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Newsletter 18

Caught on Safari: Live!

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 in futility. 

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 intelligence. 

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, creative species. 

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 landscape. 

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 efficient. 

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, not outside.

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 future. 

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 this.

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.


Tread lightly on the Earth

Copyright 2007 @jvbigcats  All rights reserved


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