Have you ever had a moment when you’re sitting on your couch or a chair at home with the heater on while watching TV, and you think to yourself ‘is this really living’?
I’ve had that feeling, more times than I care to remember. And it has been in my mind ever since I came back from the iMfolozi Wilderness Trail in 2015. I spent 5 days with a group of friends and 2 guides out in the African wilderness with no connection to the outside world. When we left to return to Cape Town I was filled with a strange feeling of loss and I thought to myself: ‘was I going home or had I just left it?’
I interviewed Lea Weimann, a UCT first year student and the founder of Eco-Activists Cape Town, to find out if her iMfolozi Wilderness Trail had impacted her in a similar way. In our interview, she said that her experience had taught that “It is important to free oneself from the city and from other materialistic items and just learn to be and live.” One experience she described left a lasting impact on her: “I had the first night watch and got to watch a group of elephants cross the river just opposite our campsite. The elephants stood there splashing in the water and it was as if they were taking a moonlight bath. I just stood by our campfire completely in awe with a few other group members who had got up due to the loud splashing noises that the elephants made. Together we ended up sitting in the darkness, drinking tea, looking at the stars and feeling safe and at home even though the elephants were just a few feet away from us.”
I wanted to find out more about the concept of wilderness than what I already knew so I met with a personal hero of mine, wildlife photographer and journalist Scott Ramsay, at Greens restaurant in Constantia. He has travelled to some of Africa’s most renowned wilderness areas and has had countless experiences. One that has left a lasting impact on him happening while he was in the iMfolozi Wilderness Area: “It was about midnight, lions roaring in stereo on either side of me and soon after that a male leopard rasping its call close by. I could see its eyes in my torchlight”. He also emphasized that it’s not just the big animals that define wilderness, but it’s also the people you meet there and the little things, like the sunlight on a dewdrop or just sitting by a river, that really leave an impression. “These little things are around us all the time, so you actually don’t have to go too far to find wilderness. There are symbols and representatives of it everywhere.”
The Chilojo Cliffs in Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe (@Scott Ramsay).
A white rhino bull cautiously approaches us while we’re sitting in the shade of tree (@Callum Evans).
A typical sunset scene in the iMfolozi: the Hippo Pools on the Black iMfolozi River, home to three hippos, five crocodiles, a troop of baboons and a host of waterbirds (@Callum Evans).
A spotted hyena running across the dry riverbed below our campsite in the early morning (@Callum Evans).
When I’ve spoken to my friends, I have found that they feel the same attraction, wonder and longing for wilderness that I do. When I asked Scott why this is the case, he responded by saying, “Simply because, it’s our home. We come from it, we evolved from it, and we are part of it, originally. The stuff we are made of, as humans, you will find it in every other creature, in every other part of the planet, every ocean and every land. We are basically made of the same stuff. We’re all connected fundamentally in the way we’re made up. So what we’re doing to ourselves we’re doing to everything else and what we’re doing to the planet we’re doing to ourselves”.
We are constantly informed about the degradation of wilderness. We’re seeing it around us and reading about it on a daily basis. But the problem is, despite many of us being well-informed, we’re doing very little to change our behaviour. During our interview, Scott was able to provide some insight into why this might be happening “Wilderness has been categorized as something that is over there and separate from us…If we think that wilderness is something we have to go to or which has to be protected over there, it almost separates us from our responsibility to honour it.” Even in Cape Town “if you walk around the corner and you see a spotted eagle owl, or if you looked up at the mountain and knew there were lions there then you suddenly feel there’s a responsibility in your daily life to honour it and that can lead to living a life that’s more ecologically intelligent.”
Giant web-spinner: a spectacular golden-orb web-spider next to our camp in the morning (@Callum Evans).
The kettle on the camp fire: that fire was the centre of our camp and the one security we had as darkness fell and the hunters came out (@Callum Evans)
A herd of 90 elephants cross from South Africa into Botswana where the Shashe River meets the Limpopo River. This photo clearly illustrates the fact that wilderness and wildlife are not constrained by man-made borders (@Scott Ramsay).
When I asked Scott what it’s going to take for us to turn the tide, he answered by saying “that’s going to require a major shift in the way humans interact with each other and the way humans see themselves. It’s going to take a spiritual revolution, not an economic revolution… you can’t have infinite economic growth in a finite system (the earth)… it’s a mathematical impossibility.” He also said that there needs to be a serious change in the legal systems, which means that nature needs to given the same legal rights as humans. He described how this is already happening in some countries in South America. For example, if a river is being polluted by a company then the community living near the source of the pollution can take the company to court on behalf of the river.
During the course of the interview, there were three words that Scott said which summed up everything we had been talking about: “wilderness is everything”. This is true, whether we choose to ignore it or not. What I have learnt is that if we do not change the way we live and rediscover our connection to wilderness, then we are not going to survive.
Link to a video I made to accompany this post : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwRq1C_MVHM
A bull elephant gets incredibly close to a group of trailists in Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe. This photo shows that it is still possible for us to have intimate encounters with and to reconnect with the creatures with which we once shared our home (@Scott Ramsay).
An umbrella thorn tree silhouetted against the sunset (@Callum Evans).
A herd of 200 buffalo stampede away from us in the iMfolozi (@Callum Evans).
Bushmen rock rt of eland in the Cedarberg, a reminder that we once we came from this land and that we were once connected to it (Callum Evans).
The rock formations in the Cedarberg Wilderness Area are some of the most spectacular in the country (@Callum Evans).