Thursday, June 13, 2013

On Safari

From humble, post-war beginnings in 1950, when Toyota launched the Jeep BJ (its own version of the successful Willys Jeep),
Jeep BJ by Toyota
through until the present day, the Land Cruiser (renamed in 1953) has been sold all around the world in ever-increasing numbers, and in developing nations has become almost ubiquitous.

The first Land Cruisers were exported to Africa in 1958, when eight 4x4 trucks were imported into Angola. Since then the Land Cruiser has become the “4x4 du jour” across the continent, 

and there is now a major local assembly plant in Kenya.

In the early 1960s Toyota sent a small Land Cruiser project team to Africa to study the market and advise HQ on important modifications to improve its suitability for a country with poor, or non-existent, roads. Together with other small teams in Australia and the USA, the Land Cruiser has evolved from utilitarian workhorse to an 'accessorised' family car in many homes.

But, back to Africa. Today, anyone planning a vacation at one of the many private game reserves, can expect to get close-up to the animals perched in the back of a Land Cruiser.

It was so for me, in April 2013, when I visited the Kariega Game Reserve, just north of Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.

The Author, at an Elephant afternoon tea

Kariega’s story is one of enterprise, love and respect for nature, and the determined resolve of two families (Rushmere and Fuller) to develop a prime model of a conservation-based game reserve. The re-introduction of a wide variety of animals native to the Eastern Cape, and successful regeneration of the land to pre-farming splendour has been going on since the first 660 hectares was purchased in 1989. Kariega now occupies 10,000 hectares and is home to Africa’s Big Five (Lion, Elephant, Giraffe, Zebra, Rhino).

We stayed at the rustic River Lodge, on the Kariega River, and with just ten accommodation places we joined small groups venturing out twice daily to catch the sights and get up close, and personal, with the animals.

I’ve selected just a small portfolio of photos from my ‘camera safari’ - but my memories are not limited by lack of space to share the results.

Lion Cubs waiting for a feed

"Look dear, this grass is yummy for white Rhinos"

Standing guard over the pride

Each day (6:30am and 4:30pm) we mounted the dark green Land Cruiser trucks to explore the reserve.


The roads are just tracks made by the trucks, and frequented by the animals, so the surface and condition is ‘variable’ - by that I mean, from relatively smooth, to deep ruts forcing us to slowly grind up and down steep hills in Low Range.
Animal Freeway!

The Land Cruisers handle the terrain easily, but the stiff spring rates ensured that our bums needed the padding of the seats! Somehow, that wasn’t what I would call comfortable. I’d say the padding was barely adequate, as we bounced around the reserve.

But, our ranger Zolani, skillfully navigated us across rolling plains and dense bush to find healthy and beautiful examples of the Big Five!

One day we parked just three metres from a big male Lion devouring the carcass of a Blessebuck!

Lion feast!

Post-lunch repose - It's Good to be The King!
Another day we stopped the Land Cruiser in the middle of a track as a family of elephants brushed past the truck, just millimetres from our jacket sleeves!
"Excuse us. Coming through."

Another day Zolani spent 30 minutes tracking a rare Black Rhino for us to photograph, 
Black Rhino

and later we sat, silently, waiting for a pair of hippos to raise themselves from the bottom of a bush pond.

"This is our pond. Right?"

It was a revelation to be able to sit safely in the company of such beautiful animals who are living in their natural surroundings, without fear of hunters. Sadly, not without fear from poachers, who manage to strike in even the most well-protected reserves.
Champagne at Sunset - Great way to end your day

One thing I should point out is that ‘professional hunting’ still goes on in Africa, and before animal rights activists rush to protest, it performs a useful service. The hunters pay a considerable amount of money to ‘remove’ old and ill beasts, and the money goes into improving conservation of the species’.

Mind you, I can’t fathom the personality of people who want to be led to a lonely bush location where they can kill a defenseless old lion! It takes all types!

Giraffe - at their most vulnerable

South Africa is a beautiful country, with many great assets, both natural, and man-managed. However, from my observation the post-apartheid period has seen the needle swing back as far to the other extreme as possible.

The economy is badly mis-managed, and the majority of the societies still suffer from tribal tensions and favouritism, lack of skills and job opportunities, as well as political populism. There are few skilled caucasian managers left, and many caucasian families, are leaving South Africa in droves, taking their skills, experience and expertise with them.

Despite the potential offered by some excellent universities, I believe it will continue to be the country’s biggest challenge; to properly educate (both academically and socially) the majority of its peoples, and to ensure the development of less opaque political management which can deliver stability and opportunity. If that doesn’t begin to happen soon, we will see an explosion of youth unemployment on a scale the world has never before witnessed.

However, let me tell you, all these serious matters pale into insignificance when you’re face to face with a roaring lion just metres from your Land Cruiser!

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