Saturday, July 12, 2014

And we are off. We left Johannesburg and hit the road for the main goal of our expedition: filming at Daktari Bush School. Surrounding the game reserves in South Africa are many small villages where children live who have never seen the animals behind the fences. It’s weird; that they live next to such parks but that even Dutch children more often see a giraffe or impala.

Blog 1. By: Grietje Evenwel. Grietje is the winner of Free Press Unlimited’s campaign and our new correspondent. Currently she is reporting from South Africa.

Daktari Bush School offers children the opportunity to learn about the animals that their country is known for. During one week, they live together with animals. Literally. A dassie named Casshew strolls around like an additional family member. Seen as being superior to the dogs, he has permission to put is teeth in whatever he sees; from pants leg to upper arm. And although he prefers to hang his buttocks on the table edge and let his poo be caught in bowl one of the volunteers will immediately assist him with, he can use the regular toilet.

During the morning and evening hours, deer pass by to eat here and at the dining table we are being welcomed by a porcupine who wants to be petted behind his spines. And now I am only talking about the animals in the camp. Outside of the camp, the truly dangerous animals are walking around.

This becomes even more real when we are going on a bush walk and the dog has to come with us. 'She will protect us against the leopards,' one of the volunteers explains. To me the dog doesn't seem that scary, but never judge a book on its cover. I am sure a killing machine is hiding behind her sweet eyes.

As we are walking for a while, the accompanying journalist Michelle asks if the dog ever scared off a leopard. 'Scared off?' repeats the volunteer, 'Definitely not, she will be eaten first!' We look at her, stunned by her answer we ask: 'But the dog is here to protect us!?' The volunteer does not seem to understand us: 'But that is what she is doing, right? While the leopard is occupied by eating the dog, we can run away.'

We are surprised and can't help but laugh. Although at the same time, an uncomfortable feeling gets hold of me. The image of a leopard eating a dog is not how I expected this safari to end. Let alone what will happen after the dog is being swallowed before we had enough time to get away. After all, Running in the vicinity of these giant cats is not the smartest idea...

Suddenly I am not that enthusiastic anymore about the fresh leopard tracks we passed just a few minutes ago. And I catch myself taking an extra look behind every little bush on our trail. Come on, you never know! The children are being far less anxious. They are walking and singing as before. From experience I now know: these children won't be quit unless a real leopard is right in front of them.

I know this because after the bush walk we are going to feed a leopard. Luckily it is one in captivity. With two canine implants, the leopard can not survive in the wild anymore. But it is still a wild animal; he growls, shows his teeth, looks at us with an intense look and slams against the fence...

The children are being motionless, with eyes wide open. And I have to say, the animal is quite impressing. In any case, I don´t feel the need to get within 15 feet of the fence. But the children and I agree: even though the leopard is very frightening, it is also a magnificent animal who certainly should not be hunted.

And this is exactly what the Daktari school wants us to realise. And why we left Johannesburg to film here all day.

Grietje Evenwel is the winner of a campaign of Free Press Unlimited and travelled to South Africa to work with the South African youth news bulletin Bona Retsang and produce news item for the Dutch youth news bulletin NOS Jeugdjournaal. The campaign is supported by the Dutch Postcode Lottery.