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SOS Rhino : In the News : Archived News : September 2000 : On safari, one must watch out for sharp thorns and the rhino's horn in Krueger National Park

On safari, one must watch out for sharp thorns and the rhino's horn in Krueger National Park

The Edmonton Sun
September 30, 2000

SKUKUZA, South Africa - Some advice from experts and novices alike if you are planning an African safari:

- Never run if you are confronted by an animal while on a walking safari. There are creatures out there that will consider you lunch and they are not averse to engaging in a little pre-meal exercise.

- When your safari vehicle is moving, don't stick out your hand to feel the texture of the local plants. Most of them have thorns. And this visitor can attest to their sharpness, having sat on a branch left in the truck by a forgetful collector.

- Hardy Canadians should not scoff at local warnings about the African winter. A group of northern visitors on a July pre-dawn drive swaddled in jackets, hats and blankets, yet still chilled to the bone, is a sobering image.

- If you make changes to your reservations in South Africa's world-famous Kruger National Park, make sure to give plenty of notice. South African National Parks has a less-than-generous refund policy.

- Don't open your car window to baboons. Even the males can squeeze through remarkably narrow places.

These pitfalls aside, a few days in Kruger park is an experience to be savoured for a lifetime. Even if you don't spot all of the much-vaunted Big Five - lion, elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros and leopard - the variety of wildlife is astounding. It's also a bird-lover's paradise, with at least half of South Africa's 700 bird species.

With an area of 19,500 square kilometres - more than three times bigger than Prince Edward Island - Kruger was established 102 years ago. Predating the Boer War that brought all of the southern tip of Africa under British dominion, the park was named after Paul Kruger, the Boer leader who led the resistance to imperial expansion.

Our group of six Canadians, led by a South African friend, had entered the park via Kruger Gate, a five-hour drive from Johannesburg over grassy plains, through mountain passes and fruit-growing farmlands featuring banana, mango and papaya. Our destination was Skukuza, one of the larger camps in the park, where we settled into one-room bungalows.

We'd already experienced contact with wildlife at a privately owned game lodge not far from Kruger. On a night drive, we turned a sharp corner and encountered a herd of 40 buffalo, their eyes gleaming in the light of the search lamp that startled them at a waterhole. Males stood ready watching our vehicle, with females in a wary second rank and calves nervously paddling in the water behind.

Our first morning in Kruger in a rented van resulted in our first lion. This was a nonchalant female that ambled at her own deliberate pace down a gravel road, ignoring our presence, before settling in to a nap in a soft patch of grass.

A cow elephant was next, stuffing trunk-loads of grasses and other bushveld delicacies into her mouth while we marvelled at the efficiency of her movements.

A big thrill was a close encounter with a rare black rhino, which we came upon abruptly. We were 10 metres from the rhino as it snorted in the underbrush.

With the huge beast so close, speculation mounted as to the acceleration capacity of our vehicle if the rhino decided a red Volkswagen would look good decorating the end of its precious horn.

Two days before, the sighting of impala, warthogs, kudu and wildebeest had brought excited shouts. Now, such appearances were routine. Impala are strikingly beautiful animals, but after a while spotting them becomes the equivalent of meeting a neighbour as you walk down your street.

On backroads north of the Sabie River we were engulfed by a mixed herd of hundreds of zebra and wildebeest, were entranced by the passive majesty of a huge bull elephant, and watched with mixed revulsion and fascination as scores of white-breasted vultures fed on a giraffe recently killed by a team of lions.

The one member of the Big Five that had eluded us was the leopard. We thought a morning run with an experienced guide might do the trick.

So the next morning, we were out to the safari trucks at 5:15 a.m. to meet our guide, Robert Mushabe. It was a chilly morning and we huddled around the vehicle trying to keep warm when Robert arrived - clad in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt.

It was still another hour and a half before the sun would burst above the horizon to spread welcome warming rays across the veld.

Robert told us to shine a scanning light in the trees, a likely hideout for leopard, as well as on the ground, searching the brush for the telltale glint of animal eyes. But there was little to be seen in the darkness. After all, what animal in its right mind would venture from shelter to test that morning's cold air?

As the sun rose, Robert took us to the top of Mathekenyane, one of several boulder-strewn rocky mounds.

To the north, there was the smoke of a large bushfire. On the east, a ridge of higher hills stretching to the Mozambique border. Along the roads, we saw the debris left in the trees by floods that devastated Mozambique last February.

With daylight, we spot a variety of animals: giraffes, troops of baboons, zebras, jackals and hyenas, and an apparently wounded male lion who limps across the road in front of our truck.

We see signs of a leopard kill - the body of an impala carried up into the branches of a large tree where the sleek cat can feed in peace.

But the shy leopard declines a personal appearance.

Still, no one is downhearted. Now we have a reason to return to Africa.

GRAPHIC: photo by CP Never run if you are confronted by an animal while on a walking safari in South Africa. Kruger National Park is South Africa's largest and best-known nature reserve.



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