Since December 2004, every thirty seconds a photo has been taken of a waterhole near Orpen Gate in the Kruger National Park and broadcast on the Sanparks website for a worldwide audience, barring the odd problem with data lines and mother nature.
The Orpen webcam has been so popular that the public dug into its pocket and chipped in money for the purchase of another webcam that could feed their addiction to real-time pictures of the goings-on at an African waterhole.
The new webcam has been placed southeast of Satara camp, just outside the fence, and is ideally located not only in terms of technological infrastructure, but also in terms of Satara's excellent game viewing. The Satara webcam went live on February 15, 2006. Its images can be monitored on the same page as the Orpen webcam.
To watch the two waterholes simultaneously, a visitor to the Sanparks website just has do a onetime free registration through the forums. Webcam watchers can also save images and then email them for posting on the website so other forum members can see them too.
Images can also be saved on the web-based forum. Both webcams work 24 hours a day, with a spotlight lighting the waterhole at night. Because all the webcam addicts got withdrawal symptoms when the Orpen camera went offline if there was a problem with the phone lines or some other glitch, a satellite link has also been installed there for emergencies.
The Satara webcam benefits from the technological advances that have taken place since the Orpen camera was installed, and has a wireless connection to the Sanparks network, and from there onto the Sanparks website.The camera can be controlled remotely to pan, tilt or zoom in on areas of interest, but this facility is not in use yet because of data transmission constraints. Despite the challenges of keeping the equipment going in bad weather and the likelihood of failing power supply and communication lines, not to mention the odd hyena chewing up day/night switches and elephants blocking the path to camera installers, Sanparks are looking at getting more webcams.
Suggestions include a camera in Addo Elephant National Park, an underwater camera at Tsitsikamma National Park, one at Nossob in the Kgalagadi or a camera spying on the penguins at Boulders. As the winter months draw closer, and water in the veld dries up, more action is likely to take place at the two waterholes under digital surveillance, drawing in more addicts.
As one enthusiastic virtual visitor commented, "I love this site!!!! I have the page opened in its own window so I can watch it all the time. My kids get up in the morning before school and check the watering hole."
By Melissa Wray