Connor Blog-Game Parks: Tourist Traps or National Treasures?

A few days ago, we as a group partook in two different safari’s at Kruger National Park. Located in Northeastern South Africa, Kruger is one of the largest game reserves in the entire continent. As a group we were excited at the prospect of seeing the Big 5 in person and experience a true African safari, something on many of our bucket lists.

While our lodging in both Cape Town and Johannesburg has been hotels, our accommodations in Kruger were 3-Person Bungalows, space was limited, beds were small, and there was a sign warning us of the potential of Baboons entering our residence. Quite the experience, nothing any years of camping could have trained any of us for.

As much as I love seeing and interacting with animals, in the US, I can’t help but think of the word exploitation whenever I go to a zoo. Zoo’s often times can be tortuous to animals, trapping them in enclosed spaces, forcing them to mate, and feeding them something different than their natural diet. In many cases, the animals act out, harming each other and individuals who work there. 

Kruger was a much different experience, I felt as if we were entering the homes of the animals and seeing how they live. We were instructed to be as silent as possible in order to ensure the animals would not be afraid of us and potentially approach our vehicle. 

Going to Kruger I did very minimal research into what I could be seeing on purpose. I wanted to be surprised and have a true safari experience. The safari was a much different experience to anything I have done in the US, because I felt the animals were not on display like they are elsewhere. We had our campsite that consisted of our bungalows with few artificial lights. This created some close encounters with monkeys, warthogs, and various lizards. 

The African Safari is something many people can only dream about going on, leading some to believe it is a tourist trap and something locals roll their eyes at. However, I believe the National Parks are different. National Parks, and more specifically the Big 5, are something that everyone here in South Africa has been raving about. Whenever we spoke to our tour guides or merchants and mentioned we were going to Kruger, their response immediately was almost always, “you’re gonna go see the Big 5!”

The South African Rand has recently undergone a transformation, now every bill features a prominent portrait of Nelson Mandela, and rightfully so as he is the most important figure in South Africa’s fight for democracy. The bills also feature a different member of the Big 5 on the other side, something that has carried over from the previous iterations of the Rand. The rhino, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and lion are directly engrained in South African culture.

South Africans seem to put a large emphasis on their wildlife, they realize that the country's natural beauty is thanks to the wildlife that was there long before human civilization. Safari’s themselves have minimal invasion on the animals land, the camps consist of a small number of roads and bungalows with as little artificial light as possible. 

A tourist trap is something that operates for the sole reason of profiting from tourists, with little to no interest from those native to the area. Game Parks are much different, they are something everyone in the nation can take pride in, maintaining the wildlife that has helped them create the lives we live today. The Big 5 and maintaining their habitat is something that the leaders of the nation take pride in, and has no signs of slowing down. In the nation that is still healing the scars from the Apartheid era, people of all backgrounds and races can rejoice in the wildlife that surrounds them.

In South Africa, the National Park system puts a significant amount of emphasis on the conservation of land and socio-economic development in rural areas. According to the South African National Parks Website in 1994, “the then National Parks re-conceptualised its role in South African society” it is no coincidence that Nelson Mandela was the first democratically elected President of the nation in the same year. 

Kruger was a once in a lifetime experience and something none of us will ever forget.
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