I was on my way back from leave. It was the last day of September and close on a month into spring. When I left it was still winter but on this day it was warm into the evening as we expect down in the Lowveld. I therefore had my windows up and my aircon on. Until I reached the entrance into this great game reserve the Sabi Sand Wildtuin, on entry into the reserve I opened all windows and turned the radio off.
It was good to be home and the first thing I noticed was the air thick with the smell of smoke. It clings in the spider-webs, it dancers in the dust devils and settles everywhere, sometimes it rains in the scented ash.
My drive to the lodge was uneventful, and I arrived to settle in. I had arrived just at the end of safari and I am quite keen to see my friends and catch up with the news from the last two weeks. So I knew exactly where I needed to go too. Straight to post safari hub of the lodge, the bar. George and Keith are there assisting guests with drinks and good conversation. I notice that most of the guests are updating whichever social medium they choose to broadcast their stories of the African bush. The older generation always scold the youngsters as they order their drinks. I chat a bit with the staff at the bar, but I’m here for bush updates, so I corner the rangers and greet them and get some talk going.
I start it off, “how’s Tlangisa?” I ask George. “Still going strong and both alive”. “you know what I saw the other day?” George questions immediately. “The one Majingilane male with the Othawa’s, cubs and all. ‘Strue!” Keith weighs in, “And have you noticed the Othawa’s have an extra cub?” This is exactly what I have been hoping for an update on the last two weeks. I notice that a few guests have been paying attention to the conversation and so does Keith so he turns the guests to include them in the conversation. “The Othawa’s are one of the prides of lions here, they have three cubs now but it has been two for a very long time and so we are still deliberating as too which pride this extraneous cub originally belongs too. On top of that the Majingilanes are not the father of the cubs and have killed off five of their siblings. So the question now is why not?”
“Xhikave is here in a tree”, says a lady from across the bar. She points in the general area south. “That girl is pregnant,” says Kimmy as he walks guests from their room to the bar. “And there is an elephant on the lawn. Please the barman will help you with a drink.” All the guests shuffle and jostle to the end of the verandah to get a glimpse of the elephant who is preening the Knobthorns in the garden. He moves from lamp post to spotlight coming and going as the shadows hide him from view, he humphs deeply as he moves out of the orange glow and into the river. “There are cheetah everywhere at the moment. We see them every day almost and the wild dogs have come back twice and they have brought there pups. Dam Three and Dewane have been mating as well as Dam Three and Nyeleti.” Keith starts to roll through the scorecard. It makes me anxious to get out there and see for myself. Having got what I needed I retired for the evening. The sooner to bed the sooner I would wake up to get the day started.
I woke with a start as I’m not used to having light in my room in the morning. I could hear the warbling of the bulbuls outside in the trees and the distinct and somber call of the black cuckoo. I notice that it is overcast, I sighed deeply knowing that I was back. I turned my radio onto the game drive channel while I made my way down to the lodge to start my day with a coffee. My radio crackled to life, “I’m leaving Dewane in a tree with a kill,” loosely translated of course. I get my coffee and I am greeted by all the staff welcoming me back from leave. I make myself a cup and take a moment on the verandah and look at the view, it is breath-taking. I then go look for Nelson. I find him cleaning our vehicle. I ask him about his leave and we talk home life for a bit. He knows my enjoyment of the story and so tells me,” John the workshop assistant was picking up staff today and he saw a cheetah kill an impala, we going to go this afternoon.” He states forthright. “Ok.” Is all I can say against such determination. Nelson also states that there is buffalo in the south at least a thousand he says.
I then move off to prepare for safari and get my equipment clean and working and start to focus on the guests that will be coming in. So by 15h30 when it is high tea I am ready to explode onto the scene. I greet the guests and chat for a bit, I find out what they are expecting from their stay here. I then inform them of how things will work and such and as soon as possible I usher them to the vehicle. There they climb on and I instruct them as to how to remain safe and then. I start up the car and off we go.
Africa is a huge continent, containing 47 different countries (not counting the surrounding island nations). It is over 7000km from north to south. “We’re going to Africa” is therefore a very vague description of destination. It’s like saying we’re going to Asia. A good first step is to pull out a map of Africa and look at where the current outbreak of Ebola is found:
The countries affected at the moment are all in West Africa – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Nigeria has had one case that was identified on an inbound flight. Subsequently, all flights from affected areas have been cancelled and all countries in the region (including South Africa) are on high alert and have stepped up measures to screen travellers and identify possible victims.
We are certainly not downplaying the crisis and this is without doubt the worst Ebola outbreak in history, with over 700 deaths so far since February. But cancelling a trip to South Africa makes just as much sense as cancelling a trip to Spain because of Ebola. In fact, Spain is closer to the epicentre of the outbreak than South Africa is. All the popular safari destinations in Southern and East Africa remain unaffected by the Ebola outbreak. There is absolutely no reason to cancel your safari trip now. The biggest risk as a traveller right now is that you might have an elevated temperature due to the common flu or cold, and are then quarantined at the airport as a precaution.
How is Ebola spread?
This is an important question to help asses the risk. Thankfully and significantly, Ebola is not an airborne virus. It is spread through direct person-to-person contact, and contact with body fluids of infected persons – blood, saliva and other secretions. The WHO has a helpful factsheet about Ebola, which is worth a read. This means that the risk for ordinary travellers remains low, even in high risk areas, as long as you take basic precautions and avoid intimate contact with others.
South Africa is not only an interesting mix of cultures, but also of third world and first world conditions. While many people unfortunately still live in third world conditions, the infrastructure in South Africa is very much first world, and the public health system is good. The department of health is very conservative when it comes to public health policy and disease prevention. For example, South Africa was the first country to require yellow fever vaccines for travellers arriving from Zambia, after a part of western Zambia was reclassified from “vaccine not recommended” to “vaccine generally not recommended” a few years ago. A minor change by the WHO, but the health department responded swiftly and firmly with new regulations (considered unnecessary by many). South Africa also has world class airports with excellent screening, medical and quarantine facilities.
So these are the facts. There is no Ebola in South Africa or any of its neighbouring countries. Unfortunately, when panic sets in the facts are not always considered in the decision making. During 2012-2013, we had cancellations for trips to South Africa because of the political protests and unrest in Egypt, 7000km away at the opposite end of the content. A major fail of geographical comprehension, and a pity for that family that they cancelled a fantastic trip for a completely unnecessary reason. Let’s hope the same does not happen with this Ebola outbreak.