The Sibuya Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape Province is both a getaway destination for the tourist class, where one experiences a well organized bush-lodge experience, but also a conservation area in which a successful cheetah-breeding program has been ongoing over the past years. The reserve is located along the Kariega River, necessitating an upriver boat trip to the eco-friendly, tented lodgings in which all power is supplied via solar panels. Don’t bring either a cell phone or a hair dryer; neither will work. It’s designed this way for one to enjoy a simpler time, when Nyala stroll through the camp site and monkeys engage in shenanigans.
Sibuya, similar to many private South African game reserves, stocks the BIG FIVE. And, similar to all other parks and reserves on which the BIG FIVE live, it is serendipity that one gets to see all of them during any one visit. It is astonishing to think that, at times, it is impossible to locate an elephant in the bush. But, true it is. And the disappearing act is particularly true of the nocturnal and elusive leopard. One day, maybe.
The reserve hosts a wide variety of South African game that are adapted to this wetter coastal habitat. You won’t find any Springbok here because the moist conditions result in hoof problems for this species. You will find, though, plenty of grazers adapted to this climate including Eland, Kudu, Nyala, Waterbok, Reedbock, Impala, and Burchell Zebra. Below are a selection of them.
Giraffe, a particular favorite of ours, were nearly everywhere during our time on the reserve. These very tall (>6 m), graceful, and inquisitive artiodactyls (hoofed, even-toed mammals) can be seen towering over the trees that grow in the myriad of forest types in this part of the Eastern Cape. Although one would think it easy to distinguish between the sexes, it isn’t that simple. The most commonly applied criterion is that of body-spot color; the males are said to have a darker pattern than the females. But, this isn’t always true. Rather, the most consistent feature may be the absence of tufts of hair on the animals’ horns, abraded off in the males as a consequence of head butting and fighting.
Sibuya differs from other game reserves in having nearly 400 different bird species on the property. This high biodiversity is the result of a landscape that encompasses the saltwater estuary of the Kariega River, in which prawn come to spawn and mature (and be caught for supper), to the mosaic of Euphorbia, Aloe, and Plane trees which give way to fynbos and veld at higher elevations. Here, it is possible to gaze at species ranging from Egyptian Ibis, Cranes, and Storks, to Kingfishers, Weavers, and Eagles (African Crowned, African Fish, Long crested, and Martial Eagle, to name a few).
South African public and private game reserves have become heavily invested in conservation efforts to bring cheetah populations back from the brink of endangerment. Over the past century, the fastest land animal in the world has seen its population reduced by more than 90%. It is estimated that 100,000 cheetahs lived throughout Africa and in parts of the Middle East and Central Asia at the beginning of the 20th Century. Currently, approximately 7,500 cheetahs remain, and South Africa is home to fewer than 1,000 of these formidable cats.
In the wild, cheetahs only live on average to between 4 to 7 years of age, and juveniles have a mortality rate approaching 90%. Animals bred, born, and raised in captivity have a 15-year life span and mortality rates are significantly lower. But captivity can’t solve the ecological issues of removing a top-level predator from the environment. Recently, breeding programs have begun to return adult cheetah to the wild in hopes of increasing the species’ gene pool in an attempt to diversity the populations. Only time will tell.