18-19 November 2018
The Aguila Private Game Reserve lies some 200 km and a little over two hours drive to the north-west of Cape Town. It is a 10,000 hectare reserve near the town of Touws River, and originally held various antelope species. In 1999, it was purchased by Searl Derman, with his goal of re-introducing ‘Big Five’ animals to the Western Cape and allowing them to roam freely.
The term ‘Big Five’ originates with big game hunters and referred to the five most difficult and dangerous animals to hunt: elephants, lions, buffalo, rhinos and leopards. At Aguila there is no hunting, and the term ‘Big Five’ is solely used in marketing materials.
The reserve was named after the Black Eagle (Aguila), an endangered species, that is often spotted by game wardens and occasionally by a guest. They have occasionally been photographed feasting on the remains of a leopard kill.
So it was that we set out early on a Sunday morning, once again in Faried Fakier’s minibus (see Randy’s Tours), to drive to Aguila. The scenic route from Cape Town passes through the wine lands of Paarl and the rugged mountains of Hawequas and Matroosberg. Once past the wine farms, the land was parched and obviously greatly suffering from the four-year drought. Once checked into our rooms for the night, and replete with lunch, we set off on a very bumpy tour of the reserve, with a knowledgeable guide, searching for animal sightings.
The photos that follow were taken by one of our group, except where noted.
In 2011 some poachers invaded the reserve, killed two rhinos and injured a third, before escaping with the horns. Since then security on the reserve has been escalated. Rhinos are particularly vulnerable to poachers, as the habits of rhinos are predictable: they defecate at the same place most days. Unfortunately, rich and privileged (idiot) Asians continue to believe that rhino horn powder acts as a powerful aphrodisiac, despite it having been proven to be totally useless. What sad bastards they must be.
The lions are ‘rescued lions’ from a ‘lion farm’. They had been reared in cages of ten meters square, fed on a diet of steroids to give them bulk, and would have been eventually shot by ‘brave’ rich tourists. No doubt photos and taxidermy would be included in the package. For more information, the Spanish ex-King could help, although it was an elephant and not a lion that he shot (see Spanish kill).
But these were lucky lions – two male and five female. They have a separate reserve, with their own mountain and valley to wander over, and fed once a week. They could not be released into the wild, as they would not be able to support themselves. Once they were doomed, but now they can live out their natural lives.
A Southern Giraffe, smaller than its northern cousins
An Eland antelope
Gnu, also known as a blue wildebeest
We did not have any sightings of the hippos, apart from their noses and some snorting of water. Apparently they spend about sixteen hours a day under the water and the young can feed from their mother without surfacing.
There are four mountain leopards in the park, but they are nocturnal and rarely seen. Only the evidence of their kill and their footprints reveal their presence.
As an integral part of its mission, Aguila has an Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre. This is a sanctuary for animals that can never be released into the wild again. It is also a temporary home for animals who need treatment and then released back into the wild. This area is out-of-bounds for visitors. Any contact with these animals is kept to the absolute minimum.
Aguila has had some success with this initiative, having released back into the wild three mountain leopards, numerous lynx, porcupines, owls and other species.
Much of the unique information about Aguila, I have noted from our guide or extracted from the Aguila web site. For more detail, see Aguila.
We stayed on the reserve overnight, in very comfortable accommodation. After dinner, we found that a bonfire had been lit, and a knowledgeable local guy gave a fascinating lecture on the night sky, using a laser pointer and a astronomical telescope.
And just before we left the reserve we had the good fortune to come across a rare sighting of a Freckled Blackwood, complete with offspring.
Witnessing wild life can often be a matter of luck… 🙂