During our safari experience in the Aquila Game Reserve, we learned of South Africa’s Big Five: the rhino, the elephant, the lion, the leopard, and the African buffalo. Along our trek through the reserve with safari guide Carl, we learned of the great deal of poaching occurring in South Africa. Only a few days before, the poaching of several rhinos made front-page headlines in the newspaper.
There is evidently a great deal of distaste for poachers among South Africans. When we asked Carl what he does when he catches poachers, and he stared back straight faced and said, “Shoot ‘em, and feed ‘em to the lions.” We could not tell if this was his dark sense of humor or he was being serious. With so much light being put on poaching of large African game, a serious poaching issue is often cast in its shadow: plant poaching.
Through my personal experiences at Tygerberg Nature Preserve, I found that there is a different kind of poaching that is having a more dramatic effect on the local ecosystem than poaching big game. Traditional South African medicines call for the use of some plants, which are currently endangered under South African law. Poachers are not only targeting big game, but also targeting these plants, which hold great commercial value. One example of this is the recent poaching of the Impala Lily in Kruger national park. This flower is not only beautiful but also essential to the ecosystem in Kruger. The heavy poaching of this flower and others can lead to the complete destruction of a majority of the ecosystem. Of course, poachers are not the only issue facing South Africa’s nature preserves.
I learned in Tygerberg that an equally menacing threat to South African ecosystems is invasive plant species. Foreign plants brought over by Europeans are still having a tremendous impact on indigenous plant species. We spent half a day clearing out an invasive flower that speckled a few hectares of land in the preserve and barely made a dent. The prevalence of foreign plants in the South African ecosystem has led to a hustle to protect the few areas in South Africa that still contain purely indigenous plant life. The protection of these areas is integral in the preservation of the history of South Africa, especially in the Cradle of Humankind. By preserving the indigenous, natural beauty of South Africa, we can preserve a piece of beauty in a country that has had such an unsteady past.