Timbavati Game Reserve

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Timbavati Game Reserve
Leopard drinking 1 1.jpg
Leopard at Tanda Tula camp
Map showing the location of Timbavati Game Reserve
Map showing the location of Timbavati Game Reserve
Location in Mpumalanga province
Location Mpumalanga, South Africa
Nearest city Nelspruit
Coordinates 24°20′07″S 31°20′38″E / 24.33528°S 31.34389°E / -24.33528; 31.34389Coordinates: 24°20′07″S 31°20′38″E / 24.33528°S 31.34389°E / -24.33528; 31.34389
Area 53,392 hectares (533.92 km2)[1][2]
Established 1956[3][4]

The Timbavati Game Reserve is located at the border line between Hoedspruit in (Limpopo) and Acornhoek in(Mpumalanga), north of the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve on the western edge of Kruger National Park, geographically and politically, Timbavati is located in Mpumalanga Province. In Xitsonga, the name Timbavati means "the place where something sacred came down to earth from the heavens" and refers to these genetically rare specimens that are not albino lions but are actually listed as a sub species of lion, the White Lion of Timbavati.

The Reserve was established in 1956 by like-minded game farmers with the creation of the Timbavati Association. The association has 50 members and covers 53,392 hectares (533.92 km2).[1][2] Timbavati is part of Associated Private Nature Reserves (APNR) and the fences separating Timbavati from the other member reserves in the APNR and from the Kruger National Park has been removed.[5] Wildlife, including lions, elephant, cheetahs and other species roam freely between these reserves. Ngala (Ngala, meaning 'lion' in Tsonga) and Motswari game reserves have been amalgamated into Timbavati.


The area of Timbavati was occupied by the Tsonga people for centuries until the advert of colonization, the colonial Government evicted the Tsonga people from this land and dumped them in villages around Acornhoek outside Bushbuckridge. This land is currently under claim by the Tsonga people and the Government of South Africa has accepted that the land was wrongfully taken away from the Tsonga people. If the land claim is successful, then the Tsonga people will get their land back in a Government ceremony. The Tsonga people, who occupied the lands for generations, have protected these beautiful creatures (White Lion) for centuries and did not kill them as they (the Tsonga) regarded them (the White lion) sacred. The killing and hunting of White lion happened after the Tsonga people have been evicted from Timbavati. Commercial hunting of White lion started when South Africa was colonized, the Tsonga people, who previously had authority over Timbavati, are currently helpless to stop the Killing of their Sacred White Lion.


The Timbavati Game Reserve is located in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa[6] between latitudes 24° 34’ S and 24° 03’ S and longitudes 31° 03’ E and 31° 31’ E. The Timbavati Reserve consists of 50 contiguous tracts of land housing 12 luxury tourist lodges.

The reserve forms part of the Greater Kruger National Park and lies nestled between the Kruger National Park on the east, the Klaserie and Umbabat Game Reserves in the north and the Thornybush Game Reserve in the west. There are no fences between the Timbavati and the Kruger National Park which allows free movement of wildlife between the reserves. The world-famous Kruger National Park is a conservation area of more than 20,000 square kilometres (7,700 sq mi).

The southern border of this great complex of public and privately owned protected land lies close to the Kingdom of Swaziland and abuts the boundaries of Zimbabwe in the north and Mozambique in the east.

The terrain is undulating with altitudes varying between 300 and 500m above sea level. The area is characterised as ‘savanna bushveld’ with 6 different landscape types: acacia woodland, open woodland, mopane woodland, combretum woodland, mixed combretum woodland and mixed veld on Gabbro. Bush elephants, African buffaloes, kudu, Burchell's zebras, blue wildebeests, Cape giraffes, impalas, waterbucks and warthogs abound together with their attendant predators which include Transvaal lions, African leopards, South African cheetahs and spotted hyena. The endangered Cape wild dog is also a regular visitor to the Timbavati Game Reserve. The larger and rarer antelopes such as roan antelope, common eland and tsessebe have been slow to return to this area and their numbers are still critically low.

The climate is typified by a summer wet season (October–March) with the majority of rain falling between December and February. This is also the hottest time of the year, with temperatures in the region of 32 °C. A typical summer day will be hot with storm clouds gathering for a spectacular late afternoon thunderstorm.

During the winter months (April–September) the weather is dry with little chance of rain. As game tends to congregate around dwindling water sources, game viewing is more predictable. Temperatures can range from 28 °C to 10 °C in one day. The mornings and evenings can be very cold and warm clothing is very strongly recommended.

Flora and fauna[edit]

Sunset over Timbavati Game Reserve.

The Timbavati is home to:

White lions[edit]

Lions with a recessive gene causing the coats to be snow white (though not albino) reappeared in the Timbavati in 2006 after an absence of many years.[7]

When the white lions of the Timbavati were discovered in the mid-1970s they became the subject of much interest and debate. The story of the “White Lions of the Timbavati” has been told by several people, including Chris McBride and Linda Tucker. Their books include McBride's The White Lions of the Timbavati[8] and Operation White Lion[9] and Tucker's Mystery of the White Lion . McBride was the son of Timbavati member Cyril McBride who at the time owned the farm Vlakgezicht together with his brother Robert.

McBride relied heavily on the expertise and knowledge of two local trackers, Jack Mathebula and Mandaban Hlongo in his efforts to track the white cubs. These men had grown up in the bush and had intimate knowledge of the behaviour of lions.

Some conservationists assumed that white coat prevents lions from hunting successfully, which led to lions being relocated from the wild into zoos and hunting and breeding camps. In partnership with lion ecologist Jason Turner, Tucker has returned white lions to the wild in protected reserves where hunting and removal are prohibited. This project has demonstrated that white lions hunt successfully. While white lions are born naturally in the Timbavati region where individuals carry the recessive gene, systematic hunting, poaching, and removal have caused a dramatic population decline. Today, fewer than twelve remain in the wild, of which seven are protected in Tucker's White Lion Protection Trust reserve. Conversely, hundreds of white lions are kept in zoos and canned hunting camps where they are often inbred to guarantee their white coat.[10]

White Lions are revered as spirits of deceased kings by local tribes, notably the Tsonga people. There have been various “spiritual” powers attributed to the white lions—some people claim that the lions are a different species.[citation needed] Today scientific research is being conducted to further understand the genetic coding of the white lions.[citation needed] All white lions worldwide are ancestrally linked to the White Lions of the Timbavati.[citation needed]


The white coats of the “White Lions of the Timbavati” are not the product of albinism, a relatively common condition resulting from a failure to develop pigment, but from another condition called “leucism”, in which the pelt is white but eyes and skin are pigmented. The condition is rare and also termed a “chinchilla mutation.” It is thought to represent an evolutionary stage in the progressive loss of pigmentation.[citation needed]

The white mutation, which affects two of the pigments involved in coat coloration, is expressed only when two conditions pertain: (1) Both parents carry the recessive “white gene”; and (2) the offspring inherit the recessive gene of each parent. If a cub receives a dominant “tawny” gene from either parent, its pelt will be tawny. Thus a litter may contain both tawny and white cubs.[citation needed]


The Timbavati is approximately 5 or 6 hours by car from Johannesburg. Normal passenger vehicles can reach all lodges within the reserve.

Regularly scheduled, daily flights are available from Johannesburg and Cape Town to local airports.



Malaria is present in the area.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Timbavati Private Nature Reserve (TPNR)". Simbavati River Lodge. Retrieved 11 December 2009. 
  2. ^ a b Turner, Jason (November 2005). "The impact of lion predation on the large ungulates of the Associated Private Nature Reserves, South Africa.". Pretoria: University of Pretoria. pp. 49 & 56. Retrieved 10 December 2009. 
  3. ^ Harrison, Philip (2004). Ecotravel. Volume 2 of South Africa's top sites. New Africa Books. p. 42. ISBN 0-86486-566-X. 
  4. ^ Oosthuizen, Johan (2009). "The Development of an Integrated wildlife disease surveillance and monitoring system for the disease management in free ranging wildlife in the Greater Kruger National Park" (PDF). Retrieved 10 December 2009. 
  5. ^ "Save the Elephants Annual Report (2008)" (PDF). Save the Elephants. August 2008. p. 13. Retrieved 10 December 2009. 
  6. ^ "Location and Map". Timbavati Private Nature Reserve. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  7. ^ Macleod, Fiona (2005-03-18). "White lions return to Timbavati". Mail & Guardian. Retrieved 11 December 2009. 
  8. ^ McBride, Chris (1977). The white lions of Timbavati. New York: Paddington Press : distributed by Grosset & Dunlop. ISBN 978-0448226774. 
  9. ^ McBride, Chris (1981). Operation white lion. London: Collins. ISBN 978-0002626118. 
  10. ^ "Linda Tucker". Forbes Magazine. Retrieved January 19, 2014. 
  11. ^ "GUIDELINES FOR THE PREVENTION OF MALARIA IN SOUTH AFRICA" (PDF). South African Department of Health. p. 40. Retrieved 11 December 2009. 

External links[edit]