A Wildlife Sanctuary

Pilanesberg and Operation Genesis

Fifty years of transformation

The creation of Pilanesberg Wildlife Park – known as Operation Genesis – began some 50 years ago and is still counted as one the world’s most ambitious and successful conservation and animal reintroduction schemes ever undertaken.

In the 1970s the regional government initiated an imaginative plan that recognised the uniquely defined geography of the Pilanesberg volcanic ring, its diversity of terrain, its location between arid desert and lush veldt, and the opportunity to take advantage of all of these factors to re-establish and protect long-lost indigenous wildlife.

The locality is actually named after Pilane, the forefather chief of the Bakgatla people, for centuries the inhabitants of the area of modern-day southern Botswana and north-western South Africa. At the time of the plan’s creation the Bakgatla had settled in the Pilanesberg northern highlands and the Bakubung tribal group in the southern plains. Both farmed in a relatively scattered way, with no large settlements, and both groups freely agreed to offers to purchase their land at an above market rate, and to resettle in new localities immediately outside the new park’s boundaries.


First steps then involved the removal of all the unwelcome signs of relatively recent human activity, agricultural exploitation, non-native plants, over-grazing and construction. All of those scars have by now vanished and a restored, natural ecosystem has been established. Boundaries were defined with 110 km of game fence, important to the control of poaching incursion, and whilst some unwanted existing roads were removed, 200km of new, sensitively engineered, gravel tracks were installed to facilitate visitor exploration yet impede off-road erosion.

A little later, work started on developing a small number of attractive, carefully planned and built, complexes – lodges, hotels and restaurants.


Now left undisturbed, existing wildlife started to reassert itself. However Operation Genesis went beyond this to reintroduce what had been lost. In particular, elephants, lions and both the endangered white and rare black rhino. In total, over the course of ten years (the park formally opened in 1979) and beyond some 6,000 large and small species once native to the area, were reintroduced. With some inevitable setbacks along the way, the park has thrived to become the huge conservation success story it is today. 

THE Future

Over the years the park has increased in size by an additional 20 sq km. There is now a 10-year plan to create a viable wildlife corridor spanning the 100km between Pilanesberg (570 sq km) and the 750 sq km Madikwe Game Reserve, to the north-west and on the Botswana border. Black Rhino private reserve forms part of that strategy.

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