Wild at Heart


Published in Africa Geographic magazine, September 2008

Three generations of Wolhuter men have dedicated their lives and work to the conservation of Africa’s wild places and animals. Grandfather Harry was the Kruger National Park’s first game ranger, and his son, Henry, followed in his footsteps. Third in line is Kim, who ontinues the family tradition further north, in turbulent Zimbabwe. Fransje van Riel went to visit him.

Text by Fransje van Riel

Photos on website: Fransje van Riel

A bone-chilling scream, followed by a series of highpitched shrieks and lowthroated barks, pierces the silence of Maliangwe Wildlife Reserve’s pre-dawn morning. I awake with a jolt and, in the darkness, clumsily reach for a box of matches to light a candle and check the time. It’s just before 05h00. Wondering what caused the commotion, I swing my legs over the side of the bed and shuffle towards the door to peer into the dying night.

The granite sky is awash with a fine dusting of stars and, with only a sliver of silver moon to guide me, I take a few tentative steps into the garden, where I find a troop of raucous baboons in the camp’s Acacia robusta trees.

After a few final disciplinary grunts and shrill screams, the baboons fall silent and, suppressing a yawn, I return to my room to get dressed. The sluggish swirl of the ceiling fan tells me that the generator has just come on and, switching on a bedside light, I slip into shorts and a T-shirt.

Dassies dash across the driveway as I make my way to Kwali Camp’s communal area for a quick cup of coffee. Visiting the ladies’ room for what will surely be the last time in many hours is also a prerequisite and, emerging from the mosquito-riddled cubicle, I hear the rumble of an approaching vehicle. A battered, olive-green 4x4 pulls into camp. At the wheel is Kim Wolhuter. Dark-haired, khaki-clad and barefoot, the award-winning wildlife photographer and film-maker comes to a rolling stop outside my rondavel. We exchange good mornings and I clamber over the permanently locked passenger door into the vehicle and onto a narrow, leather mattress that covers a large silver case containing Kim’s camera equipment. For the next few days this makeshift seat will provide me with the opportunity to watch Kim in action.

We spill out of the camp and purr along the dirt road just as the sun begins to rise above the Zimbabwean horizon. It is early February, and the rains have ushered in a time of abundance.

With thick, 2.5-metre-high grass carpeting Malilangwe’s plains, areas like the Banyini Pan, with its lush ground, have become treacherous terrain, concealing low-lying predators like stalkers skulking in a grimy part of town.


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