HIT­TING THE Kruger Park

Neo Ma­ditla had al­ways dreamt of go­ing to the Kruger Park, and although the bus driver of her re­cent trip was more in­tent on get­ting from A to B, she still has the brag­ging rights of see­ing her first ele­phant

CityPress - - Opportunity index - Neo Ma­ditla was a guest of the Ap­plied Cen­tre for Cli­mate & Earth Sys­tems Science

My child­hood dream of vis­it­ing the Kruger Na­tional Park looked some­thing like this: my fam­ily and I stay at a lux­ury camp sur­rounded by bon­fires and potjiekos. We sit un­der a lapa re­cov­er­ing from a long game drive, where we saw the Big Five. Blame it on Top Billing, Pasella, or grow­ing up in the north­ern part of Pre­to­ria, but this is what a dream hol­i­day looked like to me.

But I grew up to be­come a jour­nal­ist, which meant the fur­thest I could af­ford to take my fam­ily was a drive to Men­lyn Park for lunch at the Spur, and maybe a movie if I was feel­ing rich that day.

So when a cli­mate change con­fer­ence in Lim­popo pre­sented the chance for me (and about 40 young sci­en­tists) to visit Kruger, I was very ex­cited.

First times Chat­ting to some of the young peo­ple on the bus ride to the park, it was clear that this was pos­si­bly the first and last time some of us would ever set foot in a place like the Kruger Park.

The young sci­en­tists came from as far away as Cameroon, Tan­za­nia, Ghana, Zim­babwe and across South Africa, and here we were – ex­pe­ri­enc­ing this mo­ment to­gether. But a dream is one thing and re­al­ity is quite another. In­stead of a lux­ury stay, we went on a free ed­u­ca­tional tour around the park in our bus. Our guide came in the form of a book we brought with us that had all the names and pic­tures of the dif­fer­ent an­i­mals.

Our bus driver, bless him, did not care for the fact that one needed to drive slowly in order to see the an­i­mals that were hid­ing be­hind trees and shrubs.

His mis­sion was to get us from point A to point B, and we were lucky if we got to see some game along the way.

But who cared, re­ally? We were at the Kruger Park and had socialmedia brag­ging rights for at least the next hour. Ele­phant over­load We saw ele­phants. Lots of them. Ele­phants in the mid­dle of the road, be­hind the trees, ele­phants ev­ery­where. At one point, we saw one with her calf. She was clearly up­set when some tourist drove a bit too close and started charg­ing at the car.

We were so ex­cited, click­ing away with our phones and cam­eras.

Un­be­known to us, this was to be the last ex­cit­ing thing we saw on the drive. Other than some buf­falo, im­pala, hip­pos and croc­o­diles ly­ing lazily near a stream and a few colour­ful birds, we did not see any of the other mem­bers of the Big Five.

Go­ing home When we got to Letaba Camp, we were told by a guide that she was not al­lowed to tell us where the rhi­nos were be­cause of all the poach­ing. The poach­ing is so bad that the park has its own drones to help fight the scourge.

With our hopes of spot­ting rhi­nos, leop­ards or lions dashed, we were con­tent with hav­ing spot­ted at least two of the Big Five be­fore we had to dash back to the Univer­sity of Venda, where our con­fer­ence was be­ing held.

ELLY CROSS­ING

Neo was lucky enough to spot many ele­phants

ALL STRIPES

The park is bustling with ze­bras

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