Monday, November 23, 2009

SOUTH AFRICA • 16 Apr – 3 May 2008

April 19, 20:25, Port Elizabeth

This is my third visit to South Africa. Coincidentally, each visit has come at 23 year intervals, when I was aged 3, 26, and now 49. It shocks me to think that the next visit would be 2031 and I would be 72 years old.

The 15-hour direct flight from Washington to Johannesburg was grueling but smooth and I had an empty seat next to me. I had a 3.5 hour lay-over before my connecting flight to Port Elizabeth, which was complicated by a nosebleed that wouldn’t stop. Tiring of having blood either dripping from my nose or trickling down my throat, I found the airport first-aid center, where the application of an ice-pack and pressure eventually did the trick. But an hour later, as my nose thawed, the bleeding returned and I had to board the plane sheepishly with about the sixth bloody wad of tissues pinched to my nose. Good fortune found me sitting next to a nurse, who requested more ice and offered moral support by assuring me that these things are common from the dehydration effects of prolonged flights. I gratefully gave her a signed copy of my book when we deplaned. I was met at Port Elizabeth airport by a young driver with a sign sent to collect me, and when I finally arrived at my B&B in Grahamstown two hours later, it was 11pm and I was ready for a good night’s sleep.

My two presentations—a formal lecture and an interactive talkshop—at SciFest Africa were well-attended (200 and 40) and received. Curiously, the local bookstore which had ordered 100 copies of my book decided not to bring them to the SciFest venue, which probably cost them 30-50 copies in lost sales (perhaps not, for I was later informed by a Macmillan representative that they had almost sold out).

SciFest participants are mostly black students between 12 and 16 years. They exuded health and energy with their (mostly) slim bodies, bright eyes and smiles, and seemingly perfect complexions. Almost all wore uniforms and many of the boys played soccer or basketball on the terrace outside during morning and lunchtime breaks.

April 20, 21:20, Knysna

Today I drove from Port Elizabeth to Knysna heading west along the south coast of South Africa. The scenery was beautiful. Viridian surf on one side and grass-strewn mountains leaping up on the other. I saw two baboons, large males looking dark and intimidating following the rains. Also saw several vervet monkeys along the highway. Yesterday at the Amakhala Game Reserve I watched iconic African mammals—kudu, white rhino, giraffe, buffalo, blesbok, warthogs, red hartebeest, plains zebra—living free. I had watched a magnificent elephant bull yesterday, and wondered what sort of human it would take to terminate such a distinguished life as his. Today, I met him. This morning, an older man from England described how it took him four days to shoot a male kudu to add to his collection of so-called “trophies.” He gave me the exact weight of his victim, and the measure of his horns, as if describing his own worth. The nice fellow, also over 60, who ran the B&B with his wife, saw the “Friends don’t let friends eat meat” bumper sticker I’d placed on my rental car and said: ”God gave man the animals as food.” I’ve learned not to take up a contrary position with such thinking but rather to simply say something about my personal choices. In these two instances: “I also do a lot of hunting but I use binoculars and a field guide,” and “As an atheist and animal lover I prefer not to eat my friends.” It’s not as if one’s going to change these people. Youth, perhaps…old farts, hardly.

I’m looking out over Knysna Bay as a full moon shines overhead through scattered clouds. The hillsides surrounding the bay are lit with clusters of houses. Tonight I did a 45 minute live interview for a national radio program based in Johannesburg called Believe it or Not. I took a walk up the hillside streets afterwards. All quiet, dimly lit lawns, a few frogs calling from behind shrubs. A Siamese-mix cat looked nervously at me from a driveway. He looked ready to take flight until I stooped down and called to him in a friendly voice. His tail shot up and he bounded over. We shared 5 mins of greeting and rubbing against each other. He purred loudly. I rolled a stone down the paved slope and he took off after it, his belled collar jingling. He tried to follow me when I left so I tossed another pebble up the slope and jogged in the other direction. He looked back at me. Happy cat.

I’m sipping soy milk and chewing some vegan jerky (Primal Strips mesquite lime flavor) I brought with me. I hardly fit into the dietary paradigm here, but they will, inevitably, inexorably, have to shift more in the direction of my strange food choices than I theirs, that is if we’re to become sustainable. And the rumblings have begun here. Power in Grahamstown (at least) is switched off from 6-8am. Signs ask guests to conserve water. I let those radio listeners know tonight that what they put on their plates is more important to global climate change than what they drive to work.

April 24, 07:20, Cape Town

I’m sitting on the patio near the pool at Room in the Garden B&B. Located well up the slope of Table Mountain, it offers magnificent views of the rocky crags above and the city and coastal bay below, which now hums faintly with rush-hour traffic.

My drive from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town (900km) with stops at Knysna and Swellendam, along South Africa’s well-known Garden Route, was lovely. For most of the way there were mountains rising to the north, and especially near Port Elizabeth there were inspiring views of the ocean. I walked along the beach on the edge of PE, where cormorants, gulls, terns and gannets graced the air and a lone whimbrel explored the tidepools. A woman walked her dog along the sand while I walked the adjoining boardwalk. We struck up a conversation after she asked me if the next parking lot was very far along. She was a bit anxious about walking the beach with only her (friendly) dog so I offered to walk with her. Her name was Toin (Belgian name) and she works in the Winchester Hotel here in Cape Town. Her concern about safety was all too common here in South Africa, where crime—most of it petty—is a major problem. I took a half-hour jog yesterday morning in this affluent neighborhood and it looks a bit like a policed state, with electric wires running along the wall-tops and large metal gates enclosing the driveways, many with signs warning of guard dogs. Every place I’ve stayed at so far has had dogs. Here there are two elderly standard poodles, mother and son. At Swellendam there was a small and a medium dog, and a huge Irish wolfhound who resembled an underfed donkey. Karin, who immigrated from Germany 10 years ago, prepared a lavish plate of fruit to go with the bread/jam, coffee, juice and cake. Her daughter also loves animals and I signed a piece of paper to them to paste in the book they planned to get on an upcoming trip to Cape Town.

The media have shown an excellent response to my visit. I’ve done five interviews for the press, where there have been at least seven stories printed. Plus a couple of photo shoots and three radio spots, one of which has national reach. I spoke to an audience of over 200 at the Africa Geographic lecture in the lavish Nedbank Auditorium. A situation like that—rows of people in their seats, formal introductions, people coming up to have books signed, and catered food—makes me wonder if this is all real. Today I will speak at the University of Cape Town, then do a book signing at Wordsworth Books in the evening. I’m now fully acclimated to local time, and I expect to sleep well tonight!

April 26, 09:00 Cape Town

Yesterday provided one of the trip’s peak experiences as I went on a Baboon Walk. Jenni Trethowan, a dedicated protector of animals, launched Baboon Matters in 1998 to help improve relations between human residents and the wild baboon troops that live on the peninsula that juts south from Cape Town. Predictably, as humans moved in and began to build houses, grow crops and plant gardens, conflicts with the baboons grew. The baboons were labeled as “problem animals” and common “solutions” were to trap, shoot, poison or run over the baboons. Though their numbers declined, the wily baboons adapted to the persecution and their populations persisted. Today, Baboon Matters hires baboon monitors who move about with the troops and intervene to keep them off people’s properties, where the baboons may damage eaves and windows, strip trees of their fruit (can one blame them?), and occasionally break into homes to dine on easy kitchen pickings and leave smelly “gifts” for the home-owners. The monitors’ presence has reduced conflicts by about 85 percent. Most residents are tolerant or even welcoming of the baboons, but there are still those who angrily try to hurt or kill them. One of the females in the troop we followed is missing her right hand from an evil trap set many years ago by a resident, designed to amputate the hand as it was put into the trap for the bait. Four females lost their right hand to this trap. Slowed by their disability, the other three were killed trying to cross roads with a baby in their whole arm; the remaining survivor, Penelope, is currently raising her third baby.

The baboons are wild but habituated to humans. We could stand or sit within two meters of some of them, and more than once I felt the fur of an adult brush against my leg as s/he ambled past. For most of the time they were relaxed, and one could hear individuals making reassuring grunts which appeared to function to let others know that they were nearby when out of view. I watched various foraging techniques, including swiping brush aside to find seeds beneath, pulling out roots to pluck burrowing insects (I think—their hands move so fast), digging in the dirt for some other buried treasures which were deftly plucked up and eaten, and sitting in trees leisurely sampling fruit. One juvenile near me spied a fat spider, calmly plucked her from her web, and bit off the body like a berry, leaving three or four twitching legs in the grass.

One of the females was pregnant, and her flat rump was bright red. Two or three other younger females were in estrous, as indicated by the shiny red swellings wobbling beneath their tails like enormous tomatoes. These damsels were quite solicitous of the two or three large adult males, who seemed mostly to ignore the ruby hindquarters presented to them by a standing female just a meter away. The female looked back at the male as if to say “come and get it.” One of these females chased off another and while there was much yelping by the pursued one, there was no violence and little interest from the others. A more intense dispute with intense shrieks brought several troop members to their feet to see what was happening. A few minutes later, a large male chased a screaming female who took refuge in a dense thicket while he barked menacingly at her. He looked very intimidating but we saw no incidents of physical violence. The only blood-shed witnessed was from my shin which I scraped during a clumsy descent of a large boulder.

By far the more joyous sight was the rambunctious play of five youngsters (yearlings?) on a grassy hillside at the end of a residential street. They would scamper up the 10 meter slope then leap, roll, tussle or summersault their way down again. Flying ambushes, play bites and limb-tuggings were part of a stream of play that went on for at least 10 minutes. One could hear the thuds of their little bodies hitting the ground as they hurtled down the slope twisting and rolling in a grappling heap of as many as four individuals at a time. A leafy branch became the object of a three-way tug of war. The winner was soon left holding the branch while the other two scampered off; the branch lost its prize-status and the youngster dropped it to follow the others. When they ran back across the road a minute later, he once again grabbed the branch and the tug was on again. Animals at play are one of the most beautiful things to behold, for me. I was transfixed, and uplifted.

Today, following an hour-long slot on Cape Talk radio, I met Mike Picker at the Kirstenbosch. Cape Town’s botanical garden lies at the foothills of Table Mountain and is reputed to be one of the most beautiful in the world. It didn’t disappoint. Mike is a local entomologist and professor who attended my lecture at the University of Cape Town, and he wanted to meet to discuss the animal ethics committee on which he serves there. A short, very fit man in his early fifties, Mike is also a vegan, and he’s keen to see progress away from invasive animal use. Following coffee and a quite tasty roasted vegetable sandwich (the one vegan item on the menu), Mike, who is also a keen gardener and botanist, toured me through the greenhouses and outside gardens. There is a magnificent collection of succulent plants, of which South Africa supports a great diversity. Many species lie low in their hot summer habitats. They store water in their thick leaves which resemble fingers, tongues and even horses’ teeth (many are named for such likenesses). A few were blooming, and the flowers were surprisingly showy for such humble plants. I was astonished that the “cacti” I was looking at were not cacti at all; they were members of the extensive Euphorbia genus. Thick columnar stems with spiny seams made them indistinguishable from a cactus to the untrained eye, yet they evolved independently. We also saw cycads, one of which was one of just three remaining specimens on Earth. We sampled fruits, and the sweet nectar virtually gushed out of the bright crimson, bat-pollinated flower of a young sausage-tree. These are the trees whose rock-hard, sausage-shaped fruits grow to weigh twenty kilos or more and occasionally kill people when they fall.

April 30, 11:20, Cape Town → Johannesburg

I had a marvelous 8 days in Cape Town. The media and public response to my message was strong, with several radio appearances and press interviews and robust audiences at the five talks I gave.

The locals were also enormously friendly and helpful. Wendy Woodward, who hosted my lecture at the University of the Western Cape, also took me out to Baboon Matters for the baboon walk and hosted me with her family for dinner at their home. They have two large, affectionate dogs, and Wendy’s husband Chris is a Bach enthusiast like me. Rose, the sister of Louise van der Merwe who organized the CIWF event yesterday, took me to lunch and a walk round the harbor at the V&A (Victoria & Albert) Waterfront, which is a large commercial complex of shops and restaurants. Mike Picker, who attended my talk at the U of Cape Town, toured me through the Botanical Gardens (Kirstenbosch), where I learned a good deal about the native flora especially. Hermann Witteberg and his wife took me for a hike up the side of the Lion’s Head, one of several rocky mountains overlooking Cape Town. Ian McCallum, psychiatrist, author (he signed a copy of his Ecological Intelligence for me and former Springbok (South Africa’s national rugby team) hosted me for dinner with his wife Sharon at their home in Muizenburg (a CT suburb). And Fransje van Riel, a photojournalist and author whose family immigrated 12 years ago from Holland, not only arranged several of my media interviews but also took me out to Simonstown to see the 2,500-strong colony of African Penguins there, then on to the Cape of Good Hope, the most southwesterly point on the African continent, where waves sprayed over the rocks along the shelly beach, and, incongruously, a small flock of ostriches and a few eland grazed within a hundred meters of the shoreline.

South Africa’s wildlife history has been, like most places, one of eradication and extirpation of native wildlife by incoming humans. Through a combination of persecution, exploitation and habitat loss, most of the iconic African wild animals that dotted the entire landscape when Jan Van Riebeek arrived in 1652 are today all but gone, or limited to “game reserves” where, depending on the particular brand of profit-motive, animals are brought in either to be watched, or shot. It was a jarring experience to meet an Englishman who had just the day before shot an adult male greater kudu to add to his collection of trophies. One may shake one’s head that such “Victorian” behavior still occurs, but big game shooting and canned hunts are big business in South Africa today. Fransje van Riel, who campaigns against these operations, tells me that the number of lions bred, raised (on petting zoos for further profit) and then presented for hunters to shoot has risen 10-fold in the last decade to about 5,000 today. Most of the South African public is oblivious to this. But as long as these activities remain legal, and our education systems fail to instill empathy (a lesson which I sarcastically regard as almost half as important as algebra) in children, these injustices will persist. To that end, I was very encouraged to learn that Switzerland has just enacted epoch-making legislation that includes the following provisions:

• Dog guardians must qualify for ownership
• Anglers must receive training in compassion
• Social animals (gruppentiere) must not be kept alone
• Livestock may not be tethered and cattle and pigs may not be kept on hard floors

This, and PETA’s recent announcement of a $1 million reward to the first person or company to manufacture commercially viable in vitro meat before 2012, gives me some hope that humanity will yet come to its collective senses.

May 1, 21:10, Chimpanzee Eden (near Nelspruit)

It’s been a full day and I’ll probably fall asleep long before I describe it. I had an early breakfast at my Hotel Protea Wanderers in Johannesburg. I took my bird guide to the hotel restaurant and two of the staff there asked me about it. There were several masked weaver nests dangling from the large trees outside the window. I ate fresh fruit salad, granola with soymilk (yes, they had soymilk! I thanked them for this), and a piece of toast with fried potatoes, baked beans and fresh tomato. Tea. I needed a hearty meal because I had 400km of driving ahead of me. I was on the road at 7:45 and arrived at Chimp Eden at 1:45, following several stops along the way. About 50km outside Nelspruit I was getting desperate to pee so I pulled off at a picnic table. There was nowhere to go out of view of passing traffic, but there was a consolation prize. A row of large trees stood just beyond a barbed wire fence. Some of the branches dangled within reach. I went over to inspect the fruit. Several of the green pods were gaping open and inside each was a pecan shell. I cracked one open and it was perfectly ripe. I harvested about 20 nuts from the branches and a few more from the ground. They made an enjoyable snack when I sopped for a walk (and a pee!) at a tourist stop a few miles on.

Chimp Eden is situated on the Umhloti Nature Reserve, about 2,000 hectares of attractive, hilly lowveld. The narrow, paved entrance road passes through a security gate and winds about 4km to the Umhloti Lodge and restaurant. When I arrived. A tour group of around 30 were being shown some of the resident chimps in a fenced-in paddock adjoining the restaurant patio. I joined them to watch. The chimps were a picture of convivial contentment. This was Joao’s group, comprising 3 adult males (including 44 year old alpha male Joao), and seven younger chimps. All of the youngsters were engaged in some form of play, either in pairs or trios. One was horsing around with Joao, who was in no way aloof, gently grabbing, pulling and play-biting the smaller chimp like a good-natured uncle. One of the littler chimps performed seven somersaults down the gentle grassy slope. Another jumped on top of a wrestling pair and pushed herself off again with one hind foot. I saw two instances of what looked like the start of a game of tag, wherein one chimp reached out and tapped another with the fingertips then scurried off to avoid being touched back.

The playing went on for about 15 minutes—a constant flow of chimp happiness—until one of the staffers brought out a bowl of fruits and began calling the group over for feeding. They casually ambled towards the fence. Joao received the first morsel (a ripe avocado) in accordance with protocol. Each chimp held out a hand when their name was called, and the adults showed skill and reflexes in catching the tossed fruits. One of Joao’s hit a wire and changed direction, but he was equal to the challenge and successfully palmed the treat like a pro-baller.

Both Susan Slotar, who lives in Jo’burg but was planning to meet me here, and Phillip Cronje, the veterinarian who appears regularly on the successful TV series Escape to Chimp Eden that airs on Animal Planet, were away on a chimp emergency. But fortunately for me, Eugene Cossins, the amiable biologist and chimp expert who stars in the show, was in. He joined me for a beer as I had a delicious rice and sweet-and-sour vegetable dish at the restaurant, then took me out to visit the chimps before they went into their night dorms at 4pm. Eugene’s family have lived at Umhloti for several generations and he grew up here. He also conceived and designed the Chimp Eden sanctuary and rescue project. There are currently 20 chimps here, all of them rescued from various forms of human neglect and abuse. They live in 3 separate groups, each with their own large, natural outdoor territory with lots of trees and shrubs and grassy spaces. The firs season of EFCE was a big success in the US, and following just one week off, Eugene will once again be followed each day by a camera crew on Monday. The pan is to rescue 13 chimps this year from Sudan, Angola, Central African Republic and a couple of other locations. Limitations on government permits restrict the number of chimps that may be taken for rehab. I’ve watched several episodes of ETCE and I complimented Eugene on the genuineness of the production and the salutary animal messages it conveys.

When we arrived at the outdoor paddock, Eugene called to his good friend Zach, who immediately set off in our direction from 40 meters away. When this 7-year-old male arrived, he exchanged vocal greetings with E and each held out a hand towards the other in a gesture of solidarity and friendship. Zach took a few brief glances my way but his attention was focused on his human buddy. Nearby, Sally swung on the end of a Eucalypt branch 30 feet above the ground. The branch, stripped of leaves, bowed severely under little Sally’s weight and it looked like it would snap at any moment. But Sally, gripping effortlessly with one hand, bounced up and down with mischievous confidence. Just watching her was exhilarating. A minute later she deftly swung to her left, flying at least 12 feet before trapeze-landing in a shrub to joust with another youngster.

The long-term goal is to return these scarred apes to the wild, and Eugene has begun scoping out candidate locations for future release. There was a promising site in Angola, but the county has recently sank back into violent instability. Gabon, which is highly stable, is looking good. Eugene explained that getting these chimps to that stage requires undoing all the bad things they’ve acquired from their human captors, as well as teaching them to be chimpanzees. Some arrive never having seen a tree, let alone climbed one. Most have no clue about constructing a tree nest. Joao had been kept with baboons and came to CE with mainly baboon calls in his vocabulary.

I took a walk as dusk approached and watched a gorgeous sunset over distant mountains. I found what look like the remains of a wire snare next to a rocky outcrop. It is just a 10-foot length of twisted wire, but it has a loop at one end and looks suspicious. I’ll eave it with the reception staff tomorrow and tell them where I found it. Wildlife poaching is rife in Africa. A herd of impala grazed on the lawn outside the lodge this evening. The harem male stared at me for two minutes, making intermittent loud snorts. The male impalas also make a low growly grunt, which sounds incredibly menacing; one would never guess it was produced by one of these ungulates. The huge tree next to my balcony is flush with pink blossoms—a magnet for sunbirds and bulbuls.

May 3, 20:15, Johannesburg → Dakar

The nearly-full Airbus 340-600 is now cruising over northeastern Namibia. That’s a country I’d love to see on the ground, provided it was the Etosha Basin or the Skeleton Coast. I imagine Namibia has its less-than-pretty parts, too, as in: where people live in large numbers! South Africa has its share of slums, which appeared on this trip as dense arrays of wooden and corrugated shacks usually on the outskirts of cities. These of course contrasted sharply with the spacious, tidy homes in the mostly white neighborhoods with their manicured gardens and the “tick-ticking” of electric wires mounted atop the walls. One of my Cape Town hosts told me her parents keep theirs switched off because it was constantly triggering false alarms. It may come as no surprise that a country with such a socially conflicted history dating right p to the present time should have a crime problem. On my drive from Johannesburg to Nelspruit there were several stretches with signs warning “Danger, High-jacking Zone.” One is also instructed to not leave any valuables visible in one’s car. Most crimes are of a petty nature, but not all. Mike Picker spent a month in hospital recovering from an attack in his home. But no-where in the world is completely safe, and one must get on with life. I took the usual precautions (wearing chain-mail and carrying a small thermonuclear bomb at all times), and never once felt in danger on the trip—unless you count being sandwiched between a truck and an on-coming car on the dual carriageway.

M y visit to Kruger Park lived up to its billing, even though I arrived at Skukuza Camp five minutes too late to join the Night Drive I was booked for. It was just after 4pm and a good half hour before dusk. Neither the person who booked the tour nor I thought to clarify the start time. No worries—I just tooled over to Hut #24 at the nearby Research Camp, heated up a can of beans and had a simple but satisfying supper. At late dusk I stood outside the “hut” (really a small bungalow) and watched bats zipping overhead. A couple of times a quite large bat flew within about 5 feet of me, performing a semi-circle at waist-height. It made me wonder if this bat was curious about this new object planted in a normally clear zone. Earlier that afternoon while driving the 40km from the Phabeni Gate entrance to Skukuza, I had seen many beautiful African creatures, including elephant, hippo, crocodile, impala, Burchell’s glossy starling, and Lilac-breasted roller. The biggest thrill was watching a large gray “boulder” behind a shrub suddenly resolve into a white rhino. Another stood nearby and the pair passed within 20 feet of my car before crossing the paved road nervously just to my rear. About seven other vehicles were on the scene, but I had perhaps the best view. They looked so robust! As did all the animals I saw here . This morning en route to our morning walk we stopped to watch several more ellies, a lone hyena who loped along the tarmac ahead of us before veering into the grassy verge, and four magnificent (need I say?) lions sitting right along the road. Three were sub-adults and they gazed at us briefly with only passing interest, their amber eyes cutting through a million layers of human pride. One of the youngsters yawned, then playfully mouthed the other’s neck then they sauntered off into the brush.

As we received our instructions for the walk from our guides Bishop and Nicholas, who stood uniformed each with a loaded rifle, the older woman in our group of eight asked a rather naïve question: “How often do you have to shoot an animal?” Bishop explained that they don’t shoot animals, and that in the 15 years these two have been leading walks here there has never been a serious incident despite several charges by animals. At the end of this sermon, I leaned over to the lady and whispered that by far the most dangerous animal we would encounter on the walk would be the humans in our group. Quite early in the walk I spotted a pearl-spotted owl, which did much to redeem myself for having kept everyone waiting an extra two minutes when I had to run back to my car to retrieve my proof-of-payment. When the owl faced away, I noticed the false eye-spots on his nape, and wondered if these birds are aware that they have these spots from seeing them on other pearl-spotted owls, even though they can never see their own spots. We walked single-file for 90 mins with a short break for snacks. In addition to many birds (most unidentified because we mostly kept moving), we saw blue wildebeest, bushbuck, steenbok, warthog, waterbuck, and the fresh spoor of black rhino, and a leopard who had passed that way earlier that morning. The wildebeest took off when we were still 100 meters away, yet these and other ungulates forage contentedly together. Human persecution has created a culture of fear. It seems they know we can kill from a distance, and so they keep theirs. Some of the ungulate dung was shiny and greasy looking. It shone with a faint blue dross under the early sun. These beasts are so exciting even their poop has charisma. Pale, gossamer-thin mushrooms sprouted from the nutrient-rich clods like parasols. We walked past a couple of stumps and tree limbs that had been worn to rounded nubs by countless animals seeking the relief of an itch or the simple pleasure of a good rub.

Invertebrates. Dung beetles are among my favorite insects. (God’s too, apparently, for when the British geneticist JBS Haldane was asked what one could infer about God’s view of Creation from the diversity of lifeforms on Earth, Haldane replied that God obviously had “an inordinate fondness for beetles.”) I only saw three dung beetles on this trip: two small ones feeding on a dropping at Knysna forest, and one large one on a fresh pile of elephant dung at Kruger. Perhaps it was the southerly location (I visited the southern end of Kruger park this time) and the season (May is the onset of winter here—such as it is), for I saw many dung beetles in the north end of Kruger in November 1985. I managed to photograph a lovely butterfly, and I examined a small preying mantis on our Kruger walk yesterday. I photographed a cute invertebrate on the coast at the Cape of Good Hope—a warm-brown crustacean (I think!) looking like a cross between a cockroach and a trilobite. Lifting up beached kelp revealed lots of these little landrovers of varied sizes scurrying for cover. I managed to coax one onto my hand and could see two little black eyes on the head. When I switched on the light at my Kruger hut yesterday morning, there was a fairly large spider on the wall next to my bed. I was grateful to have this visitor and I well remember the variety of charismatic inverts frequenting our more rustic camp at Pafuri in 1985 (scorpions, whip-scorpions, solipugids, and matabele ants). This spider was remarkably flattened against the wall and the arrangement of the legs was in perfect symmetry. By coincidence, I have learned from the woman sitting next to me on my flight—an intrepid nurse from Pennsylvania who has traveled to rural Zambia the past seven years to work at a mission hospital—that these spiders are colloquially called “flatties”! My other welcome visitors to the hut included a tiny pale gecko who skittered across the patio when I went outside to explore the surrounding plot. S/he looked only about 2 inches long so I guessed s/he was a young one. As I packed my suitcase the following morning, a female bushbuck came gingerly poking through the scrub just beyond the perimeter fence, about 25 feet from my window. She was soon followed by her male consort. Their eyes were dark, liquid and large—a face to stir the emotions and take me to a serene inner space. How anybody can shoot creatures like these is beyond me. I noticed also how dark the impala’s eyes were, and how they wore fashionable puffs of dark fur around their ankles. Each one was an individual yet each to my relatively dull senses looks a perfect replica of the others.

I hope it is not another 23 years before I return to this physically beautiful country. On my previous visit I saw a “White’s Only” sign at a gas station toilet. Today, while many racial imbalances remain, nevertheless Africans are now integrated into all walks of life. May their emancipation continue, and that of nonhuman animals be swept up in the current.


At May 19, 2010 at 1:43 AM , Blogger Parag said...

Port Elizabeth is one of the most sought-after destinations in South Africa. Port Elizabeth is surrounded by immaculate beaches and is one of South Africa’s port cities. It is located in the Eastern Cape Province, which has been home to some of the country’s most iconic figures including Mandela, and former president Thabo Mbeki.
Port Elizabeth Airport


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