Hiker fights off poachers

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Author Karen Runge sustained injuries when one of her attackers placed his boot on her face.
Author Karen Runge sustained injuries when one of her attackers placed his boot on her face.

A Howick author has relived her two-hour ordeal at the hands of two poachers during a hike at the Wessa Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve on Sunday.

Karen Runge (36), a horror-fiction writer, who was brutally assaulted and almost raped, said she had gone to the reserve after lunch to “clear her mind” as she is about to launch her third book.

She said she was making her way back up the trail at about 2.30pm from the river where she had gone for a swim, when she came across two men with their two dogs.

“At first they didn’t see me, so I stopped as I didn’t want to walk towards them. I waited a while and then eventually decided to continue.

“I thought, as poachers, they didn’t want to be seen, and would have made off. We passed each other and greeted each other in English.

“I saw the dogs and that they had no hiking gear with them and because I work with some wildlife organisations, I told them I hoped they were not involved in poaching. They said they were not and continued.

“A few minutes later, at which point I think they realised I was alone, I heard a rushing noise, and the panting of dogs near me. I turned around and saw the men were quite close.

“The one guy said ‘mam, how about some sex’ a few times as he continued approaching me. I said ‘no’, quite boldly and loudly but they persisted.

“And they kept pleading with me ... ‘please mam, please, please can we get some sex’,” said Runge.

She said she continued walking briskly, Mace cannister in hand, when one of the men caught up with her and grabbed her from behind, shoving her to the ground.

Runge said she was thankful she had some boxing and self-defence training that she put into use during the attack.

“It was absolute chaos. I tried spraying them with Mace but while I got their body, I couldn’t get their eyes and eventually the one guy knocked the Mace out of my hand.

“I was shouting at them to leave me alone and they kept saying “shush mam, shush, be quiet” and I just seized that moment to scream louder, but thinking to myself that I had a slim chance of anyone hearing me or coming to me timeously,” said a traumatised Runge.

She said while she put up a “good fight” and managed to get a few “solid kicks in” including a kick to one man’s groin with her “heavy hiking” shoes, she just knew she had to do everything she could to escape.

She said at one point they tore her jeans and one man put his boot on her face and they tried to sexually assault her. “I had this huge surge of adrenalin and kicked his chest that sent him backwards, when they realised that I was actually not worth the effort. They then threatened to kill me and grabbed my bag with my cellphone, car keys and other belongings and ran off,” she said.

Scared that they could return, Runge said she hid on the trail and then eventually started making her way to the road (within the reserve). When she got to the road, at about 5.30 pm, she was assisted by two members of the Mountain Club who took her home.

“I’m just thankful that I could save myself but I want others to be aware of the risk of going in there alone. When I bought my season membership, I asked about the poachers, but was never warned not to go there alone.

“I think more security measures, like people signing out when they leave the reserve, be introduced as well as hikers be told that they should not venture into the reserve alone,” said Runge.

Wessa communications manager Sarah Alcock, in a media statement, expressed deep concern, shock and sincere regret over the attack, adding that this was the first such incident at the reserve. “Regular patrols take place by Wessa staff and honourary officers (airwing and vehicles).

“uMngeni Valley Nature Reserve has struggled with poaching for many years, and this has been reported on numerous occasions to the authorities.

“Wessa has over the years engaged with all our neighbours and continues to work with youth from adjacent formal and informal communities, participating in our education programmes.

“The safety of all our visitors is a priority to Wessa and we appeal to the authorities to apprehend the perpetrators, and to work with the community to reduce the scourge of poaching and its related crimes,” said Alcock.

• newsed@witness.co.za

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