Pixel Tracker

Sunday, December 16 , 2018, 6:02 pm | Fair 58º


Anabel Ford: On Safari in South Africa

[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery.]

Everyone knows that a South African adventure must include a safari. While our main focus in South Africa was with our archaeological colleagues in Cape Town and Johannesburg, we managed to squeeze in visits to two important conservation parks of the nation: Addo and Kruger.

Situated in completely different environmental settings, yet confronting the same challenges of land degradation and ecological threats, both are providing space for the amazing animals that once characterized the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa.

With all the hunting of pre-Colonial times, nothing compares with the resource depletion that came with the expansion of European settlements. In Addo, only 100 years ago there were active enterprises aimed at exterminating the elephant! In some areas, the efforts were so effective that there are none today. Trophy hunters had reduced the largest animals to near extinction.

Called “the Big 5” as they were the most difficult to hunt, these include the elephant, rhinoceros, cape buffalo, lion and leopard. And even with the 21st century’s recognition of the vital importance of biodiversity, the dangers for these animals are ever present.

The precious tusks of elephants are still in demand for ivory carving, and the rhinos in particular have become the target of unscrupulous poachers looking for their magnificent horn. These horns, made of nothing more than the material of our fingernails, is powdered to sell as a cure for cancer and a powerful aphrodisiac. Today, both white and black rhinoceros have been pushed to the edge of extinction.

With the evident poverty and unemployment in the nation, professionals in the illegal trade find desperate souls who, for a small price, will risk their lives in finding the rhino. Paid in the order of thousands, the procured rhino horn will fetch the illegal trader millions. Now, at some game reserves around Kruger, horns are cut off to protect the animal. The horn regrows and in some five years will be cut again. What are the choices?

Both Addo and Kruger were once used as pastures, with sheep and goats in Addo and cattle in Kruger. Both reserves have suffered from overgrazing, and the impact is marked across the land with entrenched gullies, the absence of topsoil and a lack of land cover.

Much effort in the Addo area is under way to address restoration with the planting of the native spekboom (Portulacaria afra), a succulent we might recognize in our gardens. Hillsides recently denuded have been replanted with spekboom, re-establishing the native thicket that the animals, and in particular the elephant, thrive on.

We were able to visit a nonprofit group called Living Lands that is involved in the conservation and development of the Baviankloof wilderness area west of Addo. They have developed learning programs with local farmers who are now investing in ecological restoration and conservation, particularly with spekboom, and encouraging the growth of other native plant species.

What animals have we been able to see? Lots. Of the 78 African ruminants, we have seen the largest — the giraffe — and some of the smallest — the duiker and steenbok. We have seen eland moving in herds; they are the largest antelope in the region and were particularly important to the indigenous San who depicted them generously in their rock art. We saw the beautiful springbok, which lends its name to the national rugby team of South Africa. Wildebeest are also abundant; the odd-looking antelopes leap around whisking their tails playfully. Also abundant were the ugly warthogs. Zebras were also visible in small and large groups, and we learned that the females were black with white stripes and the males white with black stripes!

These wonderful outdoor experiences all come with a moment of reflection. After an afternoon of driving, rocking and rolling, hanging on, looking across the vast expansive landscapes, we arrive at a quiet moment watching the sunset with a glass of wine. Maybe we’d see the elephants in the distance or the crocodile swimming in a pond; it might be a herd of waterbok, a flock of helmeted guinea fowl crossing in the forground, and we might hear the distant roar of a lion staking his claim.

Whatever the surroundings, we could sit and reflect on the memories of the day. Later, as the stars of the night sky illuminate unusual constellations where Alpha and Beta Centurion glow below the reclining Southern Cross, we can feel the remarkable quality of the nature that is at the heart of the culture of Africa.

Anabel Ford Ph.D. is the director of UC Santa Barbara’s MesoAmerican Research Center and president of Exploring Solutions Past. Ford, UCSB’s resident expert on Maya archaeology, discovered the ancient Maya city-center El Pilar, which bridges Belize and Guatemala. By decoding the ancient landscape around El Pilar, she is creating a sustainable model in conservation and agriculture that can regenerate the threatened Maya forest. With investment and support, her model can assist environmental efforts worldwide. Click here for more information on El Pilar. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.