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Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve

Our Makalali project offers you a unique experience in the African bush and gives you the opportunity to observe and be a part of the research and monitoring teams on the reserve.

The focus of the Makalali project revolves around some of our key species; elephants, lions, hyenas and leopards.  You will also be involved with monitoring our breeding initiatives comprising buffalo, Livingston eland and nyala. Habitat work also plays an important part of the monitoring process.

The Greater Makalali Reserve is a vast Big 5 nature reserve covering an area of 25000 hectares.  Situated in the Lowveld area, the home of nature conservation in South Africa, your work is vital for accurate management of the animals within the reserve.  The data collected is also made available to students and researchers that we host, as well as a number of national conservation projects, including the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT). 

Whether on a monitoring drive, on foot, or observing the wildlife at a waterhole, all of your work will be done under the guidance of our qualified rangers.  As each activity has a pre-determined objective, you don’t just get to view the animals, you get to live with them for a little while.  There’s nothing quite like sitting in the dark next to a lazing lion waiting for it to start its nightly call, or being surrounded by a herd of elephants and being able to spend time observing their individual traits and family dynamics.

At the end of the day, you return to the camp to share your experiences over dinner around the open fire and then fall asleep to the sounds of the bush.  Join us for the experience of a lifetime!


Siyafunda's key components are:

Monitoring forms the basis for the majority of our research assistance on the Greater Makalali Game Reserve. We conduct monitoring drives in the mornings and afternoons. The monitoring coincides with times of increased activity of the specific animals we are observing. We also spend time on foot tracking the more alusive animals, which is an amazing way to experience the bush.  During the drier winter months, we have several hides based at waterholes which allow you to observe the various animals and their interactions at close quarters.  Our time is also spent attending to habitat management requirements on the Siyafunda properties and the greater reserve.

Elephant Monitoring 

Makalali introduced elephants in 1994 and 1996 and was the first reserve to have intact family groups relocated to it.  The reserve was also the first to take part in the Elephant Contraception Program, headed by Audrey Delsink, in order to regulate its total elephant population.  Makalali understands the importance of alternative population controls other than culling and translocation.  The program started in 2000 and is the longest running of its kind; it is the benchmark on which all other similar projects are based.  This is a pioneering study and it is important that we continue to monitor the elephant herds as Makalali has the most extensive and longest continuing database of elephants on contraception in the world.

Our monitoring of the elephants involves recording their movements to determine daily and seasonal ranging patterns.  We also observe and record long term behavioural aspects, focusing primarily on herd/bull associations and sexual behaviours.  Elephants are a key-stone species and require constant information collection for effective management decision making.

Lions Monitoring

The monitoring of our lion population is done to assess their movements, behaviour and predator-prey interactions. Lions, like elephants, are key-stone species and, within restricted wild environments, require constant monitoring to assist with management interventions when required. Interventions are done to vary genetic diversity within the population and to control population size. Makalali has participated with various population control methods and research. Contraception of lions has been used and studied within this reserve. Lions are prolific breeders and between 1995 and 2007, 89 lions were born at Makalali. Numbers however need to be kept between 20 and 30.

Breeding Animals Monitoring

A 400 hectare, enclosed area of the reserve is home to our current breeding initiatives; buffalo, Livingstone Eland and Nyala.

The first 6 buffalos, 2 males and 4 females, were reintroduced to Makalali in 2008 – the first to have been on this land for 80 years or more.  The buffalo are disease free so do not carry diseases such as foot and mouth and TB and are a substantial investment.  They will be released into the greater reserve once the herd size is big enough to sustain itself.  We monitor their progress within the enclosure, checking health, possible pregnancies and any new births.

Livingstone Eland are the largest antelope.  Along with Nyala, numbers are in decline due to encroachment on habitat by humans, as well as poaching.  We also monitor their progress in the enclosure.

Hyena Monitoring

Makakali reserve is host to both species of Hyena; brown and spotted. The Spotted hyena are superior in numbers and are a very important species for the effective functioning of this eco-system. They provide the cleaning up of carcasses, as well as being effective hunters.  We monitor den sites and activity and ID specific individuals to track interaction and behaviour.  We also monitor the ratio of scavenging to hunting and how this impacts on the prey species.

The brown hyena are very rare and sightings of them are met with great excitement.


We closely monitor the locations of leopards to determine territory extent as well as creating and updating ID kits to monitor individuals and determine total population size.  As with all predators, we also monitor prey selection and reproductive behaviour to effectively assist the reserve management.

In 2014, Siyafunda teamed up with the Panthera Leopard Research Project, who are monitoring and determining the leopard population in the area.  This project is planned to continue for the next 10 years.  Working in conjunction with the Endangered Species Project you will assist with the setting and monitoring of camera traps during the key months of February and March. 

Small Mammal Survey

Sightings of the reserves small mammal population are also monitored and recorded.  This data allows us to determine species density, habitat, home range and territory utilisation of these animals.  This includes animals such as aardvarks, jackal, honey badgers, caracals and, of course, the elusive pangolin!

General Game

We monitor and record locations, demographic composition and any significant behavioural displays of general game on the reserve such as impala, giraffe, and wildebeest. This is to determine trends in habitat utilization and correlate animal population sizes determined during helicopter game counts conducted every 2 years with set-route drive game counting we do throughout the year.

Birds and Raptors

Each week we monitor the different species of birds seen in the area. This is to determine any seasonal correlations and observe migratory patterns as part of a larger country wide initiative – Ndlovu birding project. Positions of birds of prey and vultures are recorded and this information is recorded and sent to the Endangered Wildlife Trust who constantly monitor the vulnerability status of these birds. Many of these birds are threatened due to persecution by people who believe they threaten live stock and for traditional medicine and beliefs.


Habitat Conservation

Alien Vegetation Control: Under the guidance of Working for Water (WFW), volunteers will assist with identifying and monitoring stands of alien and invasive vegetation within the river and across the reserve. Volunteers will participate in the mechanical removal and chemical control of these species as well as the follow-up monitoring of problem areas. This is an important project as alien invasive plants have the ability to encroach on areas and prevent other indigenous plants from growing, as well as using up large amounts of moisture from the soil. This has a detrimental effect on your ecosystem and therefore requires constant monitoring and removal.

Habitat Rehabilitation: Volunteers will have the opportunity to assist in ongoing habitat rehabilitation initiatives in the reserve, including erosion control, the construction of rock gabions, brush-packing and re-seeding.

Reserve Management: We are lucky enough to be situated on a large reserve but this also means that it needs to be constantly managed. Volunteers will have the opportunity to take part in assisting with reserve duties such as road maintenance to prevent erosion problems, encroachment of vegetation over the roads and fence clearing when needed.