Pongola Game Reserve- A Safari to Remember!

Elvis Elvis

If you are going to Durban or Jo’burg, here is a great adventure for those non-golfing days. Pongola Game Reserve, one of South Africa’s oldest, is about 4 hours out of Durban and 5 from Jo’burg. It is definitely worth the drive!

If the more pre-historic animals are your interest, you will find elephants, crocodiles and white rhino here side by side with the less pre-historic such as wildebeest, impala, buffalo, giraffe, hyena, zebra and leopards. The history of the Elephant and the Rhino though is the stuff that great authors like to weave into their historical romances of Africa – it is interesting beyond belief as well as a positive statement about man’s ability to bring a species back from the very edge of extinction.

The Elephants

Had you come in the early 1990′s you would not have seen any elephants. No one had for over a hundred years. In 1997 a couple of herds were reintroduced. The elephants here have neat African names – the bull is called Ingani and the Matriarch (sorry guys! Elephants are a Matriarchal society) is called Lippa. Like the Rhino, these are no light weight contenders. So do listen carefully to the ranger that will be with you. Avoid getting between the female elders and their little ones. I remember my own close encounter back in 1988. A herd wanted to cross the road we were driving on in the park. They thought we were too close. The younger females tried gathering up the little ones – baby elephants are just as curious and unafraid as some human babies – while the old great granny of them all headed towards us, trunk waving in the air and screaming. Until that moment, I had no idea my brother-in-law could change gears so fast. Then we backed up slowly so as not to alarm her with speed and we kept backing up until she stopped, gave us one last wave of her trunk and retreated to her family. We sat there until we saw that last little wisp of elephant tail disappear behind the thorn bushes. My only regret now is that Digital cameras had not yet been invented. Still, I consider the pictures I took with my old Instamatic some pretty awesome souvenirs of that trip.

White Rhino

About 200 years ago you would be hard pressed to find a white rhino – the numbers had dwindled to about 30 total due to indiscriminant hunting. Today, there are over 3,000 through the South African Parks and Reserves system. Pongola has almost 50 of them and the folks here are both pleased and proud to be able to take you on Rhino Walks in their Golela bushveld. Do listen to your guide – these babies are somewhere around 2,300kg. (that’s about 5,000 pounds. My money is on the Rhino if you pick a fight with one!)

Pongola Game Reserve  A Safari to Remember!

Other Wildlife

Aside from the animals mentioned above, if you are particularly lucky, you may spot a honey badger. I did once and it is something I still brag about as very few do – even among those who live and work in the various Reserves. Also there but endangered so seldom seen, are the wild dogs. The Instamatic was too slow to get anything more than a blur but a digital may result in rare finds captured in a fraction of a second and that is about all the time these guys will allow.
Do you like to spot rare and beautiful birds? 350 different species may give you the chance. And do not forget the plant and insect life. If bugs make you squeamish then maybe you prefer not to look. But you will miss out on some very interesting little life forms that come in very interesting colours and carry on some very interesting activities. This said, a mosquito is a mosquito. They bite and carry disease no matter where you find them so wear your mosquito repellant.

The White Elephant Lodge

If you are going to go to Pongola, you will need a great place to stay. I know just such a place – The White Elephant Safari Lodge
Named after an albino elephant, the White Elephant Safari Lodge sits snug amongst the Lebombo mountains and overlooks Lake Jozini. (Water shortages are common in South Africa, so being perched near a lake is a definite plus for visitors and residents alike.)
The lodge’s founding family is named Khors. If you are, in any way, interested in saving wildlife, you will leave knowing that in meeting the family and staff you have met some of life’s “very special people”. Among other things, they are very involved in the Elephant Relocation Project. One of the Khors, Dr. Heinz Khors, is the Manager of the game reserve.
There are two types of accommodation here – the Lodge itself and the Bush Camp. Instead of writing reams of description, The White Elephant site offers virtual visits to both the Lodge and the Bush Camp.

When you go to the site for your virtual tour, you will want to check out the activities. I have only mentioned the two big ones. There are no big golf courses close in though there are several dozen good ones near both Jo’berg and Durban. There is a small 9 hole course used by the local residents. If you suffer from that nasty ailment – golf withdrawal – they may very well just find you a tee time. I’ll get back on this though because I have no official okay yet.

No one has a boring time at The White Elephant Safari Lodge. But in all truth few have the truly hair raising experience described below in the White Elephant Newsletter copied with permission with my thanks to the owners and staff of the White Elephant Safari Lodge

White Elephant Newsletter: Field Guide’s brave action during dangerous confrontation…

Field Guide’s brave action during dangerous confrontation with Elephant Bull
saves Lives.

On Sunday morning, the 21st January 2006, Field Guide Sean Smith and four guests were returning to camp after an early morning bush walk. About ½ a kilometre from Bush Camp, ‘Ngani’, a 3.5 metre, 6.5-ton elephant bull, suddenly loomed in front of the group and presented a mock-charge, coming to a standstill only a few metres from the group. After a brief ‘stand-off’, ‘Ngani’ retreated and the group slowly backed away.

Most recent picture of ‘Ngani’, taken by Philip van den Berg.

But this was merely the beginning of a terrifying ordeal for Sean and his four guests. ‘Ngani’ did not wonder off into the bush, as he normally would have done. Instead, over the following 15 minutes, he doggedly followed the group and launched another seven charges on them, each time stopping within a metre of Sean and the guests behind him.

Sean tried every conceivable plan to manoeuvre his guests out of danger: He dropped his hat to distract ‘Ngani’ after the second charge. After the third charge, he fired a shot from his .375 into the ground between ‘Ngani’s’ front legs and again after each of the next 4 charges. He shouted at ‘Ngani’ after facing the 8th charge and flung a rock at his head. Then, amazingly a vehicle happened to drive passed. Sean flagged the vehicle down and the group leapt in, urging the brave driver to speed away from ‘Ngani’. They stopped up at the Trading Post Museum. From here they could see ‘Ngani’, still smelling and searching for Sean and the group at the point where they had jumped into the vehicle.

Remarkably, this incredibly dangerous incident ended without fatalities or injury to man or elephant. Sean is to be commended for the control that he maintained throughout the ordeal and his judgement, which certainly saved not only the lives of the guests but also the life of ‘Ngani’.

Thank you, Sean!

Thank you also to these remarkable guests, who placed their trust in Sean. The following letter was received from these guests:

Dear Sean, the Rangers, the Management and Owners, As you are well aware, our weekend with you was a little more exciting than originally anticipated.

Our most enjoyable bush walk on Sunday, with Sean, was unfortunately not with the sanction of Ngani and we regret having annoyed him as much as we did. That said, we remain impressed with the beauty of the location, the attention to detail in the rooms, your hospitality, the respect love and care that you all have for the wild life and the immense concern for us in the unexpectedly dangerous predicament in which we unwittingly found ourselves.

As Sean no doubt experienced similarly but differently to us, we individually and together had several, if not many, a “kyk weer” of Ngani’s anger, confusion, game and cunning.

However, the memory which we value, admire and respect the most is Sean’s bravery – his split second and orderly prioritizing of choices in a situation of extreme danger with an overwhelming desire to preserve the lives of both human and beast. As Africans (for it is only that some of us live overseas with roots ever in Africa) we fully understood his dilemma and the options he had. We respected his judgment and laud him for his success. We left truly hoping that Sean and Ngani are able to resolve their differences over this experience.

Whilst not part of your team, we must acknowledge and thank the gentleman – a Mr Klopper, we believe – whose quiet day fishing became a spectacle of saviour when he stopped at the fork of the road to witness 5 people trying to escape Ngani’s intent and waited as we gestured for help and ran to him to be driven away to safety. Thank you, kind Sir!

Will we return to the White Elephant Bush Camp? Very definitely! You have a simply beautiful place and are a very competent and caring team.

With best wishes to you all,

Maxwell and Lesley Vickery, Norma Beyl and Carol Wright