50 Facts you didn't know about Madikwe Game Reserve - (Revealed)

6 minute read21 Apr 2020




Madikwe Game Reserve is a 75 000-hectare protected wilderness reserve located in the North West Province of South Africa. It’s named after the Madikwe or Marico River which forms the basin on which the game reserve is located.


Madikwe lies north of the small town of Groot-Marico on the Botswana border. The town was formed by the Voortrekkers in the 1850s but only proclaimed in 1948. The economy of Groot Marico relies heavily on agriculture (cattle, maize, citrus fruit and tobacco), mining (marble, slate, andalusite and nickel) and tourism.


The game reserve covers an area of some 75 000 hectares. It’s the fifth-largest privately-operated game reserve in South Africa.


The closest town to Madikwe in South Africa is Zeerust, some 90 kilometres of the reserve. Madikwe Game Reserve is about 3 to 4 hours from Johannesburg (219 kilometers) and 2 hours (148 kilometres) from Gaborone in Botswana.

Madikwe is also conveniently located to the popular Sun City Entertainment and Casino Complex that shares a boundary with Pilanesberg Game Reserve. As the crow flies, Madikwe is 75 kilometres from Pilanesberg Game Reserve but it’s a 2-hour drive in a car.


The closest international airports to Madikwe Game Reserve are Gaborone in Botswana and OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. Madikwe Game Reserve has a 1 200-metre airstrip for private charter planes.

Federal Airlines offers a daily shuttle service from Johannesburg to Madikwe. There are two landing strips in the reserve; one on the eastern side and another on the western side.


Apart from size, the big difference between Madikwe and Pilanesberg game reserves is day visitors are not permitted in Madikwe. Visitors must stay overnight at one of the safari lodges in Madikwe.


Self-drive holidays in Madikwe are popular, with visitors arriving either in their own cars or hired cars. The roads in Madikwe are a combination of tar and gravel roads and suitable for all types of cars. Only sports cars with low-profile tyres are not suitable for a self-drive holiday in Madikwe.


There are 5 entrance gates into Madikwe; Abjaterskop Gate, Wonderboom Gate, Tau Gate, Derdepoort Gate and Motledi Gate. The main entrance gate to Madikwe is Wonderboom Gate.


Two natural landmarks dominate Madikwe’s vast savanna plains; Rant van Tweedepoort and the dramatic Dwarsberg Mountain.

Rant van Tweedepoort is a range of hills that run through the North West Province with an estimate terrain elevation of 1 163 metres above sea level.

The Dwarsberg (thirst mountain) mountain range forms the southern boundary of Madikwe Game Reserve, running from east to west. The highest point is Branwacht which stands some 1 228 metres above sea level.

The Dwarsberg Mountains have been drastically eroded over centuries and were once a towering range of mountains which dominated the southern Kalahari Desert region.


Madikwe Game Reserve was developed and proclaimed a three-way privately-operated game reserve in the early 1990s. It was stocked with wildlife through one of the world’s most significant wildlife translocation projects, known as Operation Phoenix. Over a period of six years, 8 000 animals of 27 major species were relocated from national parks in South Africa to Madikwe.


Operation Phoenix was concluded in 1997. Today, Madikwe Game Reserve is home to over 10 000 animals. You’ll find the famous Big 5 at Madikwe, including about 1 200 elephants and a strong population of lions.

Before Operation Phoenix and the transformation of the area into a premier game reserve, the land was poorly-cultivated farmlands with alien vegetation. The local communities largely survived off subsistence farming which was difficult because the region receives so little rainfall.


There are 350 recorded bird species in Madikwe, many of them are endemic to the dry, arid Kalahari Desert as well as the lush Lowveld region. Madikwe Game Reserve is hugely popular as a birding destination for avid birders looking for birds from both regions.


Madikwe Game Reserve was developed as a unique partnership between the local communities, private safari lodge owners and the government. The reserve is operated under the auspices of the North West Parks Board (NWPB).


Madikwe Game Reserve is located in a malaria-free area in South Africa. This is a major drawcard because malaria is a life-threatening disease and can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated early.

Madikwe is located at a fairly high altitude in a region with a very dry climate. The dry atmosphere and altitude are not suitable for the Anopheles mosquito which carries the plasmodium parasite that causes malaria.

Madikwe Game Reserve is the ideal destination for families with young children because it’s located in a malaria-free region. Children under the age of 5 years and/or under 5 kilograms cannot take anti-malaria tablets. The same applies to pregnant women.


Rare species found in Madikwe Game Reserve include the highly-threatened and endangered white and black rhino as well as a thriving populations of leopard, wild dog and cheetah.

Madikwe Game Reserve has a bountiful collection of some 60 lions. In fact, some say that Madikwe has too many lions. You’re guaranteed sightings of these incredible Big Cats on your daily game drives in Madikwe.

Madikwe Game Reserve is also well-known for its flourishing pack of wild dogs. In fact, together with strong populations of cheetah, Madikwe boasts having the Big 7 and not just the Big 5 as a tourist drawcard.

The founding group of 6 wild dogs was re-introduced to Madikwe Game Reserve in 1994. This extremely rare and endangered species battled in the beginning after a few devastating losses from clashes with lions and deaths from rabies.

Today, the wild dogs of Madikwe are thriving and the game reserve affectionately calls itself “the home of the wild dogs” with two packs happily roaming the reserve.

The professional game rangers who take guests on daily game drives in the open safari vehicles are allowed to go off the main roads and into the bushveld for up-close animals sightings. A bit of ‘bundu bashing’ gets you close to these predators on kills and other incredible wildlife sightings.


Madikwe Game Reserve falls within a former ‘Bantustan’ known as the Republic of Bophuthatswana. It was created by the former South African government as an independent homeland for indigenous Black people under the apartheid system.

The Bophuthatswana Territorial Authority was created in 1961 and in June 1972, Bophuthatswana was declared an independent, self-governing state by the South African government. The majority of its inhabitants were Tswana-speaking people. Bophuthatswana was reincorporated into South Africa in 1994 after the country gained its independence.

Under the visionary leadership of President Lucas Mangope, the derelict farmlands of Bophuthatswana were rehabilitated to form the beautiful wildlife conservation areas of Madikwe and Pilanesberg game reserves.

Mangope worked closely with South African private safari lodge owners and the Bop’s local community heads to develop a world-class eco-tourism destination to boost the homeland’s struggling economy.


The derelict farmlands where Madikwe Game Reserve is located were once used for low-yield cattle farming. This agricultural activity did not create many jobs or stimulate the economy in any way. The conservation model was developed to make better use of the land to benefit the local communities. The development of both Madikwe and Pilanesberg was orchestrated by what was known then as Bop Parks.

Considering the Bop Park was once over-grazed farmlands, Madikwe Game Reserve has flourished under extensive ecological conservation efforts into a naturally-lush ecosystem. It lies in a transitional zone between the dry, arid Kalahari Desert and the high-rainfall region of the Lowveld. The reserve is rich in fauna and flora drawn from both regions that has adapted to the two distinct ecozones.


The reserve encompasses a diverse range of terrains which include mountains, rocky hills, seasonal wetlands, perennial rivers, mixed bushveld, savanna grasslands, Kalahari veld and thornveld.

The climate of the Madikwe region plays a significant role in Madikwe’s rich fauna. The bushveld is a mix of Kalahari bushveld, arid sweet bushveld and turf thornveld. This mixed bushveld hosts a combination of wildlife and birds that wouldn’t ordinarily be found together.

Madikwe Game Reserve is particularly well-known for its interesting topography. It ranges from the scattered hills of Tshwene Tshwene to the stark granite hills on the otherwise flat north-western plains near the border of Botswana. The prominent and continuous ridge of the Dwarsberg dominates the geology of the area as well as the undulating rocky outcrops of Rant van Tweedepoort.


The splendid scenery of Madikwe is a result of billions of years of erosion. It lies alongside Pilanesberg Game Reserve which is located in the basin of an extinct non-erupting volcano. The geometric circles of the Alkaline Ring Complex stretch out towards the area where Madikwe is located.

In the northern section of Madikwe, an undulating plateau covered in dense bushveld vegetation dramatically falls away at the Rant van Tweedepoort escarpment into the lower, flat savanna plains.

Inselbergs or monadnocks are scattered across the flat savanna grasslands in this arid region of the park. An inselberg is an isolated rock hill or small mountain that rises abruptly from the gently sloping or virtually level surrounding plain. These small rock hills are a striking feature of Madikwe Game Reserve.


The Madikwe and Pilanesberg region is rich in archaeological history. It’s estimated that the region was inhabited almost one million years ago and important historical sites provide evidence that the region was home to tribes that passed through the area during the Stone Age and Iron Age.

In 1996, archaeologists unearthed a fine collection of artefacts in the Madikwe and Pilanesberg area that date back to the early Stone Age through to the late Stone Age. This is some 1 million to 500 years ago.

Various stone tools found confirm that the Stone Age inhabitants lived and hunted in the area. Many of the artefacts were found close to rocky outcrops close to the Tweedepoort Ridge. The stone used in the tools were extracted from these rocky hills.

The Iron Age covers the past 2 000 years. The inhabitants of the Iron Age that lived in the Madikwe region came down from the Nigeria/Cameroon area between 200BC and 100AD. They cultivated sorghum and millet and farmed livestock. There is also ample evidence from the artefacts found in the Madikwe area that these early Iron Age inhabitants made pottery and smelted metal which was used for cooking and farm implements.

The Middle Iron Age inhabitants crossed over the Dwarsberg Mountains into the Marico River basin after 900AD. The oldest Iron Age pottery found in Madikwe Game Reserve is from the Eiland phase of Kalundu which dates back to between 900AD and 1 300AD.

The one site where pottery from the Middle Iron Age is found is in the Dwarsberg area on the eastern side of the game reserve. A second site is in the Tweedepoort ridge, a few kilometres east of the Wonderboom gate.

These ancient inhabitants lived in round, mud-plastered huts with thatched conical roofs. They farmed cattle and kept them in enclosures fenced in by thorn tree branches. The main crops farmed were sorghum and maize.

Evidence of thousands of interlinked circular stone-walled structures can be seen at Madikwe today, and are estimated to date back to about 1 600AD.


The Sotho-Tswana people moved into the Madikwe region during what was known as the Little Ice Age. The climate was colder and dryer than it is today.

Sotho-Tswana pottery called Moloko has been found in the Madikwe area and is believed to date back to between the 15th and 17th centuries. The Sotho-Tswanas used the rich red soil of the area to make their pottery items. The black clay was also used to build their mud homes.

The best-preserved site from this period is found next to Phofu Dam. Several hut floors are exposed with portions of molded benches, which is a characteristic of early Moloko huts. Archaeologists have also found cattle byre and sorghum grindstones at the site.


The Hurutshe people who formed part of the Sotho-Twana tribe settled along the Marico River. Their main settlement is known as Kaditshwene and is located south of Madikwe Game Reserve. An offshoot of the Hurutshe tribe sub-divided and moved east towards Magaliesberg.


The Difaqane was a period of brutal unrest in what is now South Africa. The Sotho-Tswana people were forced to move their villages to the tops of the hills and live in large settlements with a defensive advantage. The conflict was brought on when the Portuguese introduced maize growing in southern Africa and the Zulus found that maize was easier to cultivate than sorghum and other African grains.

The Zulu clan wanted more land to grow maize and under the leadership of the brutal Shaka Zulu, embarked on a period of Zulu expansionism. In 1821, this saw a mass exodus of the Nguni people from Zululand. They moved out of the Drakensberg region to places like the Magaliesberg and Dwarsberg areas to escape the onslaught of the Zulu tribe.

A crippling drought in 1810 wreaked havoc on the maize crops and wide-spread famine caused pillaging and annihilation of neighbouring clans. This traumatic time in South Africa’s history is known as the Difaqane.

During the Difaqane, the rich culture of the Sotho-Tswana people was virtually destroyed. The Kwena settlement that was located on the banks of the Marico River was destroyed as a result of bloody wars that ensued during this period.

Madikwe Game Reserve takes its name from the Marico River. The name Marico comes from the Twana word “Malico” which means “drenched with blood”. This refers to the endless battles the Sotho-Tswana fought before Kaditshwene was wiped out in 1823.


The Boers (Afrikaans farmers) arrived and settled in the Marico River Valley thereafter. They took land off Mzilikazi, a Zulu chief who had settled in the valley. The Boers farmed as well as hunted; trading meat, skins and ivory from relentless elephant hunting.

A road for the hunters was built through what is now Madikwe Game Reserve to Derdepoort. There are two water wells on the top of the pass through the Tweedepoort Ridge which were used at a mid-way point for the hunters and their wagon trains. Frederick Courtney Selous, a famous hunter, passed through the Madikwe area several times between 1875 and 1884.


The Catholic Church of Rome established a Zambezi Mission in Matabeleland (now part of Zimbabwe) which bought missionaries to southern Africa.

A smaller contingent of priests and missionaries settled in the Dwarsberg area and along the Marico River. A mission station was built in the 1880s and was used by priests serving in Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) who came back to the malaria-free area to rest and recover from the life-threatening malaria fever.


The Vleischfontein Mission Station was a well-known landmark in the Madikwe region. A house was built for the resident Priest as well as a chapel and school. The original 4 000 morgen was purchased by the Catholic Church for the princely sum of 800 pounds.

The original priest’s home, chapel, grotto, cemetery and a few garden walls are still standing today. North West Parks Board have built staff accommodation on the site and use the restored convent as their head office.


Madikwe Game Reserve was created as a three-way partnership between the state (what was Bophuthatswana but is now South Africa), the private sector and the local community. The aim of the eco-tourism initiative was to create ecologically-sustainable economic activity for the benefit of the people of the region.

The private sector play a role in developing and managing the hospitality and tourism activities in the reserve. The state benefits from a conservation levy that each private establishment pays; a portion is put back into the reserve for conservation programmes and the balance is used for administration and to support the local communities.

Visitors staying at the luxury safari lodges in Madikwe Game Reserve contribute to the upliftment of the local community and conservation through the mandatory conservation levy that is charged with each booking.

The private safari lodges of Madikwe also provide the local people with much-needed employment, which is sorely lacking in the area. The community-based wildlife conservation initiative is an excellent model for eco-tourism and has been adopted widely throughout southern Africa.


The proposed development of a conservation corridor known as Heritage Park has been under negotiation for the past 15 years. The Heritage Park will link Madikwe Game Reserve with the popular Pilanesberg Game Reserve and provide the animals of Madikwe a larger wilderness area that they can roam freely around. More importantly, it will allow for a larger migration area for elephant.

At the moment, Madikwe Game Reserve has become heavily congested with elephants. It’s not so much that there are too many elephants but the game fencing that separates Madikwe from Pilanesberg has interfered with their natural migration pattern.

As a result, Madikwe’s ecosystem is under threat because the vegetation is taking quite a hammering with the number of elephants the reserve has and the fact that they don’t have a wider area to roam.


The Madikwe-Pilanesberg conservation corridor will involve removing internal fences. This will increase the entire conservation area to 300 000 hectares (3 000 square kilometres). Madikwe’s 750 square kilometres will be attached to Pilanesberg Game Reserve which covers an area of 572 square kilometres.

The elephant population in Madikwe Game Reserve has swelled to over 1 200. The reserve is not at a stage where it needs to start culling but as the head of Ecological Services for North-West Parks Board said recently, “Madikwe could definitely benefit from having fewer elephants”.

Pilanesberg is estimated to have about 250 elephants and has room for more elephants. The Madikwe-Pilanesberg conservation corridor would be the ideal solution because it will open a corridor that follows an ancient elephant migratory route.

It’s not only the elephants that will benefit from the Madikwe-Pilanesberg Corridor. The rest of the wildlife, in particular the antelope, will be able to move between different vegetation areas which will prevent overgrazing and allow the grasslands in both reserves to recover between summer and winter.

The conservation corridor will also help the elephant population spread its gene pool and allow them to “share knowledge” between the two elephant populations. Elephants are highly intelligent and complex creatures and their natural migration habits are very important for the health of the herds.


The Madikwe-Pilanesberg conservation corridor will form part of the Segarona Heritage Experience which is an eco-tourism initiative launched by Open Africa in 2012. The Segarona Heritage Experience was conceived to benefit the region as a whole.

The aim has always been to boost tourism in the North West Province, create jobs and create a sense of local resource ownership that will play a vital role in curbing poaching. The conservation corridor will be a win-win initiative for tourism, the locals and wildlife in the region.

The wildlife tourism initiative incorporates the local Bakgatla tribal lands, the towns Derdepoort, Zeerust and Groot Marico as well as a number of cultural and heritage attractions.

However, the Segarona Heritage Experience has hit a snag and is close to being abandoned if key stakeholders cannot come to a compromise. There is conflicting interests with local mining companies which includes Platmin, a loss of faith from subsistence farming communities that inhabit the conservation corridor land and insufficient commitment from local government and other stakeholders.


Operation Phoenix is world-renowned as the largest and most successful wildlife translocation project ever undertaken. Over a period of 6 years, more than 8 000 animals were re-introduced to the newly-established Madikwe Game Reserve. Today, Madikwe Game Reserve boasts a count of over 10 000 animals and more than 60 species of mammal.

Operation Phoenix accomplished many firsts in wildlife conservation including the first time entire herds of elephant were relocated and re-introduced to a new area. It also included the relocation of entire herds of buffalo and the rare and endangered south-central black rhino and southern white rhino.

The ongoing relocation project has also seen the introduction of wild dog and cheetah to the area as well as gemsbok from the Kalahari Desert and Springbok from the central region of South Africa.


Madikwe Game Reserve has been expanded to incorporate private farms outside of the main reserve. Fences were brought down to allow animals to roam freely over a larger stretch of land and the private landowners cooperate by abiding by the reserve’s conservation rules and restrictions on where private vehicles can drive.


Madikwe Game Reserve has set up Community Lodges which are owned and operated by members of the local community. All profits are used to uplift the communities and improve infrastructure. An example of this initiative is Buffalo Ridge Safari Lodge.

The luxury safari lodge is wholly-owned by the Balete Ba Lekgophung Community in partnership with the North-West Parks Board and The Nature Workshop. The community has a 45-lease on the property.


Madikwe Game Reserve lies on the border of Botswana which falls within the semi-arid region of the great Kalahari Desert. The climate is characterised by low rainfall, high summer temperatures and chilly winter temperatures.

The Kalahari Desert is a massive semi-arid sandy savanna region in southern Africa. Interestingly, it’s not a true desert but rather what is known as a green desert. This is because the Kalahari Desert receives “too much rainfall”, between 125 to 250 millimeters annually.

The weather in Madikwe is warm and pleasant during the day throughout the year, with summer highs of 32 °C / 90 °F and winter highs of 21 °C / 70 °F. The game reserve experiences summer rainfall and the only time it gets really cold is in the evenings in mid-winter when temperatures drop to 3 °C / 37 °F.


There are 22 private safari lodges in Madikwe Game Reserve. Accommodation in Madikwe Game Reserve ranges from family-friendly and eco-friendly lodges to luxury and ultra-luxury lodges.


Children of all ages are welcome at Madikwe Game Reserve but only to stay at lodges that have a child-friendly policy. Children 6 years and younger are not permitted on the open safari vehicles.


The best time to visit Madikwe Game Reserve is in the winter months between April and August. The daily temperatures are warm and sunny, but not too hot. The rains stop towards the end of March which means by mid-winter in Madikwe, the bushveld is dry and less dense. This is perfect for game viewing because the bushveld is not as thick as it is in winter and the animals tend to congregate closer to the waterholes and rivers.

The summer months between September and March are very hot and humid in Madikwe Game Reserve which international tourists find quite uncomfortable. However, it’s the best time for birdwatching in Madikwe because many of the migrant birds have arrived in the reserve to escape the cold European winter.

Summer is also the best time to see newborn animals in the reserve, including hundreds of young antelope. With so much ‘fresh meat’ around in summer, you’re guaranteed to see incredible animals sightings with predators on kills.


Most of the private safari lodges in Madikwe Game Reserve offer guided bush walks on top of the daily morning and evening game drives in open safari vehicles. This is an incredible opportunity to see the small things in the bushveld that matter, which you don’t see sitting in a game vehicle.

A well-known field guide has been known to say: “Taking a game drive is like watching a movie, while walking in the bush is like reading a book.” Bush walks are educational and highly interactive, and offer nature lovers a totally different safari experience.

On a walk through the Big 5 reserve with a professional guide, your senses are heightened. You can hear, see, touch, smell and even taste the bushveld.


If you are looking for ultra-luxury accommodation at a private safari lodge in Madikwe Game Reserve, you have the option of:

  • Etali Safari Lodge
  • Jamala Madikwe
  • Morukuru Family Madikwe
  • Madikwe Hills Private Game Lodge
  • Madikwe Safari Lodge
  • Makanyane Safari Lodge
  • Mateya Safari Lodge
  • Molari Safari Lodge


If you’re looking for accommodation in Madikwe Game Reserve that welcomes children of all ages, you have the following options:

  • Morukuru Family Madikwe
  • Motswiri Private Safari Lodge
  • Tau Game Lodge
  • The Bush House


If you’re looking for accommodation in Madikwe Game Reserve that can be booked on an exclusive-use basis, you have the option of Morukuru Family Madikwe.


Madikwe Game Reserve has an environmentally-friendly bush camp called Mosetlha Bush Camp & Eco Lodge. The family-owned bush camp offers an exclusive and private Big 5 safari experience and is designed to have minimum ecological impact on the environment. The camp is unfenced so it’s not suitable for families with young children.

The eco bush camp sleeps up to 16 guests in 9 safari-themed wooden cabins located in pristine bushveld surrounds. Dinner is served under the stars around a roaring boma fire.


If you are looking for self-catering accommodation in Madikwe Game Reserve, you have the option of Rock Fig Lodge. It’s a privately-owned safari lodge located in the western section of Madikwe and offers luxury accommodation for self-catering groups.


If you are looking for accommodation in Madikwe Game Reserve that is suitable for a conference or wedding, you have the option of Tau Game Lodge. The private safari lodge has state-of-the-art conference facilities and accommodates up to 60 guests in 30 African-themed standard and deluxe chalets.


For an unbelievably special, authentic experience in Madikwe Game Reserve, you can sleep under the stars at Makanyane Safari Lodge’s sleep-out hide. It’s glamping at its very best and perfectly safe.

Makanyane’s sleep-out hide is a rustic double-storey wooden structure that’s tucked away in a secluded part of Makanyane’s property. The hide overlooks a waterhole and has spectacular views across the Madikwe Game Reserve.


As mentioned, Madikwe Game Reserve is home to the famous Big 5. This includes elephant, buffalo, rhino, lion and leopard.

The term Big 5 originated in the days of big game trophy hunters who deemed these five animals to be the most dangerous to hunt. Today, the Big 5 is a marketing term used to attract visitors to game reserves and national parks in Africa that have the famous five on their property.


The distance from Johannesburg to Madikwe game reserve is 220 kilometres/ 3-hour drive via the R509.

The distance from Madikwe Game Reserve to Sun City is 87 kilometres/ 1 hour & 20 minute-drive via the R565.

The drive from Madikwe Game Reserve to Pilanesberg Game Reserve is 122 kilometres/ 2-hour drive, via Molatedi Gate Road.

The drive from Madikwe Game Reserve to Gaborone in Botswana is 148 kilometres/ 2-hours & 15 minute-drive via the R49.


It is safe to visit Madikwe Game Reserve as long as you follow the same rules and common sense that apply to travelling to any Big 5 safari destination in southern Africa. There is virtually no crime in the game reserve itself, except for the extremely rare occasion of petty theft at the lodges.

Take the usual precautions when travelling from Johannesburg to Madikwe to prevent falling victim of a crime such as a smash & grab or hijacking. This includes driving with your windows up, doors locked and valuables in the safety of the boot.

Once in the park, listen to your guide on game drives and behave appropriately on game drives on open safari vehicles. This includes keeping quite at animal sightings, not hanging arms and legs off the side of the vehicle or walking around on your own in the bush.


Madikwe Game Reserve falls under the custodianship of the North West Parks Board (NWPB). This is a government body that oversees the management and conservation of 15 protected areas in the North West Province of South Africa. NWPB was established to maintain, manage, conserve and preserve the biodiversity of the North West Province.


MoAfrika Tours offers a choice of safari tours staying at the best safari lodges in Madikwe Game Reserve. This popular Big 5 reserve is located in a malaria-free area that’s a comfortable 3 to 4-hour drive from Johannesburg.

Madikwe Game Reserve doesn’t compare to the iconic Kruger National Park on sheer scale and biodiversity but it’s closer to the city and boasts a fine collection of wild animals, including large populations of elephant and lion. You’re guaranteed incredible animals sightings and an exclusive Big 5 safari experience.

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