There are two main reasons for the strict rules you see upon entry every time you visit a reserve here (and everywhere else in the world) – safety for you, and safety for the animals. These rules are the lifeline that keeps the vast majority of people who enter this natural world, as well as the animals they’ve come to see, alive. The irony of conservation these days is that we have to pimp out the wildlife in order to preserve it. This means the necessary evil of allowing the people who have never in their life encountered an elephant outside of a television documentary or a local zoo to drive among these creatures in several-ton weapons of mass destruction. There are bound to be bad interactions and casualties.
Newbie people in the bush are akin to true newborns, fresh to a world they don’t understand, and just as vulnerable and useless as a newborn human baby. Sometimes they cry just as much as well. Without guidance, you’d be amazed at the stupid things they’ll do. I know; I was one of them. Luckily for me and the local wildlife, I managed to avoid damaging my surroundings. Other people aren’t so lucky.
The other day, a man killed seven impala while speeding through Kruger National Park. Seven. In a row. Now, it’s kind of difficult to hit one impala. They’re antelope – they move quickly. This is usually the case when your best defense is to outrun predators.
There are speed limits in the parks here of no more than 50km/hr, which translates to about 27mph. Plus, you’re usually looking for animals specifically so you DON’T hit them, so your speeds aren’t much above a rather feisty idle anyway. To hit something, anything, larger than a frog, not only takes top speeds, it takes barrels of stupidity, irresponsibility, and disrespect for the world around you. This guy took out seven animals IN A ROW! Seven animals that normally outmaneuver cheetah, the fastest land animal alive, no less.
The man did get fined, thankfully, though a paltry amount for the crime. The company he worked for got an even heftier fine, which I’m sure they didn’t appreciate, and probably didn’t help his line of defense when it came to keeping his job. Kruger National Park has banned him from entering the park for five years. He swears he wasn’t speeding, but you cannot possibly hit that many of that type of animal unless you have the pedal to the metal.
Now, speeding aside, the reason you aren’t allowed out of your car when driving through the reserves? What you DON’T see is even more dangerous than what you do. That lovely little bush back there may actually be hiding a rather large black rhino, and if you decide it’s the perfect place to take a wee (yup, that is what everyone, even the big, burly guys, call ‘peeing’ here), you may end up with a horn through your chest, though I’m sure your bladder will definitely empty. Or, again, the pride of lions that is right in front of your face, but you can’t see it because the lions all blend in so well with their surroundings? They will be on you faster than a chicken on speed. Any sound that you could conceive of possibly emanating from your lips will not do so in time before that little light of yours goes out. Okay, you might get out a grunt when the wind gets knocked out of your lungs. But grunts don’t travel very far as far as sound goes. And like the proverbial tree falling in a forest, no one’s gonna hear you anyway.
As dopey as some of these creatures look when they play, they are smooth operators when it comes to their prey. You are no match for a hungry carnivore or an angry herbivore. Trust me. I have seen them in action. I have seen how a pack of wild dogs will be on top of, kill, and literally devour an entire impala, skin and all, in a matter of minutes. I have seen four lions take down a 400lb animal in less than half an hour, leaving only a skull and a few rib bones behind, just in case they get a hankering for a late-night snack. I have seen hyenas rip through a femur like it’s nothing more than a potato chip. I have heard of little duikers (teeny, adorable antelope that probably come up to my knee) rip open a person’s femoral artery, and have personally seen a bull nyala (another antelope) knock a grown man five feet in the air with minimal effort. What are you going to do, smack them?
Even if you manage to momentarily confuse an animal here, you likely can’t outrun it. We are slow at the best of times in comparison to pretty much any four-footed creature. And speaking of running, this is something you NEVER do in the bush. As soon as you run, they chase. Instinct. Running means you give the predator a reason to chase you. That’s really not a position you want to put yourself in when the animal you’re trying to avoid runs twice as fast, and weighs twice as much, as you. And can clear a fence 15 feet high and climb trees. And has a mouth like a chainsaw. Or try an elephant, whose every step is equal to about ten of yours, who can topple a full-sized tree with a mere twitch of its shoulders, and who can move up and down steep hills as adeptly as a mountain goat, while you clumsily struggle to gain footing and balance.
This, my friend, is the reality – we have nothing on these animals. Even our supposed brain capacity is useless out here. They will take us out before we even have time to process the first thought of what to do. So, I urge you – respect them, respect the rules, and stay alive. Survival is not a right out here – it’s a privilege. Stay in the damn car. And if you’re around baboons, lock the doors and keep the windows closed. I’ve seen a baboon open a car door and get inside, despite protests of the screaming family of humans inside. A packet of chips is too tempting a proposition for a clever primate. We of all creatures should understand that. And I’ve been on the receiving end of a baboon going after a bag of chips in my hand. It’s terrifying.
Many people, particularly tourists, and, evidently, delivery drivers, seem to have no idea what is out there. They have no idea how powerful a baboon is or how vicious. They look at hyenas and think, “Looks a little like a teddy bear. How could that possibly be dangerous?” And yet hyena can chew through solid bone, and often do.
Say a newbie thought it was okay to feed the hyenas and baboons, showing complete disregard for the signs all over the place that read “Do Not Feed the Animals.” Clearly, this person never thinks that by ignoring the warning and doing this they could not only lose an arm, but also that the animals could become acclimated to humans and their food, and thus become a menace to the camps and to anyone on foot. Why a menace from one measly breadcrumb? The animals become used to people, quickly learn to associate them with food, and start attacking to get to food. Then someone gets hurt. And then the animal needs to be shot. Not exactly fair to the animals, is it?
Just as a note, I personally ‘break the rules’ often. I have to get out of the vehicle to move animals off the road and out of danger, or to relocate an injured creature. I have to get out of the car to change tyres, check camera traps, and clear debris. That’s part of my job. Your job is to enjoy nature and to help us all ensure it’s there for generations to come. Please do your part. I promise you I will do mine.
That’s the buzz from the bush for today.
Song choice: Running Down a Dream, by Tom Petty
Check out the link below for more info on the impala story:
All rights reserved. ©2012 Jennifer Vitanzo