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Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

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Reading the Signs: A Lifetime of Achievement

Date: 2006-06-30


In the vastness of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, a story is being written in the wilds. The authors are the animals, the wind, the trees and the myriad of creatures that live in the park. Very few people can read this story and decode the meaning of the smallest, subtlest signs of the wild.One man who could was Karel Kleinmann, popularly known as "Oom Vet Piet"


In the vastness of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, a story is being written in the wilds. The authors are the animals, the wind, the trees and the myriad of creatures that live in the park. Very few people can read this story and decode the meaning of the smallest, subtlest signs of the wild.One man who could was Karel Kleinmann, popularly known as “Oom Vet Piet”.


Oom Vet Piet was honored with a Life Time Achievement Award at the Kudu Awards on the 29 June 2006. His widow collected the posthumous the award given to acknowledge Oom Vet Piet’s lifetime commitment to his people and his park.


The nickname Oom Vet Piet came from Karel’s love for loads of fatty meat when he was young. He was a descendant of the #Khomani San and born in what is today the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Oom Vet Piet valued the park and, in his own words explained his feelings: “this was the land I saw, with all my love and experience, as coming from my forefathers”. He realized that what was left of his ancestors and of his land is of vital importance and must never be lost.


Oom Vet Piet officially started working for SANParks in 1984 as a junior game ranger and retired in 2000 as a senior game ranger. This description however cannot begin to capture the contribution he made to the park. He is regarded as a legend and over the years had become known as the best tracker that Southern Africa has ever seen. He was awarded the master tracker title based on his amazing proficiency in reading animal spoors, vegetation and other environmental factors that came from his extraordinary knowledge of the land.


Even though Oom Vet Piet never went to school he was literate beyond imagination when it came to reading the wilds of the Kgalagadi and the language of the creatures that live there. He was also a great teacher and transferred his some of his skills to a new generation of trackers.


When the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park officials recognized that the #Khomani San youth were losing the skill of tracking, Oom Vet Piet was appointed by the park to work hand in hand with Louis Liebenberg to be the trainer and assessor of the new trackers. Watching Oom Vet Piet read spoor was absolutely fascinating. He did a holistic reading and analysis, telling you the time of day the spoor was made and decoding the marks made by the grass. He could tell you the wind direction as well as the state of the animal when it made the spoor; whether it was injured, tired or had been hurt. If there had been a kill he could even demonstrate how the animal had been killed, using his body to show you, and in the process identifying so strongly with the creature it was uncanny.  Oom Vet Piet’s analysis ranged from the miniscule to the most obvious; from a millipede spoor to that of the largest mammal in the park. 


As a result Oom Vet Piet assisted researchers studying animals, particularly lion. His skills supported those he trained. One such trainee assisted in the study of caracal behaviour when farmers were blaming caracals for the killing of their sheep. Other trackers used their skills when guiding tourists in the park. Oom Vet Piet was also the subject of a number of documentaries on tracking and brought about a lot of positive publicity for the park. He also brought about attention to the plight of the #Khomanani San people as an international figure.


He was instrumental in facilitating improved relations between the park and the #Khomanani San community. He also tracked with local #Khomanani San children through the park as part of the schools programme.  


He participated at the Durban World Protected Areas Congress in 2002, highlighting the importance of community conservation issues. Oom Vet Piet was also a senior elder member of the #Khomani San community who participated in the Community Property Association which won the #Khomani back 25 000 hectares of land within the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and 36 891 hectares outside the park.


He passed away on 27 March 2004. In the hearts of the San community he will always be remembered as a hero and he is honoured today as one of the SANParks greatest and most well known and loved employees.


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