Taking the bull by the horns
More than 30 rhino have been slaughtered this year in the more remote regions of the Kruger National Park. Some of these areas are less frequented by not only patrols, but also by park visitors. This allows poachers more freedom and opportunities to ply their sinister trade with relatively low risk.
The Ingwelala Nature Reserve, a privately owned shareblock reserve, borders the national park. The reserve is a wild 3 200ha place, with more than 200 concession owners, and remote bungalows scattered about the reserve. The constant movement of the shareblock owners on the property has so far served as a deterrent for would-be poachers… any suspicious persons or activity is immediately reported and investigated. But now the Ingwelala residents are getting in on the act of helping to protect the animals of neighbouring Kruger.
They call it Project Sky Hawk, and the plan focuses on the acquisition of a R500 000 low-level aircraft for surveillance and pursuit, and to serve as a deterrent. But half-a-bar is not small change. And this is where long-time Ingwelala owner John Fuller came up with a cunning plan. A Mercedes-Benz Gelande-wagen fan, Fuller has competed in the Bridgestone 4×4 Club Challenge competition since 2007, and has also completed several of GPS guru Kevin Bolton’s navigation challenges. So he came up with a unique 4×4 competition format to help raise funds for Project Sky Hawk, with the inaugural Ingwelala Safari Challenge held in March.
“All the owners in the Ingwelala reserve own a 4×4 game viewer. Some are fancy new ones, and others are vintage machines that have never even see a tar road in their lives. But everyone’s got one, so we came up with some not-so-difficult 4×4 challenges, a GPS navigation element, as well as general bush and animal knowledge,” says Fuller. Since the safety features of average game viewers are on the bleak side, the fact they are more top-heavy than their road-going cousins and because it was supposed to be a family fun day and not a blood, sweat and gears-type affair, the 4×4 obstacles were more about fun than testing driving skills to the limit.
“In one, test teams had to reverse into a box. That may sound pretty easy, but remember that the driver can’t really see the back of a game viewer, especially not for precision-parking exercises. So the driver needed the assistance of other folk on the game viewer. It caused much shouting and in some situations, a lot of anxiety. But it was all good fun,” explains Fuller. Contestants also had to follow GPS directions to find certain points along the route. However, the biggest test of the day proved to be the general bush skills and knowledge category. The teams had to identify trees and animals along the route, and although one team scored full marks, a few other teams had a less successful time of it. One team scored a resounding one out of 16 in the “what tree?” test, providing several entertaining (incorrect) answers.
“We also had a best-dressed team category. We even had strapping young men competing in their briefs and aprons… I’m sure the ladies appreciated their efforts,” joked Fuller. There was plenty of animal action, too. Ingwelala is a wild place, and at one stage a team was caught up in a herd of irate elephant, with one particular ellie with a massive hole at the base of its trunk causing mayhem. John was talking to the team on the radio (all the teams were in radio contact), and apparently it sounded as if they had just been caught up in the zombie apocalypse. The shaken team later said that the growling, hissing trumpeting sounds the injured elephant made would have scared off even a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
“For me, the best part of the day was watching the teams have fun at the obstacles and tests, along with plenty of smiles and laughs. And as a bonus, we managed to raise plenty of funds towards that aircraft,” Fuller added.The first-ever Ingwelala Safari Challenge saw 22 game viewers compete. The next event will take place over the Easter break in 2017, and apparently the entry list is already bursting at the seams. Average Joes such as John Fuller and the 22 teams that competed in the first Safari Challenge are increasingly putting their money where their mouths are, and joining the fight against poaching.
Hearteningly, Fuller is not the only Ingwelala community member who is actively campaigning towards raising funds for Project Sky Hawk. John Llewellyn, the reserve’s enigmatic head ranger, recently competed in the Cape Town Cycle Tour (formerly The Cape Argus Cycle Tour) – and managed to raise around R100 000 from various sponsors.
“And that’s not all. The entry fee for our 4×4 event was R350 per vehicle, which went to the project. However, some owners paid the R350 even though they didn’t compete. One particular lady contributed an amazing R35 000,” says Fuller.
The reserve hopes to acquire the aircraft by mid-2017, when they’ll hopefully have raised the R500 000 needed to purchase the plane. “For me it is quite simple,” says Fuller. “I want my grandchildren and their children to one day see a rhino in the wild, and not in a book or on television. And the way it’s heading now, the rhino will be wiped out. The time for sitting on the sidelines and pointing fingers is done.
We have to act, and we have to act now.”