Trip to South Africa 2016
The trigger why I chose South Africa was my wish to join the GMFER demonstration in Johannes-burg, the site of this year's CITES meeting. Only after I had booked the whole trip I became aware that it was indeed possible to join the CITES meeting itself, too. So I used this opportunity, of course.
Finally, my 3-week trip to South Africa was a composition of several very different phases:
1. Johannesburg (CoP17 CITES Conference)
2. Kruger Park safari with Panorama Route
3. Organized trip: Cape Town and Cape Area
4. Relaxing days in Cape Town
Just upon my arrival in Johannesburg, after a night-flight, I walked to Nelson Mandela Square which was close to my hotel. The big bronze statue of Mandela is impressive.
I actually didn't see much more of the city, except for the part of the street with the Sandton Convention Center shown in the below photo where I was every day because it was the location of the 17th Conference of Parties of CITES - CoP17.
Still on the same day of my arrival, the SSN-meeting (SSN = Species Survival Network) was held to prepare its members for the CITES Conference of Parties which was to start 2 days later.
Members of numerous NGOs were attending, all of them working together for the best possible results for the animals at CoP17.
I was there representing Rettet die Elefanten Afrikas e.V. (Save Africa's Elephants).
Next day the first thing to do was to get my CITES badge for the entry to the conference rooms.
In the aisles of the Sandton Convention Center, venue of the CITES Conference of Parties.
The plenary was the biggest conference room, really huge! In total 3500 people finally attended CoP17.
The day started with the conference of the Standing Committee in Meeting Room 1.
My dear colleagues of Pro Wildlife, eager to fight for the animals
At the same time there was a meeting of the ministers in the plenary.
On the stage: CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon and South Africa's Minister Edna Molewa, the host of this event, and several others.
The German delegation was already there, too:
From left to right: Minister Dr Barbara Hendricks, Dr. E. Nickel, Mr G. Adams
Next day, 24th September 2016, was the first day of the CITES Conference of Parties, and in around 150 cities all over the world, demonstrations were taking place, calling for Appendix I (highest protection status) for elephants, rhinos, and lions. The Global March for Elephants and Rhinos had been the general organizer of these demonstrations, with hundreds of local organizers in all these places.
Of course, also in Johannesburg a demonstration had been planned, too, which started from a park in the center of the city.
In a corner of George Lea Park around 1000 people gathered for the march. Dex Kotze and Rosemary Alles, the GMFER-organizers, were holding speeches, and Shubert Mwarabu, a Tanzanian singer, performed some of his songs the subject of all is the conservation of Africa's wildlife.
On the very right in the right photo: Kevin Richardson, the well-known "Lion Whisperer", was also attending the march.
Then the march started - a rhino figure in front, and a long trail of people behind.
Besides myself, several other SSN-members were joining the march. Here in the photo on the right: Iris Ho of HSI (Humane Society International) and Alex Hofford of WildAid.
A lot of press was there, and indeed the demonstration was even mentioned in German TV news. All kinds of people attended the march - also rangers with their sniffer dogs.
By mistake the police led us just to the front of the Sandton Convention Center, where preparations for the opening ceremony to CoP17 were being underway. So in the end the demonstration was seen and heard exactly by those people we intended to address: The CITES parties. And all of them heard what we wanted: "Appendix 1! Now!"
Inside the building, the opening ceremony for the Conference of Parties (CoP17) began.
South Africa entertained its guest with music, dance, and artists.
The audience was even given a course in banging the drums which it seemed to enjoy greatly.
After the ceremony, by chance, I saw the German delegation together with CITES-secretary John Scanlon. He and the German environment minister posed for a symbolic hand-over of the data base IvoryID which shall facilitate the identification of confiscated ivory.
Then the labour on the CITES working programme began.
The CITES parties met until 4th/5th October 2016, but unfortunately I could not spend so many days in Johannesburg, and I had to leave the next day.
On 26th September elephant matters started to be discussed. When I returned home from my trip I read about the results of the meetings: Elephants did not reach Appendix I for all populations, but at least Namibia's and Zimbabwe's proposals for new ivory trade were rejected. The parties also agreed to end the DMM (Decision Making Mechanism, a system for trade in ivory), and they also agreed on the closure of all domestic markets. This was a great win for elephants, although it still has to show how much progress these decisions will bring practically. In all cases, as CITES failed to put all elephant populations on Appendix I (the highest protection status), it is still a devided message that reaches poachers and ivory buyers: "Some ivory is OK, and some is not." And: "Today we do not want international ivory trade, but we think of trading again in future."
So the battle to save elephants is far from being won.
There was also an exhibition hall belonging to the conference where GMFER/Y4AW had a stand, too.
Sharon Kwok is an actress from Hong Kong who is very engaged in animal conservation. She is one of our GMFER organizers, too. This year she specialized in the pangolin and brought a handmade pangolin costume to Johannesburg.
GMFER is a worldwide organization, and in Johannesburg at least some of us met for the first time.
Here on the picture, from left to right:
Shubert Mwarabu from Tanzania, singer and activist for wildlife, Rosemary Alles from the US (presently in South Africa, GMFER core), me from Germany, and Fortunate M. Phaka from South African Y4AW (Youth for African Wildlife).
I am very happy to be part of the big GMFER 'family'.
Krüger Park Safari
Next day my trip to Krüger National Park began. It was a tour with a small group, organized by Wildlife Safaris. Our group consisted of our tour guide Clive, 2 young couples from Scotland and Singapore, and me. We were all picked up by Clive in Joburg and went to Krüger Park in a minibus. There we changed the car and continued our trip in an open safari vehicle.
In the park (most roads are tarmac roads!) we almost immediately saw elephants. They were very relaxed, and later on we often met some of them very close to the car. But I only saw small groups, no big aggregations.
Our camp was the big Skukuza Camp which was not as bad and as crowded as I expected. The rondavels were rather fine inside. Of course in such a big camp you cannot expect to come across many wild animals but the Nyala in the photo below was not too much impressed by the presence of us humans, just like the waterbuck at the nearby river.
One of our first sightings was a leopard. Could you have spotted the leopard on the first picture? Leopards love to hide, and we were so lucky to see it.
We were really lucky with the big cats. Once we saw a lion at the opposite river bank. We found us so lucky again! Then we saw: It is not one, it is two! Soon it revealed that there was even another one... and another one! Finally 4 young lions came into view, remained at the river for a while, then crossed it and disappeared in the bush. What a sight!
Krüger Park is obviously full of wild creatures - we saw a lot of them! Besides many kinds of antelopes, birds, and other animals, we continued to be lucky to see big cats: We also spotted a cheetah. Due to the present draught we also saw some dead hippos unfortunately.
As I was keen on seeing rhinos, as I had never seen any in the wild before, I was constantly at the look-out for them. On the second day, we finally saw two of them. In the afternoon and in the evening, we saw further five of them.
One evening we joined a night game drive. It was carried out in a big vehicle with around 20 seats. I didn't have high expectations, but again I was surprised by many interesting sightings and the knowledge of our tour guide. We saw mungos, bushbabies, a civet cat, warthogs, baboon families, and - again - rhinos and many animals more.
Finally the sun set completely and the African night fell.
In the dark, we found several interesting animals (e.g. civet cat, bushbabies) - difficult to take photos of. But there was one sighting very easy to see, just beside our road: A mating couple of lions, just taking a break. Finally, after lying around for several minutes, they stood up and elegantly walked away - to do their business again...
Before we left Kruger Park next morning, we saw the mating lion couple again, and again just beside the road. They looked very sleepy and totally bored by the cars standing in front of them.
Before we returned to Johannesburg, we went along the Panorma Route, leading to a beautiful landscape in the Drakensberg Mountains. The landscape was totally different from that in the park and that around Johannesburg.
Beautiful landscape at and around the Three Rondavels: The Blyde River Canyon.
After seeing the Berlin Falls we took a rest in Graskop where we visited a silk factory.
We spent our final night in the Sabie River Bush Lodge in Hazyview which I liked very much. As the name says, it is situated at the Sabie River and it had a very relaxing atmosphere. I liked the design of the bathroom tiles :-)
After a heavy, loud thunderstorm during dinner and a quiet night, we had to leave this nice place and drive back to Johannesburg, from where I took a flight to Cape Town the same evening.
To continue go to Part 2 of this trip: Click HERE