Sanbona and Africa’s last white-maned hunters

Lions at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

Lions at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

If, heaven forbid, I were allowed only one nature escape every year, it would have to be Sanbona Wildlife Reserve in the Little Karoo. Even though I’ve already been granted an audience with their regal white lions and silently cheered on their cheetahs in mid-hunt, got my fingers sticky with the juices of many of their medicinal plants and deeply embedded into my memory the smell of the Karoo after a generous downpour, there is still so much left to explore. Because the people of Sanbona inspire me to open my senses to the detail of these 54 000 hectares as if I were a curious toddler just setting off on the expedition of life. The guides’ excitement about what each day in the reserve may hold is contagious.

Sanbona Wildlife Reserve | Jack tracking cheetah female and five cubs“Come, the lions are stalking. Let’s get moving.” Marco, our guide, urges us to abandon the pre-sunrise coffees that we’ve just ordered at the lodge. “I will make you some coffee in the field.” We first spot the zebras and an eland, and then the lions down in the riverbed. These extremely rare lions are currently among the last of the free-roaming, self-sufficient white lion prides in the world. But their shimmering coats have a disadvantage: there is nowhere to hide. They have made a clever tactical pact with Sanbona’s tawny lions, though. While the white lions mesmerize the potential prey with their sheer good looks, the tawny lions close in on their unsuspecting dinner from a surprise direction. But today this pride is simply too well-fed. They caught an eland only two days ago and the two white cubs are still pot-bellied from the feast.

Sanbona Wildlife Reserve | Close encounter with hunting cheetahAfter our promised coffee with a view, we set off on foot in search of the collared cheetah female 64 (Sanbona does not name its animals). She is Marco’s favourite and unusual in that she gave birth to five cubs just over a year ago, an exceptionally high number for such an arid environment. Until they start contributing, which should be soon, she needs to clock in for a full day’s hunting to feed all those grumbling tummies. Every now and then we lose the signal, as she disappears behind yet another hill. Eventually it becomes clear that the prey’s scent is luring her away from us faster than we can track on foot. But we do not mind. Just walking in the Renosterveld (literally translated, ‘Rhino field’) among free-roaming predators, sticking close to one another in an attempt to look like one huge, difficult-to-hunt six-legged animal, is exhilarating.

Mindful of the puffadders and scorpions that are active this time of the year, we walk past “Bushman’s sunblock” (a pretty pink succulent with a UV factor of 15), “poverty bush” (a yellow-flowered bush that caused grazing sheep a painful death and bankrupted many a farmer), “Bushman’s candles” (another succulent that keeps mosquitoes away while it burns), fossils and many animal tracks. Marco knows his stuff and regales us with stories as if he is telling them for the first time. We walk up a good appetite for a late breakfast.

Sanbona Wildlife Reserve | Gondwana Lodge's view from our room

Sanbona Wildlife Reserve | Gondwana Lodge's view from our room

Finding a feast is much easier for the guests than it is for the animals at Sanbona. Both lunch and dinner is a three-course affair, paired by wines from the nearby Route 62. Over our two-day stay at the family-friendly Gondwana Lodge, we spend most of our time outdoors and on game drives, even though our room is spacious and comfortable, and offer endless views over the Anysberg, the Bellair dam and nearby antelope. Next time we will book well in advance to also get a taste of Sanbona’s Dwyka Tented Lodge, the romantic accommodation option, specifically catering for couples.

I have only one criticism of Sanbona: it is really tough to leave this special place.

– Independent review by Klein Companion, Lizelle Steyn

Learn more about Sanbona Wildlife Reserve.

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