27 May 2010


When everything gets too much I escape to the Addo Elephant Park some 40 kilometres from Port Elizabeth in South Africa. Spending a night or two camping and listening to Hyenas and Jackal calling at night I soon forget everything that is irritating me.

The drought has been hard on the animals and vegetation but thankfully a cloudburst has filled the dams and the grass has turned green. The elephants have noticed this and I noticed a large matriarchal herd of elephants doing a strange foot shuffle. Using their feet they loosen the grass and then they pick it up and knock the tuft on their backs to get rid of the soil. This gives them a free complimentary dust bath and something to eat. To see the group interacting and feeding with many calves was wonderful. I must admit I have never had such a co-operative herd to photograph and I completely lost track of time.

They eventually moved to a nearby water hole and I went ahead to make sure I was in a good position to take photographs. Elephants do make me nervous but this herd was so in control that I had nothing to worry about. I had stupidly parked across the track that they follow but a large female stood some six inches from the car to conduct the herd past me, much like someone controlling the traffic for children crossing the street. I must admit the sudden shadow of the elephant over the car did cause an adrenaline rush.

When they moved off I read a book for a while waiting for the light to improve and it irritated me. I was an overlander’s guide to crossing Africa and it mentioned Addo and its elephants. Citrus fruits are banned from the park and they claim it is because elephants love them so much it might drive them to damaging cars in their frenzy to get at them. That is true but the writer has no sense of history. The real reason is because some 30 years ago when the park was fenced off and you were not allowed in the elephants’ area they were fed citrus fruit to attract them to the viewing area in front of the main rest camp. This was stopped many years ago because it was just a bad animal management practice. I remember the excitement as a child of the oranges and the herds of elephants coming to eat them. A good idea but a wrong practice. The elephants have of course not forgotten this and still react when they smell citrus. If all elephants loved oranges one would find signs banning citrus at all the places where elephants occur. Eating an orange at a zoo might lead to disaster if all elephants suffered from uncontrollable citrus lust!

I also remember my buffalo deprived childhood. The buffalo were nocturnal and I saw one buffalo in about 30 years. They had no natural enemies in the park and they multiplied. Then lions were introduced into the park in 2003 and they really enjoyed the buffalo, so much so that they almost fed exclusively on them. Cats see well in the dark and a nocturnal feeding buffalo is easily heard and stalked with unfortunate consequences for them. The buffalo however are not stupid and over a period of a few years they have changed their behaviour and now feed in daylight and spend the nights worrying in groups in the thick bush. This is obviously a better defensive lifestyle and they are recovering well after the initial impact of the lions and I get to see buffalo just about every time I go to the park.

So elephants remember and buffalo adapt andI must remember that I enjoy going to the reserve (I only went once last year) and I must adapt my lifestyle to allow more visits....

16 May 2010


To be quite honest I don’t know if a railway station can die of shame but in Port Elizabeth in South Africa we have one that seems to have done so.

It was a narrow gauge railway line known as the Apple Express and its primary task was to bring apples growing in an area called the Langkloof to the harbour city of Port Elizabeth. The apples are good and they are still being exported but road transport is cheaper and although the rail line continues to function it is mainly a tourist line. The little station was neglected and fell into disuse. It is a classic example of urban decay.

The buildings were broken into, graffiti appeared on the old locomotives, recyclable metal was looted, vagrants lived in railway carriages and the whole place became unsightly. There were protests by railway preservation groups and historical societies. The saddest were the old railway men who had worked in the old station and the workshops; they took pride in their work and the shining locomotives. Luckily a few locos and carriages were preserved and the line lives on for tourism. The rusted locomotives are like gravestones for a passed era.

The station is in a prime area on the road leading to the beachfront. It is on a hill and overlooks the harbour. It got dangerous but still attracted people who love locomotives, some tourists and the curious. A student, newly graduated with a degree in photography, was mugged and lost all his new photographic gear. A casino employee walking past the area late at night was raped and murdered.

Then South Africa won the right to host the FIFA World Cup in 2010. Urban renewal and gentrification is how we are going to present a clean face for the visitors. Bulldozers and work teams have moved in and there is not much left of the station. A few of the buildings have been bricked up and what is left of the locomotives and rolling stock is awaiting removal. There are warning signs for asbestos dust. There is a lot of work to be done before they can build another shopping mall or houses where the station stood (and I hope they don't).

The site overlooks the harbour and is right in front of some fuel storage tanks. The tanks apparently leak and fuel is finding its way into the sea in the harbour. Near the fuel tanks is a massive heap of iron ore that fed by trains coming from the interior. This is loaded onto ships and exported. While the iron ore stands awaiting shipping the wind blows the dust onto the beaches and nearby houses causing black stains. I don’t know what the health effects are.

The World Cup is doing a lot of good. The people of South Africa are excited, not only the rich and well off, but the workers who build the stadiums and the other inhabitants of a football loving country. We are even looking at the aesthetics of our cities which is great, but we need to do so much more….

14 May 2010

A Shark Story

Sometimes as a photographer you take a picture that you wish you did not have to take and then you don’t like it and you don’t do anything with it and it disappears onto a hard drive.

I took this picture in the harbour at Port Elizabeth in South Africa in 2004. They have been identified by a shark expert as Mako Sharks, not an easy identification as their jaws have been removed and they were lying upside down. They are apparently a legal form of by-catch of the trawl and long line fishing industry. They were apparently on their way to be processed and will appear in a fish and chip shop as fish or, more likely, in the form of fish cakes. It is a strange world where something as big as those two sharks are “accidentally” caught. It is quite sickening to think that the jaws were removed to make a wall decoration. According to a young fisherman the jaws with a light bulb stuck between them, looks cool as a light fitting. A bit of red paint apparently adds a bit of authenticity. I let this image gather cyber dust on a hard drive for the last 7 years.

Then in The Herald, a local newspaper last week was a headline “shock discovery of seal remains.” Seems harbour security found “the skulls and pelts of four seal were found in the bags in the boot with parts of 15 starfish, the jaws of two Mako Sharks, the head and feet of a Cape Gannet…”

About 20 years ago I took part in beach walks and our aim was to monitor the birds that washed up. I remember many bird wings without bodies and albatrosses without heads. I found an old recipe book that listed methods of cooking sea birds. There was a recipe for braised Gannet amongst others! I was angry and wrote about seabird slaughter for the cooking pot and it was published and like all these things nothing happened. After a while we also stopped the beach walks because our cars were broken in too often.

The people who were caught with the strange luggage they tried to smuggle past security appeared in court on Wednesday. They will be charged under the Seabird Seals Preservation Act and the Marine Living Resources Act and the contravention of the by-catch recording process. The animal parts were confiscated. According to the newspaper they were meant for the sangoma muti market. The traditional healers (sangomas) must find their medicines (muti) somewhere and it is logical that there would be a market for them.

I don’t know what conclusion to draw from what I have written. In an old book I have on fishing in South Africa there is a picture of a fisherman with a Cape Fur Seal that he caught using a fishing rod as though the seal were a fish and the caption reads “ex Africa simper aliquid Novi.”

I would just like to discover something new that is nice for a change. I am tired of the environment and its inhabitants being maimed and mutilated.

5 May 2010

life, death, taxes and recycling bins

Life in Africa and small places is very complex. The small coastal village of Schoenmakerkop, where I live, was recently thrown into turmoil as two bins for recycling glass suddenly landed in the village. I don’t know how they got here; they could have been dropped from a helicopter or just pushed off a passing truck.

There was unease in the village and the Ratepayers Association started circulating agendas, meetings were held and the planning started. The strange thing is we all agreed that recycling is a good thing. This is possibly the first time we had consensus on anything.

The main problem is that the bins were in the wrong place. The first one absolutely destroyed a pensioner’s sea view and was in the middle a scenic spot. It was solved at night and the bin was moved. Sadly the move was not a success. It had been placed near the house of an older female resident. The bins do attract vagrants and poor people. We still have bottles that you can hand back at the store and receive your deposit back - I am not sure what the situation is in the rest of the world but it was great as a kid as collecting bottles could supplement your pocket money. The bin unfortunately immediately attracted people who fished out bottles using bits of string and sticks. So for safety purposes and peace of mind we had to move it again, this time in front of a house that is only used by holidaymakers. I am sure that when they come down for a vacation we will have to move the bin again.

The second bin was quite well placed and there were no immediate complaints but after a week or two a strong and unpleasant smell was coming out of the bin. We are a coastal village and quite popular with anglers. Some idiot had thrown his unused bait into the bin and it was rotting. Of course the nearest resident complained and we had to move the bin. We found the perfect spot, on an open sidewalk on the road leading out of the village. Very convenient and it is easy to drop off the bottles and glass on the way to work or the shops.

Then some idiot drove into the bin. Had he been going faster it could really have been spectacular. It was cleaned up and the bin still stands proudly.

The sad thing is that the bins have probably not yet stopped moving around the village and that it is 2010 – very late to start something as basic as recycling glass. I don’t know what the next problem with the bins will be but I will let you know. By the way I really enjoy throwing bottles into the bins – they make a great sound!

International Garden Photographer of the Year (IGPOTY)

Congratulations to Chinch Gryniewicz on his Third Prize in the category Trees, with a gorgeous image of new spring leaves emerging on common lime. He will be at the Prize Giving Ceremony at Kew Gardens on Saturday. Well done Chinch.

The exhibition of 100 images from the competition can be seen at Kew until October and there is a book   featuring the images. Chinch has done well in this competition in the past, with his image of Marguerites in Rain winning its category in 2008. He will be entering again this year.

For more information on the competition visit http://www.igpoty.com/. The 2010 competition closes 30 November 2010.