After our first day at Olifants I’m left with the overall impression that we’re in a war zone.
We saw two rhino carcasses and our guide, Aaron, reckons that this is only the tip of the iceberg. I can pick up from his body language that he us very concerned, always scanning the horizon for the sign of threats that he cannot read in the sand.
We found a dead hippo that also had a gun wound. Aaron reckons that she was mistaken for a rhino as the poachers usually hunt at night.
There are a lot of ‘no-go’ areas on this trail with known poacher activity in the area. The Kruger rangers do not tell the trail rangers about the location of the carcasses, they wait for the trail rangers to report it to them. Everyone is a suspect. The hippo carcass was chopped and sliced to pieces – Aaron reckons the Kruger rangers were after the ammo that killed it, an important clue to find out what they were up against.
This cloak and dagger game between trail rangers, Kruger rangers and poachers seems trivial, but trust me, they are deadly serious. Hopefully now that a couple of kingpins have been removed the demand cycle for rhino horns will stop. I am gravely concerned and I hope that the rangers win this dangerous battle, we should all support them in their war against these heinous death mongerers.
We came across a white bellied sand snake (skaapsteker) in a log and found out how to distinguish an Elephant bull and cow’s dung – look out for the urine mark’s distance from the dung.
We also saw the weirdest spoor, more like shallow holes in the sand like someone bounced along with a pogo stick. It turned out to be small birds fanning their wings in the sand. They do thus to get rid if excess oil on their feathers.
On the evening walk we trundled and stumbled our way with a cooler box to a beautiful lookout point over the river and took some photos of an amazing sunset.
And, as always, our cook Thomas delighted us with a fantastic lamb stew when we arrived back at camp.
One thing I have to mention; I forgot Deidre’s (my wife's) ‘Vanity case’ at the camp and now we’re stuck without toothbrushes or shampoo. She wasn’t very happy, luckily we have six wonderful friends who borrowed us everything we need. Aaron even got us some Magic Gwarrie twigs to brush our teeth with.
Last night two people in our party decided to indulge in the amber liquid and weren’t looking too fresh when we started the hike. On the hike Aaron and Robert kept pointing to their eyes and saying that these two guys were suffering (their eyes were red). They clucked around them like broody hens and kept feeding them water. Quite funny!
The following morning me made our way to the confluence of the Olifant and Letaba rivers. The gorge was beautiful and we saw a lot of animals in the riverine areas. It was a short hike but quite demanding as there were a couple of climbs. We then made our way back to the ranging vehicle through the Lebombo Leadwood forest. It was a very narrow path and I would hate meeting an Ellie on the road!
True to form Deidre managed to take out a member from our party. She gracefully descended a sandy donga but couldn’t find her brakes. Unfortunately the smallest member of our party, Janine, was in her way and they both ended up on their backsides in the sand. If only our Springbok wings could execute a tackle like that!
Luckily no-one was hurt. I had a laughing fit that wouldn’t stop for the next hour, we even caught most of the action on camera. Check out the trail gallery once we upload everyone’s photos.
In summary it was a fantastic hike with a knowledgeable ranger, lots of spoor and dung, skittish animals and signs of a lot of poacher activity. The camp site was amazingly beautiful with vistas over the Olifant’s river and probably the best cook on all the trails. Let’s hold thumbs that the Kruger manages to stamp out the poaching activity.
Quite a wonderful and memorable couple of days!
[Mod Edit - link changed as it was causing a Virus alert]
Photos at www .africaskyblue.com/gallery/photo-gallery/olifants-trail-august-2011/