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 Post subject: Biyamiti Bush Stories
Unread postPosted: Mon May 15, 2006 4:00 pm 
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Joined: Fri Jan 21, 2005 4:22 pm
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Location: Kruger Park
Shooting a Rhino

This topic has nothing to do with photography – it has everything to do with purposefully pulling the trigger of a high calibre rifle and the aim is to stop a rhino about to run all over your two year old boy! But let me not start the story backwards.

As in most companies there are certain perks that come with the job – like being able to get out into nature when you are working in the Kruger National Park. Staff get certain perks to go and enjoy the beauty of what they have around them. That does have to happen with the knowledge and blessings of your local game ranger of course.

So one day about two years ago, after we had some good rains in the area, the Biyamiti River was flowing for the first time the season. It was just a trickle of water, but it was water nevertheless. I asked my local game ranger’s permission to go and make a picnic in the riverbed close to Blinkwater windmill. He gave me his blessings with a warning that one should always be alert in the bush and should not take any chances – he was obviously concerned about our safety (and the possible stack of paperwork he would get to complete should there be any incident). I thanked him and, keeping his concern in mind, took my .458 calibre rifle with 10 rounds of ammunition and set off with my family to Blinkwater.

The picnic was well organised as one could not quickly go back home should anything be forgotten. Water (always important in the bush), cool drinks, snacks (my wife Elmarie can surprise one with some real treats) and some other important things were all packed - and of course the rifle.

The excitement ran high in the car. Tarina, about six at the time, was telling her brother about the beach that they were going to play on and Steve had his own idea of the sea. Anyway as we got to Blinkwater I did the necessary safety rounds making sure nothing was lurking in the bushes. All was clear and I settled back into the vehicle and gave everybody a decent speech again on what to do and what not. We walked down into the river bed and sorted out the picnic sight. The children were playing in the sand, Elmarie and I was sitting facing each other and from that point could scan the area behind each other’s back as well. We enjoyed a lovely time on the “beach”, drank cool drink and ate the snacks and just took pleasure in seeing the kids play in the sand.

Suddenly Elmarie, very nervously, sounded the alarm that there was a rhino on the river bank to my right and back. I immediately summed up the situation – we were in a reasonably safe area, away from his normal walking path, and the rhino should just continue further down the river bank to the midden a little distance off. He probably just had his fill of water at the windmill. I told Elmarie to take Steve and Tarina to take her shoes. If we needed to move I wanted to be prepared.

Image
Illustrated by Nico

It was just then that everything went wrong. Steve saw the rhino and with and exclamation of “noster” (and abbreviation of renoster - the Afrikaans for rhino) he set off running directly at the rhino. Elmarie was in close pursuit – but a two year old boy can be very quick on the sand. Tarina saw the race and just jumped in. I was barking orders at that stage and trying to keep my mind focussed on the rhino – surely he should turn and run with all the sudden commotion.

One thing I have learnt in the bush - never put an animal in a box and expects it to behave the way you think right. This rhino came straight down the river bank towards us. He was on a slight trod coming down the riverbank and Steve was on a full charge going at him. A number of things went through my mind, but the sense of helplessness is probably the one thing that I remember most. My corporal from the basic training in the air-force did not come close in comparison to me shouting commands at anybody and anything that would care to listen – especially the rhino. I must have spilled my full vocabulary on that rhino.

I then realised that I was shouting at the rhino over the barrel of a very big rifle. Instinctively I had gone through the motions of placing myself in a firing position, automatically I have chambered a round and automatically I have taken aim at the danger approaching – all the hours of thinking about the day and training for the moment had paid off. I was ready to shoot this rhino that was about to smash into my little boy. It was all happening in slow motion; I felt the pressure increasing on my finger as I was squeezing the trigger.

Elmarie caught up with Steve, Tarina caught up with the two of them and my finger was squeezing the trigger even more. I had to stop the rhino. I was still shouting at it though (probably more swearing by now) – holding on till the last minute. There was still space – he was not on a charge he was just trotting. Elmarie was busy retreating with the kids – I was squeezing the trigger. I felt my body jerking tremendously under the power of the rifle - Elmarie shouting “Are you OK?” I opened my eyes and saw the white ceiling of our bedroom. “What….?” It was a dream.

I never shot the rhino – it stopped at the last moment, turned and made its way up the bank again and off into the bush. It was as if the world was trembling, I was shaking, but my family and the rhino were fine.

All ended well on that day. The picnic was over sooner than planned and we as a family realised how special every minute together was - it did not matter whether it was spent at home, in the car or in the bush. :D

_________________
Stephen Nel
Manager: Hospitality Services
Berg & Dal Rest Camp: KNP


Last edited by Stephen on Tue May 16, 2006 10:57 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Bush Stories
Unread postPosted: Wed May 17, 2006 4:38 pm 
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Location: Kruger Park
:D
The day the Bridge broke (Chapter 1)

We were living at Crocodile Bridge Restcamp in the Kruger Park – Elmarie (my wife) and Tarina (my daughter about to turn two) and of course me. It was early February, summer in the Kruger National Park and supposedly to be very hot. It has been raining for the last two weeks – on and off, but more on than off. Everything was wet, everything was damp, and there was mould on the car’s seatbelts. I have never experienced something like this.

The low-water causeway across the Crocodile River, the route out of the Park, has been flooded for some time. My wife, working in Komatipoort outside the Park, and other staff members were making use of the old Train Bridge (dating back to 1896) to get to and from Komatipoort. The bridge was no longer in use by the railways (the last train passed over the bridge in 1973), and the walkways has been rusted severely, caution was needed when crossing.

On the morning of February 7th 2000 the water in the Crocodile River was about four meters up from the causeway. I walked my wife across the bridge and she was picked up by her colleagues from work. I returned to work, and also had my daughter to look after. She wass an angel (still is), so it did not present any problem.

The water kept on rising, and during the course of the morning word started coming through that all sorts of flooding was experienced in places. The Sabie River and Skukuza was particularly badly hit by the rising water. The water in the Crocodile also rose dramatically and by noon it reached a turning point and started to subside slightly. It came to within six meters of the camp fence. At that stage we were anticipating taking all the furniture and utensils out of the river facing huts. However due to a lack of storage space and the subsequent subsiding of the water we decided against it. I went back to the office and asked one of the Supervisors to keep and eye on the river.

I listened to the two-way radio in the office – telephones were long gone – and heard the ranger from Malelane. I asked him how things were progressing on his side. He enlightened me on the fact that the water was lapping over the high-level bridge at Malelane Gate. I asked him if he was joking. He just said: “Julle moet sterk staan” (You’ll have to stand strong).
:shock:

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Stephen Nel
Manager: Hospitality Services
Berg & Dal Rest Camp: KNP


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 Post subject: Bush Stories
Unread postPosted: Tue May 23, 2006 8:50 am 
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:D The day the Bridge broke (Chapter 2)

It was about the same time that our supervisor came running into the office – eyes wide :shock: – the water was in the camp. By then we had vacated the guests to units away from the river side and moved our staff out of their rooms close to the river into the camp. All that was left was to try and safe what we could from the front units. We managed to get all the tables, chairs and fridges out of the huts in a record time. By then the water was lapping on the first verandas. We could only stand and watch. In a period of 30 minutes the water level rose by at least three meters. It was mind boggling to see the waves in the river – easily 5 meters high. The train bridge – normally standing 19 meters above the water - was just about under water.

The rain was still coming down – we all stood there soaking wet looking at the spectacle unfolding in front of our eyes. There was nothing more that we could do, except watch and wait. While we were al running around taking care of the camp and guests, Tarina was looked after by the manager’s mother-in-law.

One of the guests came to me and asked when last I have spoken to my wife – who was on the other side of the river. “Well, I haven’t spoken with her since the morning” – I replied – no telephones working and we were between cell phones for one or other reason. She gave a cell phone and ordered me to phone who ever I needed to. It was so amazing to see that difficult times brought out the best in people 8) . I got hold of Elmarie and she asked me if it was ok for her to come home. Well, no, it was not – the train bridge was nearly submerged completely and in danger of collapsing at any moment. I was not about to take the chance of my wife walking across. Elmarie was stuck in Komatipoort with only one set of clothes, no toothbrush and no accommodation. Luckily one of the ladies working with her helped her with lodging and she could at least go and buy the necessary things at the shops. What worried her most was not being there to look after Tarina.

Next on our agenda was to save water :? – can you imagine? We had about 60,000 litres of water in the tanks and no way to refill it again. The pump room in the river bed has been submerged and all the electrics must have blown. By then the electricity supply was gone as well – the lines got washed away – we were running on a standby generator. What else could go wrong? A group of guests from Czechoslovakia were missing :shock: . They were camping at Croc Bridge and went for a drive the morning. They were not back in camp yet and it was getting dark. I went over to the office and heard on the radio that the guest we were looking for have been airlifted off the Lower Sabie – Skukuza tar road. They were going to spend the night in Skukuza. That was a relieve and at last the water in the river stabilised.

Suddenly we heard a very load grinding bang… At first we were not sure, then we started to eliminate what it could be – we ended up realising that the hundred year old train bridge across the Crocodile River must have met his fate. It was too dark to see properly and the real extend of the damage was only visible in the morning – but there was still a long unsure night ahead.

To be continued…

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Stephen Nel
Manager: Hospitality Services
Berg & Dal Rest Camp: KNP


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 Post subject: Bush Stories
Unread postPosted: Wed May 24, 2006 3:26 pm 
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:D The day the Bridge broke (Chapter 3)

With all the staff inside the Restcamp, all the guests away from the river side and the river starting to subside one could at least start to relax, or could one :? . Remembering the sudden wall of water that came back the afternoon made for an interesting evening ahead. Guests and staff alike were asked to work sparingly with the available clean water as we were unsure how long the water in the tanks needed to last us. Bathing the evening was rather precarious – a lot of splashing to get water all over the body. The river was checked on an hourly basis and it was not until about 02:00 that I was satisfied that the river was not going to come back. It was back were it belonged – in the riverbed - and would hopefully stay there. Tarina was fast asleep during the night and never even realised I left her alone every hour for 5 minutes to go and check the river.

Waking up the next morning at 05:00 was like waking up in a different world. The noise of the river and water rushing was quiet :o . The rain had stopped and the sun even peaked through the clouds from time to time. I took Tarina and my video camera and started my rounds to determine the scale of devastation. There was plenty of that. :shock:

The camp was amazingly well spared. The water made it onto the verandas of the river facing units. It did not damage the inside of the units at all. The camp fence was still standing, although covered in debris. The riverbed was a wide open landscape still full of water. The low level causeway was still well under water and no where to be seen. Our pump room was level with the ground – only the pumps still in place – none of the electrical boxes close to working order anymore. The first water reservoir was full of brown mucky water.

What was the most striking of all the damage around was the train bridge. Under the all the pressure of debris building up at the top, one of the giant sandstone pillars was pushed over taking with it two spans of the iron structure. Many tons in weight, the iron spans were washed down river 50 and 250 meters respectively – one got dumped on the opposite bank. A hundred years of water passed safely underneath this bridge. It took the flood of 7 February 2000 to change the appearance of the Crocodile River and the Crocodile River Train Bridge for ever. The river banks would recover, but the bridge was shattered on that day – The day the Bridge broke.

Some more information:

• Cyclone Eleen left a scar of flood damage across the northern section two weeks later.
• That left only the centre section of the Park in operation.
• Crocodile Bridge was supplied with water through a water tanker for a number of days - coming from Skukuza.
• Elmarie hitched a ride back home with a helicopter flying new power lines across the Crocodile River on 11 February 2000 8) .
• We spent Valentine’s Day and Tarina’s birthday together on 14 February 2000 8) 8) :D .
• To get Elmarie back to work we had to drive 210 km via Skukuza and Malelane to cover the 10 km between Crocodile Bridge and Komatipoort. (No helicopter this time :roll: ).
• I was asked to go and relieve at Mopani for two weeks and had to drive via Nelspruit and Phalaborwa to get to Mopani.
• After cyclone Eleen I returned to Crocodile Bridge via Punda Maria, Gyani, Tzaneen, Sabie, Nelspruit, Malelane and Skukuza as there were no direct routes between the North and the South of the Park inside the Park.
• The ranger at Croc Bridge organised a small boat with an outboard motor to get staff (and Elmarie) across the Crocodile River twice a week 8) .
• The low water causeway was temporary repaired and re-opened on 12 May 2000.

_________________
Stephen Nel
Manager: Hospitality Services
Berg & Dal Rest Camp: KNP


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 Post subject: Bush Stories
Unread postPosted: Fri May 26, 2006 3:04 pm 
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Location: Kruger Park
:D Panthera pardus (Leopard)

The leopard has been called a lot of interesting names – Prince of Predators - being one of them. It does however reflect that it stands second in line to the King of course. I am not always convinced.

The leopard has also been described at “pound for pound the strongest cat” and its power is awesome – especially considering the power to weight ratio which is phenomenal. In my opinion it is probably the ability to adapt, its true opportunistic behaviour and its excellent use of the landscape that makes the leopard one of the most dangerous animals in the wild.

I would like to relate three short incidents in which leopard came to earn my complete respect as a predator:

Friends of ours visited us at Crocodile Bridge a couple of years back. They went for a drive to Nkumbe lookout north of Lower Sabie the one day. Nkumbe being one of my favourite spots – a truly splendid setting. Tarina and their son Jacques (1½ and 3 years at the time) were sitting close to the couple underneath the thatch lapa at the lookout. They herd a car approaching slowly, but thought nothing of it. A gentleman then spoke from the car, telling them to sit very still as there was a leopard walking pass them just behind the lapa – a mere 3m away from where they were sitting :shock: . They just held onto the kids and the leopard continued on his way into the bush.

This just shows me that there is no prescribed way in which an animal will react when encountering humans. I am just very thankful that it did not have any interest in the children.

On another occasion I was out with two guests on an evening drive and stopped after dark at Gayisenga Waterhole. On the way in we scanned the area well and could not see any danger. We got out of the vehicle to stretch legs and stood between the vehicle and the cliff – a reasonable safe place. Tarina was with us and stayed in the vehicle on the passenger side right next to me. We discussed a number of issues and listened to the night sounds for a while. I helped the couple back into the vehicle walked around the front and got in at the driver’s side. As I switched on the lights, Tarina saw this leopard first - crouched down a little more than 5 meters away. Close enough to have grabbed me in one jump :shock: . I can probably consider me fortunate to be sitting here today.

Beginning of this year we were out on an evening drive on the 18k’s. As we came over a rise the Lukimbi Safari Lodge’s Landrover was standing skew in the road and the tracker guides us with his spotlight direction into the bush. It was dark already. We could not see anything and on driving closer we found a leopard next to the road about 50m from the Landrover. I stopped there for a while and then flicked my lights at the Landrover in order for them to join us. As they shone onto the front wheel we could see that it was flat. I drove closer to lend a hand ad the guide asked me to just keep an eye on the leopard. We reversed back to the leopard and I switched off.

As the guide and tracker got out of their vehicle the leopard immediately reacted. It got up and crouching down started its stalking making well use of the bushes :shock: . I shouted at the guides that the leopard was moving, started up and kept up with the leopard in order to cut it off should it make a dash for them. It came to within 20m fro the Landrover where the bushes ended. It would probably have to make a charge from there – or get detected by the “prey” should it keep on stalking. Fortunately the guys were finished and back into the Landrover. They must have practised that very well.

These were just some of the more fortunate encounters that I have had with leopard – unfortunately there have been other members of staff and family of staff that have been less fortunate losing their lives to this ultimate, powerful stalking machine.

_________________
Stephen Nel
Manager: Hospitality Services
Berg & Dal Rest Camp: KNP


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 Post subject: Hop-Along
Unread postPosted: Fri Jul 07, 2006 8:20 pm 
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:D The Story of Hop-Along (Not for sensitive readers)

When my mother told me I should behave I had my own way of doing things; I just had to push my luck till, eventually it ran out. I was told to leave all the security I ever new: No more luxury of just following the adults around to all the nice grazes and water places, no more luxury of having a family around for company or security. But then, who cared. I was a teenager and free to go and explore the world. I had time on my hands and I could do with it what ever I wanted.

I roamed around at will and met other groups, but no one really cared to take me in. I met interesting wanderers; lazy guys and I met giants. One such giant was Duke. He really is an impressive guy: Larger than life and so much to tell. He taught me the finer techniques of mastering a Duke-ship, and I thought he was just great.

One day in the summer season; after we had some very good rains and the veld was exceptionally green I met this guy in the Lwakahle territory. He was angry at the world; just as I once was. We were both just looking for new area to explore, but he did not like me being there. He started to push me around, and wow he was strong. He had good long tusks pointing to the ground. I was not really looking for this fight, but not going to be pushed around for nothing either. However, I misjudged myself slightly and on a muddy slope slipped. I was down on the ground when he pushed his tusk in my left front leg, breaking bone as he did. As he left I realised the severity of my predicament. I knew life was never going to be the same again.

From what my mother taught me (oh where was she now), I new I had to get to a place with water and food as security. There I would have a chance on survival; not out in no-man’s land. I started my slow journey north looking for the Biyamiti. It was very painful walking; most of my weight was on the front of my body and hopping on one leg dragging the injured one with was putting severe stress on my whole body.

My mother told me never to give up and step by painful step I made my way north. I had to get to the Biyamiti, to the security of water and food. I could feel my body giving its all to keep on going. With every day passing I could feel the infection creeping up in my leg.

Image

After what felt like and eternity I came over a rise one morning and could see the green snake of the Biyamiti down in the valley. I kept on hopping down into the valley, crossed a road for the humans and made it safely to water and green food. At last I could relish in the coolness of the sparkling clean water. My body was aching with fever; my front leg was swollen into my shoulder the stench of the rotten wound bringing hordes of biting and sucking flies.

So far I have been lucky; I had very little predators making a nuisance of themselves. On my fist day in the Biyamiti though there were some humans sounding too close. Most of them stayed up on a small hill with their noisy vehicles, but two came wandering down the rise; one with a long stick and one with a shiny branch. I was determined not to show my weak side to them and kept on turning away to keep an eye on them. The smallest of the two kept on pushing to get to my bad side; the taller one standing back just looking on. At last I had to give up and let him see my vulnerability. I could feel that I was defeated; all the time spent trying to get to security had led me straight into the humans’ den. I could not run; they had to do what they wanted. Then they left again.

I spent the night there in the riverbed, trying to cool my aching body with the fresh water of the Biyamiti. I grazed on the green reeds to try and rebuild my strength. Somehow I new it was in vain. I could feel my power draining through this terrible gash in my lower front leg and I knew the humans would come back…

And indeed we did. The next day I managed to get the two rangers from the adjacent sections to come and have a look at Hop-Along. This prime elephant bull, probably about 25 years old, was in a dilemma leading straight down the path of suffering. His condition was severely compromised due to the difficulty with which he had to move. His whole front leg, from the lowest joint, right up into the shoulder was infected and swollen to almost twice the normal size. The gashing wound was oozing rotten and a disaster in the making. This poor animal was in agony and was using all his strength to just survive from day to day.

After a short deliberation it was decided to put Hop-Along down. It would be the humane thing to do. Rifles were put to the shoulder and so ended the life of an African giant in the deafening thump of a single shot.

On inspection of the broken leg one only realised the pain this animal had to bear. The bone at the lower joint of the leg was completely shattered and jagged pieces now protruded from the wound.

Image

Back at camp I downloaded the pictures of Hop-Along and was wondering how soon the hyenas and vulture would finish him up. I knew that the happening of the last two days would stay with me long after the scavengers had finished the body off.

And that was the story of Hop-Along who is now just a memory in my mind and a picture on my pc.
:cry:

_________________
Stephen Nel
Manager: Hospitality Services
Berg & Dal Rest Camp: KNP


Last edited by Stephen on Fri Jul 28, 2006 11:15 am, edited 1 time in total.

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