On our last vacation to Kruger National Park, we were fortunate to see several rhinos. While we’re far from experienced game viewers, we learned pretty quickly to watch the path of a grazing animal and look for areas around us (some game paths are not as obvious as others) where it looked like it might be heading to cross the road. Kurt was particularly adept at this, spotting a rhino or an elephant across a long field and telling me where to stop so we would be able to watch it cross the road while staying at a safe distance.
In one instance, I was driving along and it was I who first noticed two rhinos in the distance. We watched for a bit as they ambled along, and when it appeared they were moving in the direction of the road, I scanned in front and behind us for the game path, but didn’t see it. It meandered along the adjacent field, and then disappeared into the brush of the hillside.
Then I realized it was directly underneath us.
We had plenty of time as they were still far off, so I backed up several car lengths behind the area where the path crossed the road, to give a safe, non-threatening distance in front of us to watch them cross.
But as anybody who has traveled to the parks here knows, tourists can get pushy and almost crazy when it comes to game viewing. Sure enough after I had backed up, another car came alongside me, saw what we were looking at, and instead of realizing or assuming that I had already parked a sensible distance, they pulled forward and parked directly in front of me, blocking my view.
I cursed them under my breath for their terrible etiquette, but I was even more concerned about what their placement might mean to the rhinos who clearly meant to cross just in front of them. I muttered, shifting the car into reverse, knowing they would inevitably need to back up to where I was currently sitting, where I had so carefully left enough room for the rhinos and the view. But as I checked the rear-view mirror, I saw I was now blocked in by a number of cars who were parked to watch the crossing (and this, folks, is another reason why you leave all that distance and don’t stop too close. You might find you’re trapped too close once all the traffic piles up behind you!)
As the rhinos got closer, the rude (or perhaps just clueless) occupants of the other car finally realized they would be far too close to the path. I saw their reverse lights come on. They backed up until they were in front of me but realized they were still too close (uh, yeah, that’s why I was as far back as I was!), and since they could not back up any farther, or even angle backwards out into the middle of the road (other vehicles were now parked in the middle of the road next to me) they had to move forward. After a brief pause behind a safari vehicle on the opposite side, they decided just to continue on. Greed had cost them an opportunity for a viewing spot.
Thankfully, they at least acted intelligently when they realized they were too close, and got out of the way. There have been a number of incidents in The Kruger that have made the news, where tourists have acted foolishly, driving too close to elephants or rhino, and even lion. In one recent case, an elephant felt challenged by an unyielding car, and had to be put down.
This is an age of mega-zoom cameras. Even iphones have the capability to take good photos from a safe viewing distance. Here is one of the iphone photos I took. It is in zoom and it is clear. There’s just no reason to get so close.
There have been a lot of interesting discussions about the problems with tourists in the park, and I have to say I agree with a lot of the complaints of News 24 readers and others—that places like Kruger should implement a pre-entry safety orientation. Gee, I can’t walk onto any major construction site without first watching a safety video and getting a lecture on the possibility of something dropping on my toes, and I can enter a major wildlife park with only some writing on a slip of paper?
While we received literature that talked about safe viewing practices, nobody verbally told us what to do if we encountered a bull elephant (we encountered many) or how many car lengths to stay back from animals crossing the road. And until you’ve seen the videos of what happens in these encounters, you may not realize the gravity of the actions (or inactions) you take on your vacation.
There are enough videos circulating on the internet to create a proper montage that could be mandatory viewing for every tourist entering the park. If teenagers learning to drive can sit through footage of road deaths from improper driving, I think tourists entering a wildlife zone can sit through footage of similar life-and-death blunders. And this footage should be available with multiple language subtitles.
Here is a video of a potential Darwin-award nominee attempting to get rid of their children:
I remember seeing one comment after the latest elephant incident, suggesting that park officials place one of the flattened and crumpled cars at each entrance as well. I think that’s a brilliant idea. The first rule of park visitation should be respect and even a little healthy fear. Convenience to tourists should be a lower priority.
Here’s the video of the elephant encounter with the British tourists. To repeat: this elephant had to be put down after this encounter.
The one suggestion I saw from readers which I hope never gets implemented is the removal of self-driving in the parks. I would hate to see all the sensible visitors lose the opportunity to safely navigate Kruger wildlife because of the terrible blunders of the minority.
Hope you’ve enjoyed the photos of these gorgeous animals. I have a membership in a wonderful organization dedicated to protecting rhinos from poachers and welcome you to join me:
Click here to donate: SANWILD RHINO SANCTUARY
Click here to Like them on Facebook: SANWILD RHINO SANCTUARY
P.S. Do you know the plural of rhinoceros?