Our wandering brings some interesting juxtapositions, showing us the full story by coincidence. Driving out of Baviaanskloof into the Gamtoos Valley of South Africa, we were surrounded by citrus orchards. Looking for a place to spend the night, we happened upon a sweet little guest house overlooking rows of lemon trees. We watched the tractor and workers leave in the evening and come back into the fields beyond the orchards in the morning. A center of thriving agriculture.
Our stop in the Gamtoos Valley was on the drive from Baviaanskloof to Camp Figtree, a safari lodge near Addo Elephant National Park. Addo is a reserve which was set up in 1931 to protect the eleven elephants that survived in the area, and has expanded several times over the years, along with its herd of pachyderm residents.
We spent our first full day on two game drives with Camp Figtree’s safari guide, Mike. He was extremely knowledgeable about the flora and fauna of the park, showing a strong education and passion for both. He told us about the digestive track of elephants and warthogs and kudu, the life cycle of termites, and the effects the limited gene pool has had on the elephants in the park. We heard about the horns of bush antelope compared to those of grassland species. We watched a huge herd of elephants cooling themselves in a watering hole while he explained their behaviors to us. And, we learned of the connection between the elephants, the park, and citrus farming.I had heard that the elephants were hunted almost to extinction in the area before land was set aside for the last few, offering sanctuary. The part I had not heard was that this was not done seeking trophies or ivory, but to protect citrus farms from marauding elephants. As a species, we humans certainly have a way of eradicating those living things that do not suit us. South African elephants. American and European wolves. Other peoples and governments. An ugly truth.
And yet, here we were, watching a huge herd of animals who now can live in peace and help to educate the masses who come to see them. A couple hundred kilometers away in a quiet valley are thousands of trees growing oranges and lemons and limes for our lunches. Two places with opposing needs, juxtaposed for us in two days to show a balance that can be achieved when people care.