently lucky enough to witness a very memorable occasion with their own eyes.

A bull elephant decided to come visit one of the safari tents when the guests were relaxing on the viewing deck. The impressive beast was certainly not shy to show off!

Watch how whole the spectacle unraveled:

How to Get to Garonga Safari Camp

Travel Options to Make Your Journey Even Easier

Travel options to get to Garonga Safari Camp in Makalali Conservancy, South Africa

‘Makalali’s bushveld, in contrast to those reserves directly adjacent to the Kruger, is a series of undulating hills that offer incredible viewpoints and panoramic views across the reserve.’ This is how SA Venues describes this wilderness area, situated just west of the Kruger National Park in South Africa.

Garonga Safari Camp and Little Garonga, nestled in this 22000ha wildlife haven, provides an ideal location to seek out the Big Five and experience close-up wildlife encounters without the crowds. The name Makalali means “a place of rest” in Shangaan and it suggests that the reserve offers an utterly unique and intimate wildlife experience. Embark on a game drive and be mesmerized by the abundance of game, including lion, kudu, cheetah and anything in between.

The only question left is how do you get there?

Garonga is easily accessible by both air and car:

    • Direct chartered flight from Johannesburg

      Direct chartered flight from Johannesburg to Garonga with Fedair
      Take a direct chartered flight from Johannesburg to Garonga with Fedair
    • Flight and air-charter (Nelspruit KMIA)
      Take a commercial flight with Airlink to Nelspruit KMIA (from Johanesburg or Cape Town)
      Take a commercial flight with Airlink to Nelspruit KMIA (from Johanesburg or Cape Town)

      Take a private charter from Nelspruit KMIA to Garonga's airstrip with Odie Air
      Take a private charter from Nelspruit KMIA to Taronga’s airstrip with Odie Air
    • Flight and road transfer (Hoedspruit / Phalaborwa)
    • Self-drive (only 6 hours from Johannesburg)

Find out detailed travel instructions here.

Garonga Safari Camp – A Well-Kept Secret of South Africa

It has almost been six months since the grand reopening of Garonga Safari Camp, and the team is ecstatic with the positive response from guests. The Garonga staff are devoted to offering service that is nothing below excellent. There is nothing quite like beaming feedback from past visitors to make the Garonga team members’ hearts fill with delight, day after day.

Garonga Safari Camp, main lodge

This is how recent guests describe their stay at Garonga on TripAdvisor:

‘This “camp” is a well-kept secret of South Africa. Traveling off the main road for almost 45mins is your first clue that you are in for a taste of a vanishing Africa. The staff is as warm and welcoming as you could possibly want and try to anticipate your every need.’
– Cindi

‘Wow! Garonga is a great safari camp. We have been on safari numerous times and this place hit all the marks and then some. Only 6 “tents” so no more than 12 guests at a time. The tents are actually small, very posh concrete houses with mesh windows and front flap enclosures that make it feel like a luxury tent. Animals come right into the camp as there are two watering holes right below the rooms.’
– Nancy, the US

Garonga Safari Lodge tent

‘We stayed here for our honeymoon in September. Everything was such an incredible experience. The ‘tents’ are clean, spacious and luxurious along with the view. All of the staff are incredibly friendly and happy to assist with any need.’
– Louise, the UK

‘Our tent, number 5, was large and well located to view the water hole where a variety of animals could be seen refreshing themselves. We were able to watch the elephants as they came through the camp feeding and knocking down the trees for food.’
– David, Australia

‘The accommodation is quite simply superb – huge “tents”, super comfy beds, wonderful bathrooms with indoor and outdoor showers and double sinks. We were in room six, which is furthest away from the waterhole and main lodge but great to feel you are away from it all watching the monkeys, mongoose and anything that wanders along the dry riverbed from the spacious deck (one night we spotted hyena as we were walked back from dinner).’
– CH London, the UK

Garonga Safari Lodge Accommodation