The safety of wild places

2012-05-14 09:47

Wildness and wilderness have been on my mind a lot recently, as the past few weeks have proven to be particularly turbulent in the realm of human-animal interaction. I mean in the space of a few days a cheetah attack during a petting session gone wrong, the crisis state of rhino poaching and an impala massacre in our most famous national park all made headline news! Apart from this, a visit to the glittering city of Dubai, opened my eyes to how much I value places that are unhindered by human interference, or alternatively, triumphant despite it.

I always find it rather strange when topics such as bundu bashing, camping and roughing it dictate conversations about moving beyond comfort zones. Perhaps it's because I grew up in a home where taking a 20 hour cramped drive to reach a holiday destination was quite the norm, and, once we got there, so was sleeping in a tent or sharing a room with a host of cousins.

Where most of my school friends would head off to happening destinations like Hartenbos, Plett and Margate with their families over December holidays, my parents and their siblings seemed to have a penchant for the quiet, undiscovered nooks of the country. Places like Tergniet, Glenmore and Betty's Bay, not to mention Marloth Park and Schoemansdal. Always pristine and pretty places with a very real edge of wildness to them - no skyscraping beach hotels, five star lodges, or most importantly, crowds. No, only the bare necessities to keep us well fed and suitably sociable.

While these unrelateable holidays kind of bothered me back then, I have to admit that they seem to have built some sort of character after all and more importantly instilled in me a fascination with and love for all things wild.

So much so that it's taken a while for my travel journo comfort zone to bridge the luxury divide. 
Opulent hotel suites, spa treatments and endless rows of cutlery on either side of a plate still have the ability to freak the daylights out of me, and so do overly built-up and modern urban destinations.

So, you can probably imagine my awkwardness during a recent five-day trip to Dubai, an incredible world of strangely shaped, super tall buildings mushrooming out of the flat earth inhabited by a society so cosmopolitan it would put Futurama's New New York to shame.

While staying on the 40th floor of the tallest hotel in the world - the 70-something-storey Rotana Rose Rayhaan - and speeding up to the 124th floor viewing deck of the Burj Khalifa - the tallest building on earth - in the fastest lift in the universe - the ride takes less than a minute - did give me something of a thrill, and definitely much to write home about, it also stirred in me a nagging feeling of anxiety.

I tried to blame it on my extreme fear of heights, but then the same sense of vertigo arose at the sight of real life penguins waddling around Ski Dubai, a ‘genuine fake' ski resort located in the very heart of the Mall of the Emirates.

It was only during an excursion into the desert that a sense of equilibrium returned. The sight of free-roaming Oryx, a skyline interrupted only by dunes and the feeling of solid, ancient earth beneath my feet served as a reassurance that this world was, in fact, real.

Now don't get me wrong, I really did enjoy Dubai immensely - especially the shopping, dining and cultural diversity - but I just didn't trust it, all the man-made recreation. I missed the ironic sense of security that always enfolds me in Mother Nature's realm - the realm that was once marked as ‘here be dragons' in big red letters - the surety that whatever's happening, wherever it's happening, it's probably happening as it should.

That is until some intruder steals in to hack off yet another horn, or a hasty driver mows down not one - but SEVEN - Impala. While the latter may truly have been an unfortunate accident, and the original fine of R2500 may or may not have been ‘hefty' in terms of the involved driver's salary, as one reader points out, I have to applaud SANParks for being flexible enough to adhere to public outcry and increase the fine.

Now, if only solving the poaching debacle were so simple. But, as Lawrence Anthony points out in The Last Rhinos, there's really no silver bullet... their survival in the wild is up to all of us. However, we can't do it as an uncoordinated battalion, now can we? Every army needs a strong commander to be successful, and at this point I feel it's the one thing South Africa's war on poaching sorely lacks: someone to confidently clear the red tape, bureaucracy and corruption that tends to cripple so much of the good work happening on the ground. Maybe that's what the little girl who wrote a letter pleading the rhinos safety to President Jacob Zuma also had in mind.

Because, frankly, these regal creatures deserve so much more than ending up like Ski Dubai's penguins - safe, but so terribly out of place, not to mention the unmentionable.

Follow nadi_krige on twitter

Read more on:    rhino poaching  |  travel
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