I recently had the pleasure to be home, in Africa, in the Bush away from the dangerously high air pollution levels in Mexico City (to which the government has closed schools, advised its citizens not to be out doors between 11:00 and 19:00, taken cars off the road and launched a “Movievete en Bici” (Move by Bike) campaign – but this is a topic for another day).
Despite my lilywhite skin, I am an African with a soul, for better or worse, devoted to Africa. As soon as the sweet fragrance of early morning dew fills my lungs, the deep orange/red sunrise consumes my vision and the sounds of nature become my morning soundtrack, I know I am home and my soul is at ease.
So when I see that the landscape has changed, that rivers no longer run, that the grass no longer grows and the trees have long lost their fight for life, I know that things are not right at home.
My wife saw it first, a male hippopotamus resting beside the dry riverbed. We could not understand why it was lying in the direct sunlight of the scorching mid-day heat, then as we looked closer, we could see clearly the reason for this strange behaviour. Its rump looked as though a silk cloth had been draped over a skeleton, showing clearly each and every gruesome curve and bone protruding of a hippopotamus that was clearly at deaths door. His eyes opened and closed very deliberately and very slowly. In those eyes you could see its plea for the end to come and for the torture it was enduring to be over. We have no idea how long it had been lying there, but the river to which it was lying next to, had been dry for some months.
With heavy hearts, we left nature to take its course and we drove on. A further 10km down the road, we came across an extensive bridge over yet another completely dry riverbed. As a gust of wind drew across the riverbed a dust cloud formed and quickly dispersed into the dry African sky that had not seen rain of significance for months. In the distance on the riverbank, we caught the sight of a carcass. As we focussed the binoculars, we could make out that it was another hippopotamus, but unfortunately this one had lost its fight for life some days ago and the vultures had already started to pick at the meat inside its carcass. It was no mystery how it had lost its life as water is vital to the Hippos existance, as they are semiaquatic where during the day, they remain cool by staying in the water or mud and reproduction and childbirth both occur in water. Therefore, without water, the Hippo cannot survive.
Southern Africa is fighting a devastating drought where in 2015, in South Africa for example, they recorded their direst year since records began. The following news headlines give a sombre snapshot of the situation:
- Kruger Park considers culling hippos: The Kruger National Park is considering culling hippos to save them from drought and the meat will be given to neighbouring communities – SABC, March 2016
- Drought Hits South Africa’s Biggest Wildlife Park – Associated Press, February 2016.
- Extreme Drought Debilitates Southern Africa – Stratafor March 2016
- Southern Africa drought needs swift response as millions hungry – Times Live, March 2016
- Drought and rising temperatures ‘leaves 36m people across Africa facing hunger – The Guardian
You can imagine then our concern as we drove from this solemn situation into one of the rest camps in the Kruger National Park and heard screams and shrills of delight from children splashing around in the rest camp swimming pool. Yes, a swimming pool filled to overflowing with freshwater that was just 10km down the road from the Hippo that was close to death and another already with the Hippo Gods two of the many wildlife victims of the destructive drought gripping the land. How then, could it be possible that a rest camp had a water hose draped into the bottom of the pool in constant filling mode, where the children playing in the water would occasionally pick it out of the bottom of the pool to spray each other in fits of laughter with wonton concern for the environment.
I asked my father at that moment, how could it be possible that we see a devastating drought just outside the camp gates and yet as soon as one enters those gates it seems as if the rules governing nature suddenly don’t apply. My dads reply was: “The park gets its funding from the tourists and visitors and if the pool was not filled with water, they would find alternative accommodation”. As depressing as this reply was to hear, he was right of course.
I don’t blame the children for seeking their enjoyment in the camp swimming pool, but rather the overall management of the situation. At the very least, I expected to see a note in the “rondavels” asking us to take care of the water we use and to be mindful of our use of towels etc. At a responsible level, I would have expected the pool to be empty and the implementation of water restrictions across all camps of the Kruger National Park. However, no such note, restriction or plea existed.
One of the worse droughts to ever hit Southern Africa has been gripping the land for months, the wildlife after hard fought battles are finally succumbing to these effects, so how is it then, that water restrictions only apply to wildlife?