South African wildlife, pristine jungle teeming with wild animals and birds…
What a splendid morning! Thousands of birds including pelican, cormorant and seagulls lined the beach, flew overhead in formation, and bobbed on the gentle waves. A spectacular sight! It made me think of what it must have been like a mere 200 years ago when such a scene was an everyday occurrence. When buffalo roamed the US plans in the millions, when migrating geese filled the sky from horizon to horizon.
As I talk with people about Africa, in particular South Africa. Lions, giraffe, and zebra roaming the bush with teaming birds flying around the watering holes. Gorgeous sunsets over pristine untouched wilds. That’s the South Africa they envision! Sorry, that’s may be how it used to be.
Growing up in South Africa in the fifties we did encounter a leopard while camping. We did trek through the bush in search of an impala for dinner. Water buffalo did attack and badly gore a childhood friend. My mother did shoot and kill about two spitting cobras on our property every year.
Fifty years later South Africa is a patchwork of farms, industry and human activity. The indigenous Knysna forests I knew as a child are all but gone. With no Wilderness Act to protect any part of South Africa from human invasion, even the National and Provincial Nature Reserves are more about commerce than wildlife.
As the South African currency, the Rand, contines to decline and with the “if it doesn’t pay it doesn’t stay” attitude the exploitation of natural resources will surely only get worse.
Lions, giraffe, zebra and most wildlife we associate with Africa is really only found in reserves and on game farms in South Africa today. Their habitat has been gobbled up by humans for farming, mining and living.
There are about 9,000 privately owned wildlife ranches, the South African National Parks board runs around 22 reserves (including the famous Kruger National Park), then there are the smaller provincial run reserves like Hluhluwe Umfolozi. The leopard is the only Big Cat still free roaming in South Africa. Anton’s leopard research is key to identifying just how many are actually left.
Keeping wildlife wild is a great concept, however in South Africa, few are truly wild any more. And those that are, like the vervet monkey and the baboons are persecuted and treated as vermin. Even leopards are shot by angry farmers. The human-wildlife conflict is something us urbanites may have a hard time getting our arms around. However, my friend Anne (in South Africa) says it is a much larger problem than we realize.
Returning animals to the wilds is often a misnomer. Lions for example are no longer wild in the true sense of the word, they live in the large reserves or specialized Big Cat sanctuaries. Silke and Karin both primate rehab experts struggle to find really wild places to release the monkeys they rescue and rehabilitate.
Game ranchers, although preserving wildlife, frequently create unbalanced ecosystems as they only include certain species, and most often no natural predators. So overgrazing and over populations could happen, but don’t, because most such ranches are created for trophy hunting. The hunting fees sustain the ranches. Thus these supposed reserves that we envision as safe places for the wildlife really aren’t, from a pure, “like nature intended” point of view.
What are the solutions? I’m no conservationist just an ordinary person who grew up in South Africa and loves wildlife and nature. I’m fully aware that people need room however this commercializing of wildlife saddens me greatly. It’s no different than warehousing chickens or pigs, than the huge stock yards for cattle, or at least that what it seems to be trending towards.
Once we as humans lose sight of and get used to seeing living creatures as mere commodities we’re all in trouble. Because once we allow for one species to be exploited it’s so much easier to keep going down that slippery path until we become cannibals so to speak and nothing including human life is sacred.