Nature appreciation from within the car – a thought triggered while reading Benediktsson’s article on landscape geography (2007) in which he makes mention of Leddy’s (2005) discussion of this very topic. I haven’t read Leddy’s article but the subject immediately brought to mind my recent trip to the Kruger National Park. Going on safari, I’ll admit, had never been particularly high on my bucket list (something about the colonial residue of safari-suited Brits shooting elephants, perhaps), but when a South African friend announced she would be married from the family home in Nelspruit (a stone’s throw from the Kruger), the opportunity was too good to pass up. And from the moment I drove through the gate and spotted my first warthog and impala in the riverbed, I loved it. I bought a little field guide from one of the rest camps and dutifully ticked off all the animals I spotted along the way: elephant, rhino, impala, kudu, zebra, warthog, buffalo, wildebeest, crocodile, hippopotamus, giraffes, various species of hornbills, vultures and eagles plus my favourite, this guy:

Southern Ground Hornbill
Southern Ground Hornbeater (Bucorvus leadbeateri). Photo: Bernard Dupont via Wikimedia Commons.

There was something just so fun about driving yourself along at 50kms an hour, yelling out ‘Stop! Elephant!’ or ‘Zebra!’ every couple of kilometres. All these exotic animals that I grew up learning about as a kid but never really expected to see, except in a zoo. And yet here I was, in Africa, on safari.

Of course, being in a place like the Kruger, and South Africa in general, brings up all sorts of ethical questions and stumbling blocks. Like, the fact that the Kruger and surrounding parks were initially set up to conserve rapidly disappearing populations – for hunting purposes. Or that so many ‘conservation’ breeding programs continue to be funded today largely to meet the desires of big game hunters from countries like America and Spain (you might remember the King of Spain Juan Carlos came under fire in 2012 after shooting an elephant on a hunting trip to Botswana).  My friend herself has access to a ‘private game reserve’ which in my naivete I’d always thought was a conservation reserve like the Kruger with no hunting allowed. That misconception was corrected on the first day by her uncle who baldly stated that hunting continued to be the main source of income for the reserve (for the record – neither my friend nor her family are hunters). It raises all manner of ethical questions. Many species – like the elk, a species of antelope – would be extinct if not for the breeding programs made possible by profits from hunting, and these programs now also feed animals back into conservation-only reserves like the Kruger. And yet, I cannot reconcile the idea that we are only keeping things alive to shoot them.

Another set of historical injustices relates to the displacement of indigenous tribes from the Kruger and surrounding lands when the parks were created. Some of these tribes are beginning to be compensated with return of some ancestral lands and special access to reserves, but it is a drop in the water of a long colonial history of dispossession. As tourists I think we have a duty to think about these issues when we visit places like the Kruger.

References

Benediktsson, K. (2007). ‘Scenophobia’, geography and the aesthetic politics of landscape. Geografiska Annaler Series B-Human Geography, 89B(3), 203-217.

Leddy, T . (2005). A defense of arts-based appreciationof nature. Environmental Ethics 27(3): 299-315.