While Joe Nkuna, section ranger at Letaba, was attending a meeting with Telkom at the regional offices in Phalaborwa on the morning of August 12, 2007 his camp manager's call was the first of a few calls that paved the way towards a rescue operation with a difference.
A giraffe was trapped in a donga about three kilometres north of Letaba camp on the S95 and Joe's help was needed.
He left for Letaba as soon as he could and, as all his field rangers were out on patrol, rounded up general workers Jimmy Manganyi and Freddy Chauke to assist with the rescue operation. "We initially took rope only," say Joe. "When we got there, the tourists' cars were parked in a queue with people watching this poor giraffe kicking up and down trying to get up for its life, but all in vain."
Joe assessed the situation amidst tourists' questions and comments, including pleas for the giraffe to remain there as lion bait. "That would be our last option," he responded.Joe opted to try to rescue the giraffe as it had fallen into the donga, which was formed through a mix of human and natural occurrences.
He hypothesised that "the giraffe bull was feeding on an Acacia tortillis, (umbrella thorn) not realising that on the other side of the tree (a bit obscured) was a donga. The soil there was very soft and damp due to the showers we had a couple of days before. While feeding it stepped on an eroded part on the side of the donga, which caved in under the giraffe's weight. The animal could not stand up or do something else to get away from where it was trapped lying down."
He says: “The right hind leg, the whole weight of its body and the fore leg were deep and helpless in the donga, as the left hind leg, the neck and the fore leg were free, but also helpless. At times it tried its best to get up by lifting its long neck up, but the end result was that the head hit the ground very hard, until the horns were hurt and covered in blood.”
Even with all this continuous and huge effort it could not get up. At first Joe and his team tried to help the giraffe pull itself up by tying he rope around its neck and pulling it with Joe’s Mazda Drifter bakkie. This did not work. There were branches obstructing their task and Joe sent the workers back to the camp for equipment to cut these away. While they were waiting, AJ Murphy of Somerset West offered his Jeep Cherokee “to help pull the beast out of danger.”
They tried to pull the giraffe out from the north-eastern side of the donga, but the bank was too steep and then they changed their tactics, pulling it from the south-western side. "This time it worked well, because we managed to pull it to the bottom of the donga where it managed at one stage to get up. Here the donga joins the stream that leads to a culvert."
Joe says, "the animal was very tired and thirsty and it could not do anything from there. It fell down whilst trying to find its way out and lay deep in the stream." Joe was the only one working closely with the animal, tying the rope around it, to avoid putting anyone at risk in case the giraffe reacted baldly and someone was injured.
He says the Jeep is extremely powerful, and even though the operation took almost two hours, they eventually managed to pull the animal onto the road where he could untie the rope while the giraffe was lying on its side. "The animal was finished. Tourists even donated bottled still water, which they had bought from the shop at Letaba for the giraffe to drink. Feeding this animal with water worked magic because it did not take long for the animal to regain power and managed to get up and walk away."
Joe believes the animal may have fallen in the donga late on the afternoon of July 10, 2007 where it stayed helpless, and was "lucky to have survived predators throughout the night, and now it is a free giraffe like others in the wild." He adds, "thanks to employees like Jimmy and Freddy who played an important role in this operation and a big thank you to the owners of the Jeep from the Cape, for their wonderful assistance."