Our trip to Kruger National Park was amazing and certainly something I will remember fondly for the rest of my life. We were led by David Bunn, Cleo Graf, and their team of incredibly knowledgeable guides, who helped us learn about Kruger and HaMakuya, the rural area where we’d be going for our homestay experience. We were all very excited to see all of the animals—especially the Big 5—but before coming to Kruger, I didn’t necessarily understand the complex and uncanny nature of the human-animal relationship that is ingrained in Kruger and the neighboring rural areas.
During our lectures in Kruger, we learned about both the ivory and rhino horn trades, as well as about environmental and ecological factors that affect the park’s animal populations. We spent a lot of time discussing elephants particularly and learning about their superior intellectual and emotional capacity and about how their growing populations can be destructive to other animals’ habitats and certain species of plants. This touches on a problem that Kruger currently faces—with growing elephant populations, what is the best way to protect other animals’ habitats and maintain the ecological diversity of the park? Another problem that the park faces is the killing of rhinos to trade their horns, especially because of its proximity to Mozambique and Zimbabwe, allowing for easy transport across country borders.
We were further able to understand the animal-human interaction when we did our homestay in HaMakuya. After being in Kruger for several days and fawning over the animals, we learned quickly what destruction these animals can cause to rural villages. On our second morning, we woke up to news that some cows had been killed by lions the previous night, meaning that a family would go without their food and income source until they could afford a new cow. When we visited an orchard near by, the workers told us that elephants had recently destroyed some crops there, leaving more families without food or a source of income. One of the most difficult parts of our time at our homestay was trying to reconcile the natural awe I felt about the animals but also feeling sympathy and understanding for the additional suffering these animals caused people I met during my homestay. I think it was important for us to learn both of the importance of animal conservation as well as the damage they can do, as this accurately represents the complexities of Kruger National Park and the rural areas around it.