Text and Images By Herbert Otto
To break the spell of drought, it has to rain. But will there be any butterflies before that? We took some University of Pretoria students out to test this theory. It’s that time of the year again when university students get recess to prepare for the exams, seminars and vacation! Recess can be a fun time.
This time we were honoured with the presence of some entomology and botany students. Dung beetles beware! Marnus is a botany student and Carmen and Edith are entomology buffs, with Dries a whiz with the camera on beetles. On the road between Afsaal and Skukuza a leopard casually sauntered along the road, not phased at all by our camera lenses and zooms.
What a find! Near the Stevenson-Hamilton memorial a hyena was surveying his kingdom from a pool. Memories are made of this. Lake Panic near Skukuza was an amazing venue for bird-life. Here we witnessed a goliath heron catching a bream, which she didn't want to share with her mate, but they still built their nest together.
Love was in the air. Our game guard was Joel Tleane and as always he had us in awe of his knowledge of the veld and the animals. We came within about 30 metres of an elephant - albeit an immature, still an elephant!
Still, elephants don't read or know that we are researching the distribution of butterflies in the Kruger National Park (KNP), if they smell humans they run! Towards you! Or away from you, if you are lucky. But experience once again saved the day - the ellie got a whiff of us and backed off.
Perhaps that was someone’s aftershave, or lack thereof, that got him out of there! Perhaps someone’s unusable underwear, after this close encounter of the elephant kind. The buffalo had the same reaction - run! Away from us! We must market that brand of aftershave, perhaps call it Buff-off. Or is that Ellie-off?!
Maybe the ellie was wearing it too, for a little while later, he trumpeted to let the buffalo know they were getting a bit close for comfort.
But there were three buffalo, so they thought they outnumbered the elephant, yet there is nothing like sheer size to let you re-evaluate a situation, with haste! The buffalo moved on, tails between their legs. Respect has to be earned, and learnt.
Our project co-ordinator, Hendrik Sithole, a member of the scientific services department at Kruger, had faith in us but the weather was very dry and hot when we arrived. This means no rain and no butterflies. But then it clouded over and we had some rain at night, leaving the days overcast.
Excellent weather for animal spotting, but we wanted those insects with the colourful wings. We found the ever-abundant scarlet tips (Colotis danae annae) and the small orange tips (Colotis evagore antigone), but we wanted a "find".
Something that we could write home about. Something that made your blood fizz and your body jump for joy. Walking along the Sabie River near the Kruger gate, we also had a close encounter of the hippopotamus kind. It scuttled out of the water into the reeds, woken from a snooze.
There were nervous shrieks, laughter and pants-wetting on our part. Nothing like a little adrenaline to get your blood pumping. Who needs butterflies? I do! The rain will bring some butterflies, but by then we'll be back to school. But there is always a next time. We can't wait for summer! Woza holidays!!
It was written in the Kruger Park Times that we would take children out on butterfly tours. The necessary processes have not been completed and the article is hereby retracted.