Big 5

Plumari Private Reserve

THE MAGALIESBURG'S WILD SIDE

What to look out for on a game drive? Graham Shipway, General Manager at the Askari Game Lodge, estimates that there are up to 20 species of larger game, including the Big Five, as well as several species of antelope and plains game. Highlights include the species reintroduced by owner, Giuseppe Plumari around 2000, when he set in motion his plan to return the area to the game paradise it once was.

THE CLOSEST BIG 5 RESERVE
TO JOHANNESBURG

In addition to these species, there are literally hundreds of types of smaller animals, from honey badgers and porcupines to antbears and brown hyenas. Plumari Private Reserve boasts a rich bird life, too, with resident species joined by migrants from the Kalahari and the Lowveld at different times of the year. Shipway says there are around 210 different species for twitchers to tick off their list.

HERITAGE

Have you ever heard of a black impala? How about a golden wildebeest? It's not surprising if you're less familiar with these animals than you are with, say, warthogs or kudu. After all, they are extremely rare species - and the very fact that they stand out from other specimens makes them an easy target in the bush.

There's a clear need to protect them, insists Fanus Howell, whose passion for conservation and wildlife led him to establish a breeding programme for rare species on the Plumari Private Game Reserve.

The ranch's variety of habitats makes it the ideal location for this project, as it is suitable for a wide range of species. Added to this, it already boasts a proud heritage of conservation; as Howell points out, Giuseppe Plumari made history in the Magaliesberg when he reintroduced species like hippos, elephant and king buffalo to the region after an absence of 100 years.

Howell started his project in 2016, ringfencing 500ha of the 4 000ha reserve for his rare animals: 17 Sable antelope, 50 king buffalo, four black impala, 30 nyala and a golden wildebeest. He points out that this camp is the size of the average farm in South Africa, giving the animals plenty of space to roam while allowing visitors to catch glimpses of species they may not even have known of.

Most of the animals have been sourced from private auctions or sellers. The sale isn't always easy, though, says Howell - for a start, it can be difficult to obtain the necessary permits. Added to this, prices are high - a wildebeest can sell for R500 000 - which is why he is hoping to gain the support of other nature lovers.

Howell says that, with the animals relocated to their new home on the reserve, it's pretty much up to nature to take its course. "It's a privilege to be working on a project like this. I am thrilled to think that our children will be able to appreciate these animals, because of the work we have done," Howell says.

BUILDING ON A LEGACY

CONSERVATION

Also noteworthy is the work done by Giuseppe to protect the rhinos on the reserve. Forced to take action after a number of rhino were poached on the farm - including two heavily pregnant cows - Giuseppe, Graham and their team opted to inject the horns of remaining rhinos with a poison. The toxin dyes the horns red and, although it has no impact on the animal's health, is potentially fatal for humans. When even this approach proved to do little to deter poachers, the reserve took the decision to remove the rhinos' horns every year. It hasn't been an easy task to carry out, but it is far better than the alternative, Giuseppe notes.

Its proximity to the Cradle of Humankind is a hint of the area's astoundingly rich history; with many stories told by relics such as copper and cowrie shells - indication of trading activity - found at Broederstroom, or even the remnants of an ingot of smelted iron. The southern slopes of the mountains still bear the marks of their middle and late Iron Age residents, in the form of interlinked, circular stone structures.