“ Private game reserve in Botlierskop, South Africa. „
Botlierskop Private Game Reserve is situated on South Africa's Garden Route near the towns of Mossel Bay and Knysna. It is a private reserve rather than a National Park. It is smaller with limited animals, but the animals are protected and the Reserve is not like a zoo (although the lions are sectioned off, for the posterity of the other animals). There is a limit to the number of animals that can be kept and the Reserve has a breeding programme, and some animals may then move to one of the big National Parks (where the animals are officially wild) or be sold to other Private Reserves. Whilst I would have loved to do a safari again in one of the big parks, this can be expensive and not close to where we were staying. Plus you often have no guarantee as to where the animals are and can potentially spend your allocated time driving around and seeing very little. Here, as the area is smaller, the guides are able to keep better tabs on the animals so you are guaranteed a spot. The majority of the animals have a free range in the park, so are semi-wild with less risk of predators. As herbivores a natural food source for them is readily available. The park has been open for eleven years now.
Our day trip was included in our holiday price but I understand the price for a 4x4 drive as we did was R395 (£34/US$53) which last about 3-3.5 hours. We travelled from Knysna and it was quite a drive.
There were ten of us and we sat in a large, high 4 x 4 vehicle. I don't think you would want anyone else is the vehicle as it could be a squash, as there was some sliding around as the jeep took some steep turns. As it was winter we were also given blankets which we appreciated. Our guide was informative and entertaining. Some guides can be a bit dry and tell you lots of information until you want to go to sleep because you can't take it in anymore, but our guide got the balance right, and was always able to answer our questions.
The first animals we went to see were the elephants that are kept in a separate area. They do not belong to the reserve itself but are privately owned Zimbabwean elephants that are refugees. They are former trained elephants who have acted in a number of movies. 'Naughty', the female has 'acted' alongside Isabella Rossellini. Naughty and her partner Sam are available for a ride, which is how they support themselves, but we didn't have a ride. We sat in our jeep and watched the elephants and their son, 'Surprise', go about their daily business for about ten minutes. They completely ignored our vehicle and meandered about together. Surprise occasionally poking his head out, from between his parents, for the obliging 'aaaaahhhhh's from his admirers in the jeep.
After this we went back to the reserve for our drive, which was larger than I first thought. The rest of the animals (except the lions) don't have names. Here we saw some impala, including black impala which are very rare. They were the result of years of breeding programmes, but now the black impala population at Botlierskop is large enough that some are now sent to the wild, to help boost the population there. Other animals included the blue wildebeest (gnu), kudu, ostrich, bontebok and waterbuck.
We were all fans of the baby white rhino. There is no real colour difference between the two varieties, it is thought that the 'white' rhino was originally the 'wide' rhino as it is bigger and has a wider mouth. The adult rhino have the horns removed surgically under anaesthetic. Whilst this may be far from ideal, the alternative is to have them bleed to death after poachers have hacked the horns off. This is a practice that still goes on as the South African news too often reports.
I was rather taken with the giraffes. I like to think one of the giraffes was also taken with me; he was definitely giving me the eye. Our guide said that I couldn't take him home, which was a shame but logistically he wouldn't have fitted in the overhead locker on the plane. They had a number of giraffes here, and they are all very photogenic. We also got to see a two week old baby Cape Zebra (cue further round of 'aaaahhhhh's).
On return to the main lodge we got out of the Jeep and had time for a quick visit to the loos (all that bouncing about) before getting into a bigger truck to go to the lion enclosure. The lions are in a 100 hectare enclosure, fenced off from the rest of the reserve. They had been hand reared so cannot be put into the wild. Some had been working lions, involved in 'walking with lions' type tourist trips, but after a certain age they are not allowed to interact with the public, which is how they ended up at Botlierskop. In spite of the fact they had been hand reared no risks were taken and we were safe in a nice high truck. They are fed every few days (as they would in the wild) with a dead cow or something similar. No live animals are fed to them, and it is a shame that they don't get to try to hunt, but at the same time it isn't particularly nice for the cow. The lions, of which there were three, were mainly asleep but one did get up, move about a metre, then lay down again flicking her tail at the others. They barely raised their heads to us, except to yawn. Having seen lions in the wild on a previous safari in Zambia some years ago, I can confirm that they don't do a great deal in the wild either (although there is the off-chance you may see them actually hunt).
The Reserve offers private accommodation, but we didn't stay here. We did eat in the main lodge though. I had a veggie wrap and chips which was delicious at R45. I also had a hot chocolate (R15) but disappointingly it was a vending machine made one. There is a gift shop with a number of craft products and soft toys as well as generic regional gifts. The lavatories were spacious, but quite dark, and I didn't have much success getting any hot water. There are a number of comfy sofas here by the fires which help keep the place warm, as it was rather cold in August when we visited.
Obviously a 'real' safari would be the best, but I was in the wrong part of South Africa, and this is the next best thing. The animals are well cared for and have a reasonable amount of space to roam.
Little Brak River 6503, South Africa
044 696 6055