When walking safari season should be starting, the world feels like it is ending.
It’s a new day, and I awake to a melodious sound coming from the Jackal berry tree outside the canvas. The willow warbler, a summer visitor, has been my invisible alarm clock in recent days though I have not managed to spot it yet, a tiny creature in the canopy. She ends with a low key “hoeet hoeet” as I emerge onto the deck in pre-dawn light. The last of the night’s bats are skimming the river surface. A couple of metres away, I see a familiar friend – a nyala doe, hoovering up fresh fallen leaves. She sees me but does not pause, knowing she is safe.
Another Pafuri morning, no different to any late summer morning, still and cool before the rise of the sun. There’s something reassuring about the continuity of the natural world, through hard times and good. This summer the rains have been generous, the pans are full, the river surging with renewed vitality. I can hear elephants call, they are not far away in the brightening dawn light. Like the birds and nyala, they have no care that the human world has been upended from pole to pole by a great pandemic.
Contagion is a normal part of the natural world. Viral diseases wipe out packs of African wild dogs, uncounted millions of birds, everything is vulnerable. Humans, the cause of so much damage to nature, can also be saviours. One threat the nyala does not have to worry about is rinderpest, a deadly viral disease that once devastated our ancestors’ cattle stocks as well as wild buffalo and other ungulates. Through inoculation, fencing and other measures, it was eradicated in South Africa at the start of the 20th century, and is now gone from the whole planet.
In the same way, human ingenuity will contain the current coronavirus pandemic in the end. Until then, we need to take shelter, burrowing into the ground like an aardvark as a bush fire sweeps the land. Along with the loss of lives, many businesses will suffer in the time ahead, especially in the travel sector. Wildlife and conservation tourism is vital for South Africa and the protection of its wilderness areas. Each year the Kruger National Park alone generates over R1 billion for SANParks, and an estimated further R2 billion for the wider region. Thousands of small businesses and tens of thousands of livelihoods depend on the visits of nature lovers. Now is a great time to support both conservation and communities by booking and paying for a future trip. It will be something to look forward to, a reward for the hard days ahead.
Here in Pafuri, you will find the Luvuvhu river flowing through Lanner gorge, as it always has. The elephants will still browse beneath the fever trees, the eagles will soar above the sandstone cliffs, and the birds, nyala and staff will be here to welcome you back.