A woman takes a dip in a croc-infested dam. An angry elephant flips a car on to its roof. A man drives hundreds of kilometres with a venomous snake at his feet. A family gets caught in rising floodwaters. A lioness opens a car door with her teeth. These are just five of the amazing stories you can read about in 101 Kruger Tales.
101 Kruger Tales: Extraordinary Stories from Ordinary Visitors to the Kruger National Park was compiled and edited by Jeff Gordon in a four-year labour of love that saw him sifting through nearly 650 submissions to choose the most gripping ones. About a quarter of the stories he eventually included he’d heard about from others. He made it his mission to track down the people who were there when the action went down and then to wheedle them into writing and submitting their stories.
I read 101 Kruger Tales in two great gulps. Gordon has done a great job, balancing tales of bravery, endurance and triumph with stories that are heartbreaking or funny, and a whole lot of incidents that show just how stupid humans can be. First timers to the park and old hands alike should take note: the Kruger is not a gigantic zoo or theme park and the rules exist to protect both the wild animals whose home it is and us visitors, who are the interlopers.
For those who have never been lucky enough to visit the Kruger National Park in South Africa, Gordon has provided thoughtful context in two introductory chapters, setting the scene for the stories to come. There’s also a glossary at the back, explaining any terms you might not be familiar with.
If you know the park well, the maps pinpointing exactly where each incident took place will allow you to see the action in your mind’s eye. My only disappointment with reading the ebook on my old 6” Kindle was that the photos were black and white and the map text so tiny I could barely read it. If you have a larger tablet or colour Kindle, your ebook experience should be much better. And of course the paperback doesn’t suffer from either of these issues, having both full colour photos and readable maps.
Satisfyingly, the book also includes lots of tales you’ve probably never heard before. There are reports of human encounters with stowaway snakes, with big game like lions, elephants and hyenas. There are also many eye-witness accounts of battles between animals – sometimes with surprising results.
You’ll cheer when a fluffy leopard cub gets away from a gang of bullying baboons, urge an impala that’s stuck in mud to make one more attempt to break free, or curse the photo-fixated tourists hounding a leopard near a camp gate, giving it little option but to try to jump the fence, electrocuting itself to death. The writer of that cautionary leopard tale comments aptly: ‘Had everyone behaved a little less selfishly and a little more discreetly – keeping their distance and allowing the leopard a path to escape – the outcome would have been entirely different.’
But my personal favourite is the story that begins: ‘A sighting of the species Homo Stupidus is not uncommon in Kruger. Anyone who has driven around the Park long enough will have seen all sorts of terrible behaviour from people doing their level best to exit the gene pool.’
To prove the truth of that remark, it goes on to describe how a guide and tourists on a night drive in the predator-rich area around Muzandzeni picnic site discovered a naked German taking a shower behind his vehicle while his wife ‘took a bath’ in the Shimangwaneni Dam. In the dark. Among a healthy population of crocs and hippos. In an area where they should never have been after gate-closing time. It’s so utterly brainless that it made me laugh out loud.
A strong reminder of how dangerous it can be to walk among wild animals, even with two armed guides who know what they’re doing, is the account of how things went horribly wrong one day on the Metsi-Metsi Wilderness Trail. The group of walkers came across a lioness with cubs, a guide was severely mauled, a lioness died and the horror of that day still haunts the woman who chronicled the event.
Some of the stories are illustrated with photographs that bring the events to life. All the photos have been used to create the mosaic depicting the face of a leopard that appears on the book’s striking cover.
Kudos to Jeff Gordon for choosing the tales so wisely and for his fine editing which has ensured that they make for easy, good reading yet still retain a flavour of each writer’s individual voice. He has been meticulous in acknowledging each writer and documenting copyright for each photo.
Depending on what kind of person you are, you can read these true stories for their shock and awe, or you can remind yourself of two things: how privileged we are to be able to venture into the territory of wild animals in the Kruger National Park; and how seriously we need to take the responsibility which comes with that privilege.
You don’t have to read the book in great gulps as I did; you can keep it next to your bed to dip into in small doses. But one thing is for sure: if you have a love of wildlife or even a touch of wildness in your soul you’ll love 101 Kruger Tales and will probably want to read some of the stories more than once.
- You can find the paperback, published by Penguin Random House, at Exclusive Books, in shops in Kruger National Park or buy directly from websites like takelot and Loot. An ebook version is available from Amazon.
Do you have a tale of your own?
Top tip: The Kruger Tales website also gives you a sneak preview of some of the stories.
What did you think of the book? Which was your favourite story? Share your comments below.
Copyright © Roxanne Reid - No words or photographs on this site may be used without permission from roxannereid.co.za