Objective Duke: Of Elephants and Epic Journeys…

For updates on the "Duke Pack Sightings", read the sms report here.

History is full of stories about epic journeys, literal and metaphoric. Think Marco Polo, think Tenzing Norgay and Sir Ed, think Nelson Mandela. And there are a fair number of epic elephants around too-think Dumbo, Ganesh…the Magnificent 7.There are even stories about epic journeys that involve elephants.

Well Hannibal better watch out, because six SANParks forum members (self titled “the musketeers, ‘the board’ or the crazy bunch of eggwhites) plan to give old Hannibal and his elephants a run for his money. They are embarking on a legendary journey of their own in search of a legendary elephant. Ladies and gentleman, I present: Objective Duke. Six men. Two million square kilometers. 1 elephant…and roughly 48 hours to find him.

“Objective Duke is a SANParks forum initiative that began as a humble idea for a weekend away. “Our idea for a boy’s roadtrip became an idea to head off to Kruger in search of Duke, which became an idea to raise funds for SANParks, which became an idea to give those funds to the CyberTracker programme, because if we had CyberTracker equipment we wouldn’t have had to search for Duke in the first place…if that makes sense”, explains Wild@Heart, one of the six involved.

It makes perfect sense, in a “musketeer” way, and the donations have been “rolling in at a rate of knots”, explains Wildtuinman another of the six. The fundraising has been conducted by way of a ‘betting forum’. The primary betting is on whether they will or will not see Duke. At this stage, the skeptics have pledged the most money. But whether or not the group sees Duke, they will have raised almost enough for a new CyberTracker Unit, each of which costs around R5 700-00.

A number of alternative bets have evolved from the original and the “alternative objectives” set out for the group by the forum members. One forumite has ‘bet’ R200-00 if they all remember their tent. Another has ‘bet’ R200-00 if they spot a leopard in a tree and bring back photographic evidence. More money has been pledged for a photo of a member of the team posing in a yellow G-String…the things these boys will do for SANParks.

“We’re pretty chuffed that this little project is getting the programme noticed and highlighting the fundraising that needs to be done to replace aging equipment”, adds Wild@Heart. He’s referring to the CyberTracker equipment, not the aging men in g-strings!

On a more serious note, this forum community has always dug deep in their pockets. The members are truly of one mind when it comes to trying to help not just the parks, but conservation in general. They have supported various fundraising projects, from buying bricks for my acre of Africa, to getting binoculars to Frank in Pafuri, to donating towards new webcams. “I think whatever project we would have chosen, the Forumites would have supported us 110%”, adds Bucky.

The six all originally ‘met’ online, and this will be the first time they’ve all been together in the ‘real’ Kruger National Park as opposed to the ‘virtual’ world of the forums.

All six work in IT and while the details are hazy, “we all share an addiction to the forums, a deep love of Kruger and a liking for beer”, explains Wildtuinman

“Do not believe anything Wildtuinman is saying…” adds Wild@Heart. “That guy…I had to join the forums to help him out”

Wildtuinman ignores him and continues, “Loams, we don’t know where he came from, he crawled out of the woodwork at a ‘board’ meeting, Jacov kept popping up, Wild@Heart kidnapped Matthew, and Bucky pitched up at a birthday party somewhere…”

“Hey”, Loams interrupts, “I was looking for accommodation in the park and planning to propose, and I got side-tracked by the forums and started lurking…no wood work or crawling involved anywhere…”

“See, he’s a lurker, we told you” says Wild@Heart laughing

“I should have listened to my heart when I was younger” Loams jokes, “and got into conservation…instead I get to hang out with you lot!”

Joking aside, in preparation for their journey, maps have been drawn, pictures perused, sightings data analyzed, google spreadsheets employed, and beers drunk. These guys don’t mess around. They have a virtual ‘ops’ room and are even printing T-shirts for Objective: Duke.

Duke is probably the biggest tusker in the world at the moment although he wasn't part of the original "Magnificent Seven". He was discovered as part of the KNP's Emerging Tuskers project. None of the original "Magnificent Seven" are alive anymore.

Says Jacov, “I missed seeing the Magnificent Seven. And everytime I see a picture of Mafunyane, or Shawu, I think to myself, I have the opportunity now to see probably the greatest elephant in the world. Will I waste it and one day sit and look at photographs of Duke, wishing that I could have seen him in real life, or will I sit and look at a photo of Duke, and remember the day I took that photo?”

Raymond Travers, Media Relations Practitioner for Kruger knows this group and has some advice for the guys “Note - Duke is in the SOUTH of the KNP! His home range centres on the waterhole called "Duke" (named after a waterhole and memorial on the S137 between Lower Sabie and Croc Bridge) That's to the South of Lower Sabie...you getting that? "

Duke or no Duke, all are agreed that no trip to Kruger is ever a disappointment. “At the end of the day, it’s about being at the right place at the right time”, concludes Loams.

Betting’ remains open until the guys are in the Kruger on Friday the 6 October. All money is channeled officially through the SANParks donor programme. We await the outcome of this adventure with bated breathe!

Forum names used. For more information on this project, contact webmaster@sanparks.org