5 Reasons to Visit Makalali Private Nature Reserve

by Harriet Nimmo

Known as the Greater Makalali Private Nature Reserve, Makalali is located in the lowveld region of Limpopo, about an hour west of the Kruger National Park. It offers a great experience for first-time safari goers and, with some romantic lodge features, it is also a special destination for honeymooners. There are many reasons to visit the Greater Makalali Private Nature Reserve but just the top five are listed here.

  1. Remote and wild

The Greater Makalali Private Nature Reserve is one of the country’s major privately-owned conservation areas. Its mission is to expand South Africa’s green frontier and the reserve is involved in trying to re-establish the ancient wildlife migration routes that link Kruger National Park in the east to the Drakensburg Mountains in the west.

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Encountering rhinos

At over 22 000ha/54 400ac and with a very low density of lodges, it feels very wild with few, if any, other vehicles at sightings. The lodges have unlimited traversing rights across the whole reserve – very few lodges in other reserves have access to such an unfettered space.

  1. Breathtaking scenery

Makalali’s scenery is stunning, with a varied terrain including undulating rocky hills (known as kopjes or koppies in South Africa) and open areas.

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Enjoying sundowners

There are beautiful viewpoints, with panoramic vistas across the reserve – the perfect setting for a sundowner (evening drink).

  1. Wildlife watching

Makalali is home to the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino) and has a great reputation for close-up sightings. As well as white rhino, it is also home to the rarer and far more elusive black rhino. You also stand a chance of seeing cheetah here too.

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Glimpsing a cheetah

Because it is a private reserve, your guide can drive off-road to follow the animals into their world, away from the road, for optimum viewing, which can make for fantastic photographic opportunities.  You can also go for private guided nature walks in Makalali.

  1. One-of-a-kind experiences

Although the Big Five wildlife encounters and going on game drives are thrilling, it is only part of the safari experience. Equally important is the whole lodge experience – taking time out to relax, unwind, switch off and nurture your soul.

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The star bath

There are some very special experiences on offer in Makalali at Garonga Safari Camp. This small, exclusive lodge provides luxury accommodation in en-suite tents. Sleeping in a tent is a far more intimate experience than being sealed inside a brick chalet, as you can hear the noises of the African night.

In addition, Garonga Safari Camp offers the Star Bath, which is a whole new alfresco bathing experience. Your private free-standing bath is under the glittering African night sky; enjoy a glass of wine and the sounds of the African bush.

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The yoga deck

To continue the theme of a ‘safari for the soul’, Garonga Safari Camp also offers a tranquil Yoga Deck – an enclosed tented structure, which allows the breeze to pass through while you stretch and contemplate the view of the African bush, and (if you’re lucky) passing wildlife. You can also relax and enjoy a massage by the camp’s resident therapist in the Sala Room in a beautiful bush setting.

  1. Sleeping under the stars

Finally, there is the opportunity to spend the night on Garonga Safari Camp’s Sleep-out Deck.

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The sleep-out deck

Spend a night under the African stars, on your very own luxurious sleep-out deck with a four-poster bed and private dinner, overlooking a waterhole.

If you’re headed to South Africa, then a safari experience at Makalali Private Nature Reserve is highly recommended.

Harriet Nimmo is a member of the SafariBookings Expert Panel and founder of the Wild Shots Wildlife Photography Conference in South Africa. You can read her South Africa country review on SafariBookings here.

Safari Camp Stories: (Near) Death on (Just a Bit South of) the Nile

by Sophie Barrett, guide at Garonga

To be well suited as a Field Guide and a Tracker you need to have different parameters on danger. A scream of terror causes a flood of adrenaline in a Field Guide and the overwhelming urge to run to the source clasping a camera in one hand and a snake wrangling kit in the other to see what excitement has been uncovered. Something in the development of our survival instincts went astray. We are drawn to creatures that most humans consider deadly and downright disadvantageous for a long and healthy lifespan.

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© Eugenio Guasina

So, with this in mind, it is perhaps unsurprising that one morning Bongi and I were chasing around on some fresh cheetah tracks, eyes gleaming at the challenge. Bongi was doing some systematic tracking, out on foot following one track and then the next to find the animals. Whilst I was doing some intuitive tracking, circling the block in the vehicle, checking to see if the tracks emerged and trying to predict what their movements would have been or would be likely to be so we could slip ahead of the coalition of cheetahs and spot them that morning. We covered a few uneventful sides of the block when, BINGO, cat tracks on the road ahead. I stopped the car, gave the guests a few reassuring words and leapt out for a closer look. Not the cheetahs we were following but an even more elusive creature – a female leopard – had been down the road and recently judging by the crispness of the tracks. I followed them for a few metres head down to get a feel of the gait and behaviour of the animal when I felt an ominous prickling on the back of my neck. I froze. Call me superstitious but I was convinced something was watching me. I raised my head to scan around. Leopards love to rely on their excellent camouflage and from the freshness of the tracks it was entirely possible the female was lying somewhere close-by in the bushes watching my every move. I scanned carefully in the bushes on my left, slowly coming round to the road where my eyes met a pair of black pools, lined with silver and typically associated with a swift, anxious and painful death.

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© Vaughan Jessnitz

A few metres ahead of me, starting to cross the road, was a black mamba, about 3m in length and raised up about 50cm from the ground. The mamba had spread its hood (oh yes they have a hood) and was daring me to come closer. I stood for what felt like an age staring transfixed at the snake before common sense kicked in – I should return to the car and get my camera – what a photo opportunity! I called to the guests to make sure they were enjoying this rare and special sight in the bush and slowly backed towards the vehicle. My movement broke the spell and the extra space relaxed the snake, it turned and slid back towards the bushes. With great excitement we approached it in the game viewer and the serpent climbed a nearby knobthorn gave us all a piercing stare before moving off on its own business once more.

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© Sophie Barrett

Guides’ Wildlife Photo Competition Winners

Along with the photo competition that guests from both Garonga Safari Camp and Little Garonga can submit their safari moments to, we have also started an annual Wildlife Photo Competition for our guide and tracker teams. The teams: Jaffet and Richard; Josia and Phineas; Samantha and Stewart; Derrick and Kaizer; and Sophie and Bongi, get to explore the bush daily on a game drive or on foot, regularly experiencing fantastic sightings, which make for great photographic opportunities.

While a little healthy competition never harmed anyone, this is just a fun platform for our guides to showcase their wildlife photography skills in the field. Wildlife photographer, Paul Changuion, judged the submissions sent in by our guides last year. Without further ado, here are the winners of last year’s Wildlife Photo Competition.

1st Place – Born to Ride

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© Sophie Barrett

During an afternoon game drive in late October, Bongi called out “What’s that?”, which was met by a chuckle from Sophie. She pulled out her binoculars and starting scanning the area where he was looking because she knew that if Bongi couldn’t identify whatever it was without binoculars, then she certainly wasn’t going to be able to. On the tracker seat ahead, Bongi began to squint and muttered ‘pangolin’. At that point, Sophie was doing a passable impression of a spinning top – binos firmly glued to her face, calling out “Where are we looking?!”. And then she finally saw it, or more accurately them. Their very first pangolin sighting was also their second pangolin sighting as there was a female carrying her youngster on her back. Many guides never get the chance to see a pangolin – let alone two- during their entire career so they most certainly count themselves lucky! To read the full story, visit the first blog of our Safari Camp Stories series titled A Double Pangolin Sighting.

2nd Place – Cat Got Your Tongue

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© Sophie Barrett

It was an afternoon in mid-November that was ripe with possibilities, Sophie had a vehicle filled with new guests and Kaizer and Sophie were keen to finish tracking down the Garonga pride. Kaizer was taking the sleep-out guests and headed straight to where they had left the tracks in the morning. Sophie got waylaid by a gang of boisterous elephant bulls and saw King Raf (the oldest elephant bull in the reserve) get outsmarted by a sassy young bull. Whilst they were with the elephants, Kaizer called over the radio to say that he had found the lion pride and that the cubs were with them. At this point the pride had four cubs, two who were about 6 and half months old and two who were coming up to 2 months old. When Sophie pulled into the sighting she blinked, rubbed her eyes and gasped – there were not four but SIX cubs!

The oldest female in the pride had given birth since anyone had last seen her and the tiny bundles she was suckling looked to be about two days old! It was late evening and they sat in silent awe watching as this experienced female nursed and then washed her cubs. Once she was finished she glanced up at them, stood, stretched and, with incredible gentleness, picked up one of the cubs in her mouth. She levelled an assessing stare at Sophie and started walking towards her, and for one bonkers moment, she thought the lioness was bringing her cub to Sophie for a lion king style introduction to the reserve, at the last moment the lioness changed direction and stalked silently into the setting sun.

3rd Place – Nightjar Ninja

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© Derrick Nyathi

The Garonga pride had some recent additions to the pride, which were now old enough for the pride to move the den site. That afternoon Derrick and Kaizer were determined to find where the pride had moved to. They set out and were successful in finding them but the lions weren’t all that they found… As Derrick was positioning the vehicle to glimpse the lion cubs nestled inside the den he spotted two eggs on the ground. Curious, he pulled closer to work out what bird they belonged to and as he examined the area Derrick realised the answer was right in front of him, blending perfectly with the leaf litter and not so much as batting an eyelid at the gigantic tyre that was passing next to her nest was a fiery necked nightjar. It was impossible not to record such flawless camouflage.

4th Place – Midnight Snack Attack

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© Sophie Barrett

Leopards are the most elusive cat, feeling more at home when the shadows have lengthened. During the daylight hours they are shy and skittish, they often take comfort in the darkness becoming bolder and tolerating an observer’s presence. Sophie and Bongi had found this particular leopard on the morning drive when they were tracking a coalition of male cheetahs that had moved into the Garonga section of the reserve. As soon as they spotted the leopard, it raced down the trunk of the marula tree and disappeared leaving a warthog carcass stashed in the tree’s canopy.

Sophie and Bongi locked eyes and gave each other an excited nod – they knew precisely where they would be driving once the sun had set. After darkness fell they made their way back to the marula tree and found, to their delight, that the young leopard had returned and was happily feeding on the warthog remains. With only the light of the stars (and a safari spotlight) to see them by, the leopard’s attitude had completely changed. Sophie, Bongi and their guests were presented with a poser of epic proportions and sat transfixed, snapping away, as the leopard locked them in place with its intense stare.

Safari Camp Stories: Hanging Out with the Garonga Pride

by Samantha Hewitt, guide at Garonga

One morning in mid-January, on a game drive with guests, we spotted some tracks of the two dominant male lions of the Garonga pride but didn’t follow up as they were walking in a very thick area that we decided was too dangerous for us to venture into.

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© Samantha Hewitt

In the afternoon, we set off with the idea that we would drive around the area where we had seen the male lion tracks. As we left the lodge it started raining so I turned around to the guests to tell them that with the rain the chances of us trying to track the two male lions would be extremely difficult as the rain ages and washes the tracks away.

We went to the area where we last saw the tracks of the male lions but couldn’t see if they had crossed any road; at this point, the tracks no longer looked like tracks but just a bunch of raindrops. An elephant bull had been called in on the radio and we had already decided that if our gut feeling wasn’t right after checking one last road in that area, we would go to the elephant bull.

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© Samantha Hewitt

As we were driving, Stuart, and his amazing ability to spot animals from miles away, turned around with a huge grin on his face saying “Lion! Males! Two of them!” As you can imagine, the guests were so excited, and I was shocked that without tracking we had still managed to find these male lions!

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© Samantha Hewitt

As we drove a little closer Stuart smiled and said, “and the Garonga pride!”.

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© Samantha Hewitt

We sat in amazement as the six cubs played with one another, the mothers looking up from time to time making sure that the older cubs, that are about seven months now, were not being too rough with the younger cubs that are now around four and two months old.

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© Samantha Hewitt

The males got up a few times to change their position, which allowed us to take some fantastic photos.

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© Samantha Hewitt

It was a wonderful drive after all, even if we did get a little wet and saw very few impala!

Behind the Scenes: Meet the Team – WildWeb

This is the last of the blog series “Behind the Scenes” that has featured the 12 teams working collectively ensure Garonga’s continued success. This is the hard work that guests often don’t know about but get to experience the results first-hand at the safari camp. 

WildWeb, owned and managed by Paul Changuion, is a Web Design and Digital Marketing Agency based in Durban, South Africa. They have represented Garonga Safari Camp for many years now, and are both a highly experienced team and personable group of people to work with.

In 2000, Paul turned his love for the African bushveld into his dream company – WildWeb. Paul has vast experience in online marketing of safari operations in Southern and Eastern Africa.

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We work with all the teams at WildWeb, as they manage and maintain all our web-based platforms and online content. They are responsible for our website design and maintenance, digital marketing – including blogs and social media – and generally keeping together any web-based information such as on TripAdvisor and online itinerary builder, WETU.

Website Design & Development Team

Jono Bouwmeester: Jono brings both technical know-how and design flare to his position as Head of the Design and Development Team at WildWeb.

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David Reynolds: Also a long-standing member of the WildWeb family, David is the SEO guru of the company and supports web design and maintenance by installing all updates to keep Garonga’s website up-to-date.

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Shannon Govender: Shannon is a designer and front-end developer at WildWeb. With over 10 years experience in the advertising and media industry, he is an expert in graphic and web design, printing, animation and game development.

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Mystic Mendes: As a Level 5 Programmer, web development runs deep in Mystic’s veins. So when he’s not at WildWeb, he’s either dreaming about programming or updating himself on what’s new in this field.

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Digital Marketing Team

Kelly Robertson: A travel enthusiast of note with a deep love for all things content, Kelly heads up the Digital Marketing Team from her base in Johannesburg.

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Anna da Graça: Anna has a strong background in public relations, events management and strategic marketing development. Having been born and raised in England, Anna brings unique insight to inform Garonga’s online presence.

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Nelli Rose-Innes: The master of paid advertising at WildWeb, Nelli looks after Garonga’s online presence, particularly making sure more people find out about us. She keeps abreast of all online information trends so that we stay ahead of the curb.

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Claire Birtwhistle: Claire is a professional photographer with a penchant for safari photography – check out our galleries to see some of Claire’s work. Along with her creative talents, she is also well-versed in strategic marketing across digital platforms.

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Elrika Geyser: With a Public Relations Degree and marketing experience under her belt, Elrika is equipped to create authentic content and managing winning social media campaigns.

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Megan Lewis: A complete word-nerd with a background in communications, public relations and marketing, Megan is in her element when exploring different countries or writing about all things travel.

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Digital Direct Team

Claire Long: Claire has extensive experience in the travel industry and has also spent time living abroad, which she brings to her position as Reservations Specialist for Garonga at WildWeb.

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Jennifer Harmse: With a Diploma in International Tourism, Jennifer loves helping people realise their travel dreams as a Reservations Specialist. Along with Claire, you’ll probably chat to Jennifer at some point when booking at Garonga.

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Garonga’s authentic online presence is aligned perfectly to our offline safari experience thanks to WildWeb.

Introducing the All New Star Bath and Yoga Deck

Just when you didn’t think your safari could get any more relaxing, we go and prove you wrong!

Here at Garonga we pride ourselves on our motto of being a ‘Safari for the Soul’. While the Big Five game drives and encounters with wildlife is a huge drawcard, it’s only half the safari experience at Garonga. Equally important is slowing down the pace of life, nurturing yourself, and ‘resetting your system’, so to speak.

That’s, of course, why we offer the Bush Bath and Sleep Out Deck, which are complimented by luxurious accommodation and nourishing, hearty food. And it doesn’t stop there. A stay at Garonga isn’t complete without a visit to the Massage Sala, and not to worry, very few people come out without a bad case of ‘pillow face’.

We’ve upped the relaxation ante with two new features added to the revamped existing luxury facilities:

Star Bath

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Introducing the Star Bath

It’s time to get starry-eyed! We bring you the dreamy Star Bath – a whole new alfresco bathing experience. We’ve added a special touch to the original Bush Bath experience. Now you can get lost in the view of a dazzling African night sky as well as our very own galaxy of twinkling stars, all in complete privacy. Soak away your troubles, let go and look back on the sightings and experiences of the day with a glass of wine in hand. It sounds like bliss because it is!

Yoga Deck

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Introducing the Yoga Deck

Those already familiar with the practice of mindfulness and meditation, or those that just love a good stretch or daytime nap, will be excited to see our new Yoga Deck. An enclosed tented structure designed to allow air to flow freely, perfectly frames an exquisite view of the valley. You can step onto the mat and practice in privacy surrounded by only the peaceful sounds of the surrounding bush. If you’re lucky you might even get some of the local wildlife passing by!

Bush Bath

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Welcome back to a revamped Bush Bath

Not forgetting our existing Bush Bath, which continues to be a much-loved feature at Garonga. It received the full luxury treatment and make-over with a brand-new freestanding bath.

If you’re looking to leave your troubles behind, completely unwind and indulge your senses, then we can certainly help you by offering the ultimate in soulful spa/safari experience.

Namaste

Meet the Team: Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve

The Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve (GMPGR), together with the Pidwa Wilderness Reserve forms the Greater Makalali Nature Reserve (GMNR), is a 22,000-ha game reserve situated outside Gravelotte in the Limpopo Province. The reserve has seven owners who have retained ownership of their individual properties but have removed fences to create a conservancy allowing game to traverse the entire extent of the reserve.

The reserve is home to the Big 5, with previously eradicated species including lion, elephant, rhino, hippo, buffalo, cheetah and hyena being reintroduced. Leopard, brown hyena and the smaller mammal species as well as the endangered ground hornbill and the many threatened and endangered vulture and raptor species are present on the reserve.

Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve Team

To run such a large reserve, we need a very special and motivated team. From mending fences to ensuring legal and environmental compliance and liaising with the Anti-Poaching Teams, the team has their work cut out for them – nothing is too small!

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Josias Mohuba (Senior Fence Patroller), Richard Sachse (Rhino Monitor), Matthew Mohuba (Fence Patroller), James Maila (Maintenance), Lydia Raganya (B2W Environmental Monitor), Peter Malatji (Maintenance), Annickiy Mafogo (B2W Environmental Monitor), Clement Mahlo (Environmental Monitor), Samuel Komane (Environmental Monitor), Lorraine Ngomane (Housekeeper), Carol Cerney (Assistant Rhino Monitor), Emmanuel Mahlo (Gate Guard), Yvette Panos (Financial Administrator and B2W Coordinator) and Rob Panos (Reserve Warden)
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Jabulane Khoza (Main Gate Security Guard)
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Emmanuel Mahlo (Garonga Gate Security Guard)

Protected Area Based Environmental Monitors

The EM programme was started by the South Africa’s National Department of Environmental Affairs in response to the challenges of high levels of unemployment adjacent to conservation areas, coupled with increases in the illegal wildlife trade. The programme aims to grow conservation capacity within South African National Parks’ (SANParks) protected areas including provincial and private reserves.

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Richard Sachse and Carol Cerney (Rhino Monitors) and Rob Panos (Reserve Warden)

Four Environmental Monitors are deployed on the GMPGR through an integrated plan to assist with conservation support, including various projects and activities to maintain sustainability within the GMPGR.

Back to the Wild Programme

The Back to the Wild (B2W) Programme seeks the promotion and conservation of wildlife, fauna and flora, and the natural environment, including the ecosystem in and on the reserve land, as well as establishing a formal release facility for compromised and rehabilitated indigenous wildlife on the reserve land.

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Back to Wild re-wilding enclosure

Over the years, the GMPGR has facilitated the release of several species from various centres on a small-scale. The capacity for release within GMNR has been greatly increased through the construction of six suitable re-wilding enclosures within a release facility, with the funding assistance of the Humane Society International. A slow-release process is carefully managed to ensure previously compromised and rehabilitated animals are successfully released back to the wild.

The B2W Programme is managed by Yvette Panos, who works together with Audrey Delsink Kettles, who is the Executive Director of Humane Society International: Africa, and Nicci Wright, the Executive Director of African Pangolin Working Group and an internationally qualified wildlife rehabilitation specialist.

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Lydia Raganya and Annickiy Mafogo (B2W Environmental Monitors)

Lydia Raganya and Annickiy Mafogo are the Environmental Monitors stationed at the B2W facility, providing the necessary dedication and care of the wildlife to ensure the success of this programme.

Anti-Poaching Unit: K9 Conservation

The K9 Conservation Anti-Poaching Unit (APU) has provided logistical backup and support to the GMNR since 2014, through the deployment of elite, highly trained and specialized working-dog units. The APU is based on the reserve permanently, patrolling both in vehicles and on foot. The field rangers and dogs are carefully selected and paired to maximize efficiency and effectiveness.

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K9 APU Senior Staff: Prince (Senior Field Ranger), Peter Wearne (Unit Manager), Justice (Assistant Sergeant) and Nhlanhla (Sergeant)

The Belgian Malinois, originally bred for herding purposes, have the perfect temperament, intelligence, dedication, agility and diligence to be anti-poaching K9 soldiers on the frontlines of anti-poaching efforts.

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Peter Wearne (Unit Manager of the Makalali Unit)

K9 Conservation’s primary function is to aid and assist the GMNR to counteract illegal hunting and wildlife trade by poachers and poaching syndicates. The exceptionally dedicated APU on the GMNR is led by Peter Wearne, who has been based at the GMPGR since October 2014.

For further information on GMPGR and GMNR or to support Back to the Wild, please contact us.