South Africa World Cup Nr. 5: Adventures in the Wild, Our Visit to Kruger National Park

It all began innocently enough. While on „safari“ in Kruger National Park, the other person in the car announces that he needs to go to the bathroom. It being strictly forbidden to exit your vehicle in the park, I drive to the nearest visitor center and park the car in the parking area. We both exit the car and walk the 20 meters to the entrance. We find it locked, and not a person anywhere in sight. We turn around to see at least two hyenas, one directly on the footpath between us and our car, and the other in the shrubs just off to the side.

We being city people whose idea of „wildlife“ consists of seeing a large dog and confusing it for a horse, we had no idea how aggressive this animal is or isnt, but didnt particularly want to find out by using our bodies as experimenting grounds. Plus, we knew from what we learned during our nighttime guided safari the night before that dusk is when animals are most active and search for food…and it was precisely this time of day and these things were taking a rather exaggerated interest in us.
Instinctively I proceeded to lifting and pushing my, much smaller, partner through the small opening in the fence to safety, and quickly attempted to get myself to safety the same way. This was an approximately 50 cm wide opening, located horizontally at about two meters height above the ground, formed by the space between the top of the metal fence, and the beginning of the cement roof.

After a few acrobatic moves which a person with an ankle injury such as mine can only perform under the influence of extremely high doses of adrenaline, it quickly became clear that I was simply too thick to pass throught the opening, regardless of how much I willed myself through. Words cant convey how much I was regretting every single bite of junk food Id consumed the last few years of my life as I thought that I was going to either die or be mauled by a wild animal because of it. Fortunately, I realized that not even my head fit through, so I wouldnt have fi tregardless of how skinny I was. I then proceeded to rule out entrance through the bathroom windows (extremely small) or climbing up to the roof (impossible).

At this point it became clear that I was faced with a clear fight or flight situation, only flight is a relatively stupid course of action when faced with an animal that can move at about four times your speed, so this sadly ruled out the „mad dash to car“ option. Being the city boy that I am, the most present reference to hyena behavior in my mind was their portrayal as cowardly opportunistic pack animals in „The Lion King.“ With that in mind, I proceeded to push my chest out and stare down the closest one in the most menacing fashion I could muster.

Sadly for me, the hyena didnt seem much impressed (although I must say that it at least didnt come nearer) and my confidence quickly sunk as I realized that being maimed by a wild animal because you are basing your decisions on distant memories of a cartoon movie is probably a pretty pathetic way to die.

This less drastic course of action having failed, I began to assess my combat options in a manner fit to a perfect reversal of roles. I was the cornered wild animal here. Having been stripped of all other options to extract myself from the situation, I prepared to defend my life in a desperate and quasi suicidal manner. I assumed that if worse comes to worse one of these will eventually take a lunge at me. Me being alone, I cornered myself so as to make sure any possible approaches were in my range of vision. Simultaneously, I took of my jacket and wrapped it thickly across my throat, as I figured that is where animals „go for the kill.“ I placed myself strategically between the end of the cement house and the beginning of the electric fence. The plan being to hope to get the hyena to touch the fence and be electrecuted. It would hurt us both, but it would certainly get it off me. And, should all this fail, I clutched my „weapon“ tightly in my hand. This consisted of the sharpest, hardest object in my pocket at the time….my car keys (again here, I have to admit…the inspiration for this was „The Never Ending Story,“ when th Kvork lunges at Atreyou!).

Sadly for the reader, but extremely fortunately for me, there is no dramatic climax to this story. I stood there bracing for the worst for seconds which seemed like hours, and then the hyenas turned and were out of my line of sight. What followed the next 20 to 30 minutes makes for less enthralling reading, but was for me no less terrifiying. Just because I could no longer see the hyenas, didnt mean that they were gone, and the bushes all around the path to the car meant that I couldnt dare try to reach it, since I didnt have a nearly wide enough range of vision to ensure that they werent still there.

Further complicating matters, the other occupant of the car had been sent to look for help through the enclosed area, and while I assumed that he was safe there, he had been gone for a long time and I was starting to get very worried about his fate. I couldnt bring myself to attempt to reach the car, for fear of him returning and not finding me. However, with the hyenas no longer directly in front of me, I at least had time to try to organize a „rescue.“ South African emergency number not working, I resorted to calling friends in Johannesburg, who called Kruger authorities, who then called me (as if it all wasnt „exciting“ enough…my cell phone was on empty and threatening to die the whole time). Unfortunately, they didnt really seem to grasp the urgency of my situation, and took a full half hour to arrive. They also werent particularly apologetic about the fact that an entrance to a visitors center was closed despite it being opening hours and that there wasnt a single sign warning people not to exit the car because of this.

After being „rescued,“ I set off looking for the other occupant of the car together with a park employee. We exited the area where I was parked, and quickly I found myself in an „Into the Wild“ like situation (great book, true story, main character dies of starvation in Alaska, not knowing he is not 1km from a highway). We turned the first corner, travelled not 100 meters, and were suddenly in a huge overnight camp at Kruger, with huts, tents, security, restaurant, and so forth. Finally, after 20 minutes of very anxious searching, we found my partner. He was still going around the camp in a panic, trying and failing because he cant speak English to drag somebody back to where he had left me.

All is well that ends well, and this little adventure meant that we were too late to exit the park, and had to spend the night inside. So tomorrow, a further day of „car safari“ awaits us, but you can be sure we wont be getting out the car until we reach Johannesburg again, not all jungles being equal, Ill take the familiar safety of the urban jungle any day.

PS Very next day, more comical than dangerous…monkeys stormed our car through the open windows, looting our supply of apples and fruit and sending us running from the car screaming like little children.

1 Antwort auf „South Africa World Cup Nr. 5: Adventures in the Wild, Our Visit to Kruger National Park“

  1. 1 Adventures in Metz: A Night with the Snakes « Fire and Flames Pingback am 05. Oktober 2010 um 12:00 Uhr
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