In Dire Straits

Strange things happen when you least expect them.

One day, while driving along the Crocodile River which separates Marloth Park from the Kruger National Park, a massive herd of about 150 head of buffalo came wandering down to the river for a well-deserved drink and to wallow in the freshwater. The temperatures around that time ranged from 33 – 44 degrees. It was hot, and these were big creatures in need of cooling down. I stopped the car and left the comfort of the air-conditioned interior to try and get a little bit closer to these majestic animals. One of them seemed to be limping along the river bed, with what looked like a snare around its neck with its front left leg caught through the trap and tucked up under its chin.

At that moment, a gentleman who had also been observing the herd approached me. He had a pair of binoculars with him and was able to see the animal’s leg hooked through something around its neck, but what I thought to be a snare was, in fact, a radio-controlled tracking collar. We needed to do something, so I phoned the Kruger Rangers at the Crocodile Bridge Gate, to inform them of what had happened. The person in the office took down my phone number and promised that someone would phone me back. Within 10 minutes, the Head Ranger called to find out more details.

Firstly, he asked what the colour of the collar was. The gentleman with the binoculars had a look and discovered that it was red. Next, could we see the cell number printed on it? At that, we both collapsed with laughter. “What was the Ranger going to do”, I asked, “phone the buffalo and ask him to take his leg out of the collar?” It’s here where my ignorance of all things technical reared its head. The animals are tracked via satellite. Random animals throughout the herd are collared, with a specific cell number allocated to that animal. Once the Ranger dials the cell number, all info of the animal’s movements is sent back to him via satellite – instant tracking.

Unfortunately, we were not able to see the cell number, so the Ranger hung up so he could make another plan.

That was that, I thought.

Later that same night, I received a call from the Ranger. He said that they had climbed aboard a helicopter and had flown along the river and spotted the animal concerned. They then darted her – a female buffalo – and while she was asleep were able to remove her leg from the collar and refit the collar so that the problem would not happen again.

She then woke up and joined the rest of the herd.