“In the early 1800’s the British came to this land,” said the headman who greeted us.  We were standing at the entrance to a reenactment village on the grounds of Shamwari Game Reserve near Patterson, Eastern Cape, South Africa.  “They entered a valley just like this one,” he continues.  “Then, they were faced with the warriors of Shaka, the greatest chief of the Zulu nation.” 

Exploding from behind bushes on the hill above us, came dozens if armed Zulu warriors screaming and shouting.  In a moment, I gained a respect for the soldiers who must have been frightened out of their wits and for warriors who had so successfully entrapped them. 

In our group, some of the women and children scream in fright not knowing what to do or say.  Soon the excitement is over and the headman goes on to explain that they had this surprise greeting to give us an idea of what it must have been like on that day so long ago.

 Leaving hunting of big game for a day, I chose to visit Shamwari to view wildlife and in particular the Big 5.  The Zulu village is on the vast grounds of the reserve and makes an interesting side trip.  My stay also includes a lunch of traditional foods and a chance to photography a number of native game species. 

The reserve contains a multitude of plant, animal and bird life.  Trained game rangers ensure that visitors have a memorable visit. 

Located along Bushman’s River about halfway between Port Elizabeth and Grahmstown, the 18,000 hectare reserve contains history that dates back to the time when game roamed freely.  The name Shamwari means friend in the Shona language.  In the early days of the area lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino and elephant (The Big 5) roamed the land.  Early settlers drove them to the brink of extinction so that cattle, sheep and goats could live on the land.  Today the farming of big game animals is popular and Shamwari has brought back the Big 5. 

After lunch, we load up into Land Rovers and move out to find some elephants.  Although this is a trip to view wildlife, the ranger has a .475 rifle strapped across the dashboard of the largely open vehicle.  It is “just in case” he explains.  Just what “in case” might be is not discussed. 

About an hour into the tour, we are viewing wildlife and I am shooting a lot of photos of antelope, birds, and even a white rhino.  But we are not finding the elephants.  We also are not seeing any lions.  

The rangers are talking to each other and no one is seeing either the elephants or lions.  I do not under stand how something as large as an elephant can be so concealed let alone a whole herd of them.  Our ranger explained that they have not been able to locate the elephants for the past three days.  They are mystified as to where they are hiding.

 Driving along a gravel road, looking at an eland near a water hole, I am suddenly aware of a huge gray beast on the other side of the road.  Just as I pointed, I see a number of the animals.  It is the missing elephants.

 The ranger drives closer to the herd so we can take photos without disturbing the animals.  They are grazing on the brush and trees and demonstrate an amazing ability to destroy both.  The great beasts grow impatient with our presence and perform several mock charges before settling down again.  It is exciting to sit in the middle of a herd of some 40 elephants.  They range in age from a few months to several years. 

Females with young herd their inquisitive offspring away from our clicking cameras.  A couple of the bulls come to investigate and we move off from the herd for awhile.  The beasts continue to trash the vegetation as they continue to eat. 

Our focus on the elephants is interrupted by the crackling of the radio announcing that one of the other parties has found the lions.  Moving quietly away we head off to see the lions and other wildlife. 

I wonder if Shaka, the warrior chief may or may not have been proud of modern day South Africa.  His people and the hated white invaders have grown to live together and to be good stewards of the land.  Today an outdoor writer from Illinois has visited the land, hunted its game, enjoy the food, customs and people.  I am glad I did.



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