Rhinos, Reefs & Turtles (Part 1)

In Adventures, Animals, Articles, Gallery, Places by Dale MorrisLeave a Comment

When you get a bunch of middle aged hairy nosed silverback safari guides and game park rangers together over a case or two of beer, it’s inevitable that the stories are going to be as big as the elephants they are so often about.
These chaps can be like fishermen at times, trying to outdo each other with the most dramatic tales, but unlike fishermen, it’s not just about the size of the catch (or the one that got away) But how they got away from that which was trying to catch them.

Enraged elephants feature heavily as do rampaging black rhinos along with a smattering ofman eating crocodiles, grumpy buffalo and sinister leopards.

Its often gripping stuff, and enough to give you nightmares.

I was in iMfolozi Game Park in KZN on the first leg of a tour that would see me visiting St Lucia, Lake Sibaya, Kosi Bay, Thembe Elephant park and Ithala Game Reserve. But Frank Carlisle (a former iMfolozi ranger, now turned guide) had taken this first leg of our journey as an opportunity to gather up some of his old friends and colleagues for a classic night of camp fire reminiscing.

He had just finished recounting a story of how he once woke up to find a hyena chewing his boot, when I heard a manic giggle emanating from the darkness…Dale Morris
It was a school reunion of sorts, each one of the 8 or so men having done some serious time as a trails guide or ranger in the park during the 80s and 90s. All had moved on for one reason or another (mostly political). Some no longer worked in the bush. But it was clear from their conversations that their hearts were still very much there: especially Frank who was definitely the dominant yarn spinner.

He had just finished recounting a story of how he once woke up to find a hyena chewing his boot, when I heard a manic giggle emanating from the darkness. Warthog steaks sizzled on the braai, bats flew about our heads, and hyenas patrolled the peripheries. I caught glimpses of their eyes reflected in our fire.

A distant lion roared, an elephant rumbled, yet these men, confident in their khaki shorts (despite the winters cold), went about their beer drinking and storytelling as if they were on a stoep in someone’s garden rather than in the bush surrounded by potential death.

I moved my camp chair a little closer to Frank’s and subtly took up a defensive position right next to the fire.
“Brrrr, chilly,” I said, feigning nonchalance.


Steve Irwin vs David Attenborough

That night I was entertained with the story of the black rhino who chased Frank into a tree; the tale of the man eating crocodile; the fable of the poacher’s gun battle and the story of the toughlady ranger who took down a rampaging buffalo all by herself.

Legend!

Over the next three days, Frank took me around ‘his’ iMfolozi and Hluhluwe park, reliving some of his memories and taking me to special places where tramplings, gorings, shootings and maulings had occurred.

Malcolm Organ (Frank’s old buddy and a trails guide of some 30 years) was also along for the trip, but his stories had a much gentler tone.

“One of the greatest experiences of my decades in the bush was when I sat down to watch a dragonfly emerge from its larval skin,” he told me as we trundled along a private management track in the boondocks of the park.

“It happened just over there,” he said, pointing up to a wooded ridge where an anti-poaching drone was busy flying in circles, no doubt checking us out.

“Wouldn’t it be great to have one of those with automatic weapons on the front,” said Frank with a glint in his eye.

They were like chalk and cheese, these two men.Each of Frank’sanecdotes were, in my mind, augmented with a Chuck Norris movie musical score complete with kettle drums and raging cellos.

We had access to areas that the public are not allowed to visit, and we visited places that very few people know about.Dale Morris
Conversely, Malcolm’s stories were escorted by a flute or perhaps the tinkling of a glockenspiel.

Steve Irwin vs David Attenborough.

Two sides of the same coin and an awesome team to travel with.

Regardless of narrative style, it was absolute magic to see a park like iMfolozi through the eyes of two men whose lives had been intimately intertwined with the landscapes, animals and peoples of this place. We had access to areas that the public are not allowed to visit, and we visited places that very few people know about.

“See these pieces of iron,” Frank told me after bringing the bakkie to a standstill. “This was obviously a Zulu iron smelting site during the time of King Shaka.”

And with that, both Malcolm and Frank commenced with an entire book’s worth of dialogue on the rise of Shaka, the fact that iMfolozi was his favored hunting grounds, how the Zulus made their spear heads (melting iron in rocks by burning hardwoods) and all sorts of other interesting facts and fictions.


And so forth and so on

We were all sad to leave iMfolozi when the time came to depart, but our next stop was just up the road and equally as interesting and exciting.

“The St Lucia Wetland Park, which is what it was called back in the day, was where I first started my career as a bush ranger,” said Frank as we pulled up to the park’s gates.

“But now it’s called iSimangaliso. Try saying that three times after drinking a crate of beer.”
He then went on to regale me with various anecdotes of his youthful exploits as a trainee scout.

“There, over by that lake edge,” was where he wrestled his first crocodile and: “There, on that rise was where he escaped his first black rhino charge.

… and so forth and so on.

“I lost 18 kilos the first month on the job,” he told me as we stopped for a thermos of coffee next to the magnificent lake St Lucia. “I was a fat little bugger back then. Haven’t been fat since though.”

I lost 18 kilos the first month on the job. I was a fat little bugger back then. Haven’t been fat since though.Frank
He and Malcolm (who, unlike Frank, had somehow managed to evade becoming thin whilst being a ranger) sighed as we took in the glorious vista of open plains, indigenous forests and silvery lakes that is the Greater iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

“Usually, those places you knew when you were young end up changing by the time you grow up,” said Frank. “They get developed or are spoiled, but not here in St Lucia. Here things are much better than when I was laaitie.”

When Frank was a trainee ranger, St Lucia was little more than a huge pine and eucalypt plantation with a series of fragmented but unsustainable nature reserves scattered throughout.

“The whole place was ear marked for mining,” he told me. “But fortunately it’s now a world heritage area and all the alien plantations have been removed.”

That evening, we took a licensed 4×4 trip up iSimangaliso’s pristine beaches where Malcolm and Frank showed me one of the greatest and most ancient marvels in nature…

The nesting sea turtle.


Catch Part Two Next Week
Part two of this story will be released next week. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to get updates of all our new articles.

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