The 75 000-hectare Madikwe Game Reserve is located in the North West Province of South Africa. Prior to its establishment in 1991, most of the land consisted of cattle farms. Since 1991, the park has undergone an intensive phase of development as a premier game reserve, and this included an extensive restocking programme with game species that historically occurred in the region. Madikwe is managed by the North West Parks and Tourism Board (NWPTB), which was formerly the Bophuthatswana National Parks, a conservation organisation that is world-renowned for its pioneering approach to people-based wildlife conservation which it has practised since the late 1970s.

Unlike almost all state-owned game reserves in Africa, the approach towards conservation that has been adopted at Madikwe puts the needs of people before that of wildlife and conservation. It is believed by the Board that if conservation is to succeed in developing countries such as South Africa, then local communities and individuals must benefit significantly from wildlife conservation and related activities. If local communities and the region as a whole can benefit through jobs and business opportunities that are created or generated, then firm support for protected areas will be achieved and important conservation objectives will be met almost as a secondary or spin-off benefit.

Madikwe is run as a three-way partnership between the state (represented by the Board), local communities and the private sector. Without doubt, it is the private sector on which the entire project ultimately depends. The private sector develops and manages a variety of tourism developments and activities in the park. A portion of the revenue generated is paid to the Board in concession fees. These concession fees are used partly to maintain the conservation infrastructure and game stocks in the park, which underpin the private sector’s investments and operations. A portion of the concession fees is also paid to local communities to help finance a variety of community-based development projects. In addition to community projects, communities also benefit from jobs and business opportunities that are created both within and outside the park. This in turn further stimulates the local and regional economy.

This partnership, therefore, is of benefit to all parties involved. Conservation objectives are met, the private sector generates profits, jobs and businesses are created, communities are developed and valuable foreign exchange is brought into the country.

Madikwe, therefore, should not be viewed solely as a protected area or tourism destination, in reality the park acts as a major social and economic core and engine around which the development of the entire region can be based.

It is strongly believed that the approach being practised in Madikwe will have significant beneficial impacts on both local and regional economies, as well as greatly contribute towards the overall improvement in the quality of life of largely disadvantaged, rural communities. People-based wildlife conservation, therefore, should be considered as a viable development option elsewhere in South Africa and in developing countries in general. It is particularly relevant in rural areas where development options are often very limited. In this respect, it is believed that people-based conservation offers the only long-term successful approach to wildlife conservation in South and southern Africa, and the continent of Africa as a whole.