Showing posts with label elephant. Show all posts
Showing posts with label elephant. Show all posts

23 September 2012

Adventures in South Africa

by Leigh Lundin

I'm spending the better part of a year living in South Africa. If you're anything like me, you probably harbor pre-conceived notions and yet wonder what the land is really like.

I've lived and worked in Europe and South America. Each country has a 'personality' not to be defined by or confused with their nation's politics. A national personality is both amalgamation and generalization, a distilled broad-stroke synthesis of millions of people.

South Africa… I've never visited a land whose personality so closely matches that of North America– the friendliness, hardiness, sense of humor, spirit of industry and entrepreneurism, a determination to conquer prejudice, and the will to persevere when times get tough. And, everyone speaks English.

To many Americans, South Africa must appear exotic, even strange, but I have a surprise for you– it's more familiar, more 'ordinary', more like America than you can believe. To be sure, I've spent almost all my time in the province of KwaZulu-Natal (birthplace of the Zulus), which is like a tourist spending their entire visit in one American state and thinking all of the US is like (shudder) Florida. KZN is the most English of the nine provinces, so my perceptions may differ from parts of the country that are dominated by, say, Dutch Afrikaners.


People pepper their speech with Zulu words. I love the expressive sound of isiZulu– the actual name of the Zulu language. For example, a rattletrap vehicle is a skadonk and a bad guy is a sigebengu (prounced 'skabanguh'). The onomatopoeia word for tractor is gunda-gunda… anyone who's familiar with older farm machinery can't help but smile.

One word I adopted is muti (moo-tea), meaning medicine, but it can also mean any liquid put to good use, such as 'dishwashing muti'. Americans use at least one isiZulu word without realizing it– fundi, an expert.

South meets South

Three weeks ago, our friend Geri came to visit. She's the epitome of the Southern lady, soft-spoken and very easy to underestimate as some have learned to their surprise or dismay. She travels perhaps twice a year and accepted Cate's invitation to visit.

Fortunately Geri travels well and is patient, since the textbook publisher seemed to ramp up the workload at the same time the deadline loomed like a plunging vulture. But family was good to us, Tig and Sue, who lent us their home. Geri, Cate and I lived on the beach, sunbathed and waded in the Indian Ocean, and visited the Oribi Gorge, a scenic combination of horticulture, agriculture, and wildlife. Geri rode a Segway along the beach in Durban and into Moses Mahbida Stadium.

Thanks to friends Dave and Shirley, we visited Springbok Lodge in the Nambiti Game Reserve. Among other bragging rights, Nambiti boasts the 'Big 5', the five most dangerous animals to hunt. South Africa's bank notes portray the Big Five: rhino, elephant, lion, cape buffalo, and leopard. This is even more impressive when you realize the Egyptians considered the hippo and crocodile to be the most fearsome. These aren't animals to fool around with– even the ostrich has been known to kill men.

Four out of Five

On my first visit to the game reserve weeks earlier, locals told me I was amazingly lucky to see the Big 5, all except the leopard. And these weren't distant sightings: A mother and child rhinoceros galloped along side the Land Cruiser. We were close enough to grazing cape buffalo to see oxpecker birds cleaning their coats. Only days later, bad tempered buffalo turned on a Jeep and wreaked thousands of dollars of damage upon it. And the lions– a pride of three strolled past our Land Cruiser so close you could have flicked a booger at them, had you been so foolish.

During that visit, herds of zebra and giraffe seemed to be everywhere, and it's an amazing sight to see giraffes browsing above the treetops. Cate calculated we spotted 13 different kinds of buck– the South African term for deer and antelopes– from the small bush buck, to impala, hartebeest, wildebeest, and the largest of all, the eland.

On this trip with Geri, we again saw all the Big 5 except the elusive leopards. Birds surrounded us. Bachelor rhinos eyed us warily. As we watched, mother elephants taught their calves how to uproot trees: In the winter, roots contain more nutrients than barren branches, so elephants require a goodly supply of trees to munch upon.

Normally, hippopotami soak in ponds like huge inert hogs, imitating boulders. Not this time– hippos rumbled ashore during an early morning stretch. One juvenile postured and played with another, putting on a show.

Meanwhile, Geri was busy snapping photos. For example…

You may notice a theme here. Every time Geri raised her camera, subjects would spin around and pose: "Wanna see my butt?"

One afternoon we found lions hidden in the tall grass, but a big male wandered off, his bum toward us,to check his kill because jackals were wandering the area. Minutes later he strolled back, at last facing us. Geri raised her lens and… the big lion paused and… Geri aimed her camera and… the lion squatted and…

Proceeded to take an excruciating minutes-long dump.

Cate burst out with "Dude, you need fiber."

Later– yesterday in fact– Geri and Cate found a calendar of animal butts. It looks like Geri's animals thought they were still posing for it.

When tracking, Rangers communicate 'visuals' over the radio in isiZulu so passengers don't leap out of their seats to spot the latest 'find' and scare off– or attract– the animal's attention.

Geri took great photos of a lounging jackal, rarely seen sunning. She also got a great snap of a warthog. They kneel when they graze and shuffle along on their foreknees. In another great bit of luck, rangers spotted the reserve's lone cheetah– just one cheetah in 22,000 acres– lions had killed the others.

Darkest Africa

Through poaching and hunting, populations of some big cats number in two and three digits. Elephants are threatened in many places, but may be stabilized. The black rhinoceros is critically endangered and other species are believed to be extinct. For what? For their horn, that bit of keratin thought to be an aphrodisiac in some Asian cultures.

Speaking of cultures, to Westerners, elephants, rhinos, and hippos are great lumbering beasts, but to Africans, they are elegant, powerful, imbued with history and mystique. They're like bison and bears to the American Indian, creatures to be respected and protected in a modern and hazardous environment.

This is the Africa of legends, of Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. Ryder Haggard, and perhaps of Lee Falk, Lyman Young, and Wilbur Smith. Like our state and national forests, this commitment preserves and conserves habitat so that species– some numbered in the hundreds, some in the dozens or fewer– have a narrow chance to survive and perhaps thrive.

So what do I think of South Africa? I love it. I love it here. I wouldn't be surprised if you would too.