Kruger Park – lower Sabie

Our last day in Kruger Park. We went through the Kruger gate. It was easy, pleasant and efficient and we were in the park before the sun had properly risen – the way it should be!!

“It is not so much for its beauty
that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts,
as for that subtle something,
that quality of air that emanation from old trees,
that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”
~ Robert Louis Stevenson 

After a successful route along the Sabie river the day before we decided to try it again. For those of you who have not been in the park this might sound repetitive but I can assure you that nothing is ever the same in the bush. You will never see and experience the same thing in the same place again. That is part of the allure.

On the right hand side of the tar road along the Sabie river was a small pan. It had virtually dried up, but for  a few small pools and a muddy surround. Two Woolly-necked Storks were foraging in the pan.  They looked to be hunting in the mud and pools for insects.

You don’t often get to see these Woolly-necks up close. I have been into the bush many times and this is the closest I have got to this species.

“Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking. By walking one makes the road, and upon glancing behind one sees the path. . .”

~Antonio Machado

Once on the Salitje road, which runs parallel to the Sabie river for about seven kilometers, we knew we were bound to see something interesting. As we wandered along the road we came upon this pair of Swainson’s Spurfowl. They were foraging along the side of the gravel road, peeking at grass seed as they wandered. You can see this was a male by his long spurs on his legs. He was also a young male as the spurs has not yet worn down through fighting.

It is always a challenge when you have two subjects in focus, which are not standing side by side. Immediately you have to stop down your f-stop to get greater depth of field. The top end cameras are so sophisticated these days, for the life of me I cannot understand why they do not put in the depth of field in the view finder. Lidars are all the rage these days which with well known geometry could give us the depth of field at a specific distance. Anyway, the guess seemed to have worked as I got them both in focus.

Have you ever wondered how tricky it must be to have eyes either side of your head rather than binocular vision.

“But, instead of what our imagination makes us suppose and which we worthless try to discover,life gives us something that we could hardly imagine.”
Marcel Proust

This was a classic example of one of nature’s surprises. We had turned off the Salitje road on to the S128, both gravel roads, and were almost at the tar road from Tshokwane to Lower Sabie when on the right hand side there was this Tawny Eagle  ripping the remaining flesh off what remained of a pelvis.

The Tawny stopped regularly during its feeding to look up and make sure that there were no threats anywhere near.

This Tawny looked to be feeding on the pelvis of a small antelope, either a young impala or a duiker.

We must have watched this blonde raptor for about ten minutes before it decided it had too much company.

Further on we turned onto the tar road which took us across the high level bridge, about a kilometre below the Lower Sabie camp. Down river from the bridge the Sabie river had been dammed with a weir. The wide sand bank gives you an idea of just how full this river flows at times.

We were now traveling down the H4-2 between Lower Sabie Camp and Crocodile Bridge when we saw this lone Purple Roller. They have the distinctive GISS of a roller but their colouring is not that distinctive. The stripped throat breast and belly are the main diagnostic feature of this bird. Only when they fly do you get their purple colouring.

“Sometimes the most scenic roads in life are the detours you didn’t mean to take.”
~ Angela N. Blount

We turned off the main Crocodile Bridge road onto the H5 to start making our way back towards Skukuza. This is an image which will stir most African hearts. The gravel road, tree landed, with blue skies and wildness all around. Don’t drive fast as you never know when a kudu will step out from the bush!

Mpondo dam. Good to see it so full of water with a herd of elephants drinking on the far right hand side.

We took a drive up to the Stevenson-Hamilton memorial on the way back from Mpondo dam. This was a step back in time to remember the incredible vision that some of the park’s founders had in those days. Stephanus Johannes Paulus Kruger, known as Paul Kruger, was the President of the South African Republic ( 1883 to 1902) who first pleaded “for setting aside certain areas where game could be protected and where nature could remain unspoilt, as the Creator made it”. In 1891, Kruger managed to amend existing game laws, and the state started providing protection for some animal species. After managing to declare other smaller areas as game reserves, on 26 March 1898, he proclaimed the ‘Goewerments Wildtuin’ (Government’s Reserve) between the Sabi and Crocodile rivers, as the Sabi Nature Reserve. After the end of the Anglo-Boer War (1902) and the death of Paul Kruger (1904), the reserve had almost been forgotten until Lord Milner re-issued the proclamation for the reserve. In 1902, Sir Godfrey Lagden, appointed James Stevenson-Hamilton as the first warden of the Sabi Nature Reserve. Stevenson-Hamilton served the game reserve for 44 years from 1902 to 1946. After his retirement, he settled in White River. At the age of 63, he married Hilda Chomondeley, 34 years his junior. They had three children. He died on 10 December 1957 at the age of 90.

“An invincible determination can accomplish almost anything and in this lies the great distinction between great men and little men.”

~Thomas Fuller
Stevenson-Hamilton was a good friend and fellow of the Tsonga people who lived on the reserve. They nicknamed him “Skukuza”, meaning”the man who has turned everything upside down” or “the man who swept clean”. It was Stevenson-Hamilton’s work and reputation which eventually resulted in land grants all the way from Crocodile River to Limpopo River, 10 times the size of the Sabi Game Reserve. The new area was renamed Kruger National Park.

There have been many generations of dedicated people who have committed their lives to protecting the wildlife sanctuary which is now the Kruger National Park. Sadly, 110 years later, the threat of poaching is as virulent as ever, but the rationale has changed. It is no longer about hunting for food for survival but much is now about poaching syndicates selling animal products to Asia. Certain types of wildlife are under considerably more threat than others. Kruger’s reputation for conservation has been badly undermined by the sustained slaughter of rhino in the park. Rhino poaching is a major problem and unfortunately, the syndicate poaching goes beyond rhinos to elephants.

Every eight hours, a rhino is slaughtered – three a day in South Africa. The task of the Kruger Park rangers is immense. Making the task even harder was the lifting of the ban on trade of rhino horn. The ruling by South Africa’s highest court in April 2016, legalised domestic trade in horn, and in the process raised emotions across the globe. It has been seen, by many, as a  decision that could hasten the extinction of rhinos in the wild.

“We have forgotten how to be good guests, how to walk lightly on the earth as its other creatures do”.

~Henry David Thoreau

Whenever there is condemnation, the authorities’ response is to clampdown on information. First, there was a clampdown on rhino poaching statistics. Surely, if there is a threat you try to get as many people involved in stopping that threat as possible. Now the same is happening with information on elephant ivory poaching. SANParks has refused to provide statistics on how many elephants have been poached in the Kruger National Park. This year, Park officials instead refer queries to the National Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). The DEA has also declined to release the latest figures saying interested parties must wait until the next quarterly statistics are released by the Minister.

Mixing armed poaching gangs and tourists cannot be not good for business!!!!!!!

We have lost the ancient wisdom that considers each decision on how it will affect future generations. We have to get back to thinking in a different way, beyond the easy political wins.”

~Dr Jane Goodall

The refusal to release these statistics follows a sharp increase in elephant poaching in the northern section of the Kruger National Park. It is estimated that at least 80 elephants have been killed since early 2015 – the highest levels in more than three decades. There appears to be no letting up in the “relentless rhino poaching onslaught” across Africa with South Africa on track to lose more than a thousand rhino for the fifth straight year. According to News24, 483 rhino have been killed in the first five and a half months of 2017. There are no official figures on rhino kill statistics currently available from the Department of Environmental Affairs, the national custodian of the country’s natural heritage.

“Life in any form is our perpetual responsibility”.

~S. Parkes Cadman

An observer naturally gets suspicious of the authorities’ intentions when they clam up on poaching information. The obvious question is what are the authorities hiding? They are supposed to be the guardian’s of our natural heritage for future generations to enjoy – inter-generational fairness.

“The unending slaughter of Africa’s endangered wildlife is amputating a balancing branch of humanity. Unless the world’s political elite establishes universal, thought provoking legislation and enforcement thereof, species on the brink of extinction will be lost for future generations. In particular, China and Africa stand at the cusp of the most historic leadership embarrassment of civilization.”

~Dex Kotze

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be,

Have fun,

Mike

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