I have had the misfortune
to have been in a litigation which has dragged on for 5 years.
In the sterile environment of the court room, detached from the
natural world, I try to make sense of thousands of documents and
the dubious motives of the case (enough paper to fill a medium
size bedroom has been generated in this case).
My senses are dull, my
decision making slow, but I come to the conclusion that like the
war in Iraq, it's a waste of precious resources and an exercise
From the court room, I
travel to the Kruger Park to the Singita concession. Here I am
surrounded by brothers and sisters, fellow animals what Ian
McCallum calls "mirrors of the soul". My senses sharpen, my dull
brain clears, I move from existing to living, I have come home.
I have been chosen to
present a live game drive which, from the African bush, will
beam across the world in seven languages to 166 countries.
It is the brain child of
Peter Lamberti, boldly embraced by Geoff Daniels and Sydney
Suissa of National Geographic. It is an honour to be part of
this bold and visionary project.
The first thing I discover,
is that scientific research, wildlife management and survival
techniques, have all been brought into the game drive. It's a
game drive with a difference and we will be live for 28 hours
over a period of 7 days.
The second thing is that
Singita Kruger National Park, is at the end of a severe drought.
The bush is not even brown, it is grey. Many of the animals are
fighting for their lives. Some of the herd structures are broken
as animals with glazed eyes wander aimlessly, searching for
food. Pregnant females fall, too weak to continue.
The scene is hardly
conducive to good television. Safari Live is designed to show
people the beauty of the natural world, contrasted with the war
and destruction seen on the news channels.
As the impala wander
aimlessly, starvation staring them in the face, I want to say to
them, follow the elephant bulls and get the leaves as he pushes
the acacia trees down. A kudu bull stands listlessly, waiting to
die. I try to communicate to him, use your long horns to pull
down the leaves above you. Dig deep, use your instinctive
Impala desperate for water,
go into the mud and get stuck. Shall I help them, I think to
myself, but wait there is another species waiting to help, its
help of a different kind. A lioness and her two cubs pull the
impala from the mud.
For the predators, the
drought time is a time of plenty, the hard times will come as
the cycle turns.
I think to myself, I'm glad
I'm not trapped in the drought, or am I?
I share this
overheating planet with over 6 billion rapidly-expanding human
beings, could I too, or my children, become the impala
struggling in the mud?
Back at the base of Safari
Live, huge discs and aerials capable of bouncing off the
satellites, are silhouetted against the skyline. Some of South
Africa's finest technological brains assemble to attempt
something never tried before. We are truly an ambitious,
The animals are desperate
for rain, the last thing Safari Live wants is rain now, it will
play havoc with the sophisticated equipment. Mother Nature is
seemingly indifferent to both Safari Live and the animals. She
will rain when she wants to rain.
Soon the unpredictability
of "Mother Nature" is revealed. As Safari Lives' Global Brain
ventures out, the heavens open and rain pours onto the
All I can find in the
pouring rain, is a dead giraffe carcass.
Our internal communication
has failed and a guy standing on a hill with his "pay as you go"
cell phone, is all the communication we have with the control
tower. I think to myself, can this be real, millions of dollars
worth of equipment beaming out to millions of people around the
world and its all hanging on a 2nd hand cell phone.
But fortune favors the
brave and the scientist working nearby calls in to say he has
caught a leopard in his trap. Game drives don't really go to
scientific projects, but under the circumstances, this was too
good an opportunity to miss.
It is an old male leopard.
His teeth are worn, some of his claws are broken. Around his
neck is an old scar from a wire snare he had picked up in
Mozambique outside the Kruger National Park.
As I and millions if people
around the world gazed at the warrior leopard, I wondered
whether in the name of science we had the right to catch an
immobilize such a magnificent wild creature. If we could
communicate with him, he would simply tell us where he goes and
what he does. But he can't tell us.
Now, with a telemetry
collar around his neck, scientists can track his movements, see
what he catches, what terrain he prefers. In fact, in the near
future, using a simple code, you at home anywhere in the world,
can dial onto your phone or go to the internet and find out
where the male leopard is. Our global brain indeed becoming more
As Safari Live continues,
people from around the world are all entering into the fray.
We want to see monkeys,
where are the warthogs, show us giraffes. JV's too dramatic,
fire him, no the ratings are going up, rehire him, we want him
live, where is he, he's lost, find him, he's back live in less
than an hour.
It seems passion and drama
can get confused. Chaos and more chaos, but the show rolls on.
Fortunately a tracker,
Sipho Siboya, I had worked with before, had been assigned to me.
I told him "Sipho, go out and don't come back until you have the
lions." Sipho was magnificent, in 7 days he produced no less
than 60 lions. The Singita concession is famous for its mega
prides and millions around the world were able to see prides of
20 lion strong. On one memorable occasion, a big male lion,
beautifully backlit, roaring to millions across the world.
Incredible! The global
brain was becoming inspiring
We were on a roll with
Safari Live and then mother nature reminded us once more who was
in charge. A huge storm turned roads into quagmires, the
concession was closed. How do we continue? Walking safaris,
closed jeeps, helicopters were all considered.
Then nature smiled on us
one more time. Between storms, she sent hot sun to dry the
roads, once again Safari Live was back in business.
There were several
highlights for me that stood out in the Safari Live experience.
When Nelson Mandela came
out of jail, he came to Londolozi with Thabo Mbeki and the late
Enos Mabuza. At that meeting my brother and I suggested they
should privatize parts of the Kruger National Park. To see
Singita, which is private, working hand in hand with Kruger
National Park, which is government, on tourism, management and
research, was indeed a dream come true and a tribute to all
three great leaders who were with us that day.
Many years ago, I gave a
paper at a conference called "Parks and Neighbours". My paper
revolved around if parks are to survive, they must partnership
with the surrounding rural communities. At that time, the Kruger
Park regarded their responsibilities as inside the Kruger Park,
As I drove through the
rural areas on the eastern border of Kruger, there are many
signs indicating that the National Parks are sponsoring
schools and clinics in the rural areas. I congratulate the
National Parks on this new approach to conservation. It is
visionary and will greatly benefit people and wild animals in
The leopard that was darted
on Safari Live, regularly goes into Mozambique, no passport
required. The Transfrontier Park stretching across South Africa,
Mozambique and Zimbabwe, is perhaps the greatest conservation
done on this planet in the last decade. It stands as a legacy to
the late Dr Anton Rupert.
Finally, to see the Safari
Live team pull together, when at times things looked hopeless,
reminds us that human beings can be truly creative when pressure
is on them. We are an enigmatic primate, creative
and destructive at the same time.
Perhaps we still do not
fully realize that despite all our technology, our destiny is
tied to the forces of nature.
During Safari Live, on the
back of my jacket were the words:
"The World is Waiting
For a New Direction
One Based on the Laws of Nature," I firmly believe
There was endless
discussion on where Safari Live should go next. I hope that in
the future, it can be used as a powerful tool to investigate
environmental issues. Perhaps to the Arctic to investigate the
melting ice bergs and the plight of the polar bears, or to Asia
to see how the tiger has dropped from 5000 in the wilds to maybe
1000 in just 6 years.
Safari Live has the
potential to reinforce the global brain to show people across
the world, that for every action we do, there is cause and
effect and we all inhabit one planet and our children's future
is tied to our ability to re-partnership with nature.
I would like to thank Peter
Lamberti for having the vision for Safari Live and for sticking
with me. To Sydney Suissa and Geoff Daniels from National
Geographic to having the courage for taking the risk. To Luke
Bailes, the owner of Singita for trusting in me. To Matthew
Harding and Steve Faulconbridge and all the staff of Singita,
for making us feel so welcome and sharing their knowledge with
us. To Nekedie for inviting us into his leopard project. To Andy
Coetzee and Michaela Strachan, my co-presenters. To the A-Team,
Tim Chevallier, our director, Riaan Venter cameraman, Hanru
Reyneke, camera assistant and Sipho Siboya who worked so hard
under difficult circumstances.
To all my comrades in arms
on Safari Live, I thank you all, until the next time.
Tread lightly on the Earth.