Oom Paul Kruger, last president of the ZAR, must be spinning in his Swiss grave like a demented dung beetle. For the 2.5 million ha eponymous game reserve he founded back in 1898 is in serious trouble. Lion numbers are on the skids – down to 1,700 thanks to TB gifted by the buffalos they’re partial to – while hyena populations have exploded to 3,000. A double whammy in the fashionability stakes as photogenic, hyenas are not. When the last lion calls it a day and hangs up his mane, it will be hard to market SA game reserves to beauty conscious European tourists using an animal that was the inspiration for an Orc in Lord of the Rings.
Like the red vineyards in Constantia and Walker Bay, lions do not make old bones. 12 is now old as opposed to 16 a generation ago – it’s worse than life expectancies in AIDS-ravaged Botswana. Meanwhile
mega-herbivores like elephants are making hay: 15,000 in a reserve with a carrying capacity of 7,500.
So what’s to be done? Culling is no option as Tourism Canada will tell you, citing seal clubbing
as a bigger disincentive than Asian bird ‘flu or toppling Italian cruise liners. Heck, in Namibia in November, Greg Landman, wine columnist for Country Life and ballet reviewer for City Press would not even let me buy sealskin velskoene. Enter Amarula, the ultimate tourist takeaway and cocktail prerequisite, to save the future of SA tourism by funding research into elephant population dynamics. Well over R4 million has been donated to date.
Giant grey – the new black – collars fitted with sleek Prada-design radio transmitters are the latest fashion accessories for elephant cows. Very Lady Gaga. Ellies now transmit their location to cell phone towers more frequently than a Sandton kugel. The photo above is the “after” pic with Yo-Landi the Ellie staggering to her feet while the Top Gun heli heads off to accessorize another cow. The “before” pic below shows Yo-Landi with a smart pink dart in her shapely buttocks before undergoing the makeover. Who says that scientists lack fashion sense and style?
In fact Audrey, the petite researcher from the University of KwaZulu-Natal processing the numbers into a PhD, is a dead-ringer for Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Perhaps Laurence Graff, the deluxe diamantaire, can be persuaded to throw in some bling for the collars. For when Shirley Bassey insisted that diamonds are a girl’s best friend, who said she had only homo sapiens in mind?