SOUTH AFRICA: The Wisdom-Poop-Walk through Balule

We went to a wonderful morning hike through the bush, had a safari in the afternoon and went even for a night drive. The two days at Andi´s Camp in the Balule Nature Reserve during our Safari through the northeast of South Africa have been just a fascinating experience. If you want to get some insights to the other parts of the tour, check the country page with the map. This article here is about the quite interesting bush walk we did with Ranger Joe Maiapane and Jika Tibana where they educated us about the surrounding nature, the wildlife and gave us special knowledge about the animal dung.

For us city people dung is just the smelling ugly excrement which is disgusting and you just know from the annoying neighbors’ dog shitting in your yard. The nature guides showed us completely different perspectives what that shit else can be. It´s a marker and a hint for a lot of information about the animal, you can read the gender, approximate age, if it´s sick and what kind of illness.

As well the dung can be used for several medical therapies. The big mammals like elephants, giraffes or buffaloes mostly eat trees and grass, their digestion functions with very little liquid – there is not much water available. So the dung is actually quite dry and looks more like a ball of grass. With elephant dung you can make very effective tea against stomach pain. If you burn it and inhale the steam, it helps strongly against headaches and migraines.

The animals are eating a lot of plants which hold ingredients humans are already using for several medical or beauty products. Therefore manure consists of much more than just waste products. Jika and Joe told as much more during the bush walk through the reserve. They showed us rare spiders, hidden insects and explained us how the nature works. Trees are not just trees, and bushes are not just bushes. They are as well homes, protection areas, breeding places and scratching posts.

It´s only a little glimpse to see the photos, read the article or listen to the podcast. To really understand and get the awareness of how everything works together, you just have to be inside it. The Rangers from Drifters were just awesome and guided us to get a touch of life and the feeling that we are just little parts of the whole mother earth. We spoke with Joe Maiapane in an interview about the reserve and his efforts to protect the animals. In the following there is the skripted interview.

Hello Joe, you said you are a guide now for 20 years. How did it come that you wanted to become a range.

Yes, for 20 years at the Greenfire Game Lodge. First of all I was working on a farm and I had to look after the animals. I love how the animals work and operate. That´s why I took this work here as a guide.

I was very impressed when you explained the instructions how to go into the bush. So you are very aware of the animals and the nature, you don´t take a gun with you and you have a lot of respect by approaching.

As a guide before we start walking we tell our clients that we don´t carry a gun because we have to respect. When we work in the reserve we have to know how animals operate. If you give the animals space they will respect you. As a guide I walk and I look at the tracks. If you find a fresh track of a lion or an elephant or a buffalo or other dangerous animals. Don´t follow the tracks. Because we have to respect the nature.

This morning we saw a lot of “shit”. But for us city people it is totally different, maybe see some dog poop on the street, which is for us just some disgusting garbage. And you showed us something completely different. Actually the “shit” can be some kind of information, you can read a lot of things in it, where they are going, male or female or if it´s sick. And it can even be used as medicine.

Yes, as we are nature guides. We learn which dung you can handle and from which animals. So we can see if the dung is fresh or older, or this one is a male or female. We can check this just by looking at the dung. So we know which dung, so we try to teach the visitors. If our clients come we know they don´t like the dung, it comes out of the back of the animals. Some of them, like elephant dung, giraffe dung, zebra dung, you can touch the dung. Especially the elephant dung, you can use as a medicine or mosquito repellant.

You told us, you can burn the elephant dung and the smoke can be very good against headaches and even diarrhea. So it can have a healthy effect.

Yes, yes. Because we learn about the elephant which trees he eats. And we as human beings, we use these trees as a medicine. If you have a problem of nose bleeding or headache or stomach problems, you can just take the elephant dung, soak it in the water, leave it for a couple of hours. And then you drink it. You can find in there grass. If you are suffering, you put it in a cup and you drink it. Problem solved.

And it´s actually for free.

Yes! This one is for free!

How many guides are working in the whole Balule Nature Reserve?

In the whole park we have got 16 lodges in the Balule Reserve. Some of them have got four guides, some of them have even 40 or 45 guides. And there are 16 lodges all together. On the Greenfire Lodge we have three camps. We have got the Two Feet Camp, there is no electricity but it is nice and we accommodate. If Drifters is coming with two groups one is going to Two Feet and one is coming to Andy´s Camp. We have the main lodge, it´s a five star lodge. If you do a self driving tour you can stay there for two, three, four nights or longer. But on the camp it is only for two nights. And we accommodate here at the camps only guests from Drifters. The over landing groups.

What is important to know and how to behave in front of wild animals?

Each group, when they arrive here, first we welcome them and we tell them not to do their own walk. It´s for their own safety, because we don´t know what is going to happen out there. Some people just think because I´m here I can walk wherever I want. I am on the holiday. But because we are in a Big Five Area, we tell the people, we warn the people. They have to be calm and the cannot do their own thing. They can ask us and we can take them.

It´s as well a kind of respect for the nature because we coming into their home. We cannot be arrogant and just do walks around without attention, because then accidents will happen.

Thank you. That´s what we try to explain. When we come here we all are visitors. We all are visitors. We don´t belong to the bush. Animals are the ones who belong here. When we are we have to behave like visitors. Because we don´t own this place. The animals own the place.

Tell me one of you most exciting experiences you made with the animals.

One experience was with an elephant. We were doing a walk. The elephant was far, but because we were making noise the elephant kept coming closer and close. And we tried to calm all the clients and told them to stick together. And I stood in the front and just tried to clap my hands. Then the elephant stopped because sometimes the elephants they have a narrow sight. They don´t see far. If you don´t make noise they don´t see you and can come too close then. So then I just clapped my hands and the elephant stopped and took a different direction. The people were very very scared.

For them, they don´t know the animal and of course at first sight that close they get afraid of it. But you have to understand that the elephant is as well afraid of the human. So you need some way how to communicate, like hey, we are here. Then you can give it time to figure it out if you are a danger or not and to leave.

Yes, that´s true. Animals have a way of respect. And as humans we are big predators on the animals. It is only if you are afraid, when you run the animal will follow you. But if you stand still they will recognize, this is a big predator. They know us since hundreds and hundreds of years, back then we were hunters. Now when they see a human they are respecting. As long as you respect them.

Your colleague Jika told me that they recognize you as humans and predators, but they still know in some way that you are as well looking out for them.

Yes, that´s ture. We look at the signs. Every animal has a different behavior. When we see a elephant is coming, and we see, okay, this one we have to move away because he is not happy. If he is happy, if he is relaxed, we can stop and take pictures. Also the buffalo. If we find a buffalo alone, we respect him. They don´t have a warning. Buffalos don´t have a warning. If he comes, he comes straight. He doesn´t stop. But because we walk without guns, we just walk in surprise to see animals. But in reality we are making sure that we don´t want to see them surprisingly. We don´t want to surprise them. But if we surprise them they give us space before they attack.

If you look on human beings actually we react quite similar. If you go out through the city and there is somebody else, and you approach stupidly then there can be a fight. But if you have respect and you recognize there is a angry guy and you keep your distance, then there is no fight. It´s similar with distance and respect of personal space.

The elephant have their own distance. When we approach, when we come to the animals we look on the comfort zone. If we don´t each other, we two, if we stand close together like this you would not be happy. Now when you see an elephant on a distance, feeding, eating. And you keep pushing. It will stop eating, because it cannot talk. If it would be a human he would say: What? You see me, what do you want? If you keep pushing you go to the critic zone. If the animal is a giraffe it will run away. But if it is a lion or an elephant they will try to defend themselves. It´s only defense. Most of the animals don´t kill people because they want to kill them. It´s only self-defense.

The only animal who kills for fun is the human being.

Yes. For them it´s just a game. But because we don´t have a gun, we learn how to respect the animals. But if you have a gun. You don´t mind. But for us it is all on our experience. Most people who have been killed is because they had a gun. They don´t respect the animals. When you see a lion, a female lion, and she is having three cubs, then it´s dangerous. And if she is attacking, because I have a gun I would shoot the mother. What is going to happen about the babies? Because they are still young. And most of the lions when they have their babies, they are blind mostly. It takes about two to three weeks to fully open their eyes.

So actually you killed four animals, because the three cubs are going to die as well.

Yes. That´s it. And that´s why we don´t use a gun. We know at some other places they wear a gun. They are using a gun. Yes. But if we still would carrying the gun, the animals would see. I can talk about the places where they hunt the animals. These animals, they don´t want to see a car, they don´t want to see a human. Now for us, we try to respect and give these animals peace. And we want them to come back and to work with us. When our tourists come we can go to see elephants. We can go to see lions without carrying guns. Just by making it peacefully. Because if we have a gun, we are not making peace.

Who makes peace with a gun?

No, nobody. Just think about it if I would come into your home with a gun. Maybe with a AK47 and I knock on your door. And then you see me with a gun. You will break the window and run away. If you would have a gun, you would fight back. This is the way how animals see us. For them we are big predators if we carry a gun. And also if we don´t have a gun even animals can see that. They see this one is just walking. He is not hunting for us. But if he has a gun they think this one is looking for us. He wants to kill me. I have to do self-defense. Even if the animal doesn´t come to you when you carry a gun. When you have people around you, everybody there is in danger. As well on the other side we try to say, we have to stick together. As well the animals stick together when a lion wants to attack a zebra. Also the zebras try to stick together. The lion cannot come between of those zebras. He is waiting for one which is getting out, the weakest one and he will go after that one. Now when we stick together the animals will wait and watch. They don´t know which one to pick.

There is still the question if it wouldn´t be better not to visit at all and leave the animals alone and don´t disturb them. But your colleague Jika told us the nature education you do is important and as well with the money which comes from the visitors you can provide the security patrol for the reserve and especially for the protection of the Rhinos.

Yes, and I like it when the people from the city are coming. When they come here, they can learn about the nature. They can start to support the nature. Because this here goes from generation to generation. Now when the tourists are coming we have income and can hire people to look after the Rhino. When we talk about the Rhinos, in 15 or 20 years, if this will continue, the hunting, after 20 years we will not going to have any Rhino anymore. Your grandchildren will not going to know a Rhino. The will not say, oh, that´s a Rhino. You have to say: There WAS a Rhino 15 years ago. But if tourists keep coming, keep learning, keep giving and paying, we can gain money to hire people to look after the Rhino. This is very important. And some people who come, they went to the zoo to see some animals, but they need to know about the real nature, the real wildlife and the real animals. Because those animals in the zoo, they are no real animals anymore. They like dogs. Because there you can touch an elephant, you can ride an elephant. I was very happy once, when a lady came one day, she was from Germany. And she said, she started to love to come to South Africa when she still was 20. Now she is 65 years old. She came here and she saw an elephant walking. She started crying, because she saw an Indian elephant, who got chains on his feet. And she said, that elephant was not free. But those here, they are free. They walk freely and everywhere. There are clients who are really nice. They help you, and they are very happy when they see the animals.

It´s not only the money, it´s very helpful of course. But on a bigger level the people learn, get an experience what´s really going on in the nature, and they take these impulses and knowledge back home where they maybe tell others as well. More and more people in the modern cities loose this perspective to nature at all, so it´s very important to educate and make people more sensitive for caring about the planet.

Yes, sure, it´s not only about the money. It´s about the nature education. Because I you can see now the animals and the nature, how beautiful it is, how the animals behave, how they can communicate with the people, this is a good idea. Because most people in the cities, they don´t know an elephant, only from television. But when they come to see them with their own eyes, it changes. And then they hear that somebody is shooting them or doing this and that, then they say, this is a beautiful animal with a calm and nice behavior. How can people shot this animal?

It touches the heart, if you see them in wild nature.

Yes, it touches the heart. Many people just come here to enjoy the nature. But some of them just getting old and never saw an elephant or never saw wild animals. Now when you go back home, you took some nice pictures and photos, and then you go back home, you have to show. So others will ask, where have you seen this? Where did you get this picture? What is going on in Africa. When you do the overlanding tours from Drifters, you get to Johannesburg, it´s a city. They show Sovieto and the museums, they show you everything. When you leave Johannesburg, you see different things. You see farming and Mangos and everything until you are getting into the bush. In these reserves. Now you can see animals. When you go to Swaziland, it is a different culture, in Cape Town you find again a different culture. Now you learn as well about different cultures. We are human beings. We look the same, but we are different cultures. Especially in South Africa, we allow everyone to do what they feel. If you want to be a Christian, you are a Christian. If have traditional believes, you are a traditional believer. Everything you do, what makes you happy, this is the freedom.

But it was a long way to freedom. Like the name of Nelson Mandelas book.

A very very long way. And all this didn´t work with a gun. With a gun it´s just killing and it doesn´t solve the problem. But if you can stand together and talk to each other. Mandela did once a lot, at some other place and some other time. But you can still see some other people, they still do not get along. But it takes some time, a bit longer. This is not only happening only in South Africa. Different countries did the same. We have to learn. Forgive and forget. This is going to happen, we learn from each other. We have to keep respect each other.

We are not at a point in human history where we just have to find a way to all get along. Because if we don’t, we just destroy us and our life space, and in 100 years then there won´t be only no Rhino, there won´t be human beings neither.

We human beings we have to talk and we have to respect each other. It doesn’t mean like you have this power and this one has that power. It´s all about respect and to get along and to work together. It´s a long way to survive. It´s not easy but it´s the best way to survive. You cannot force somebody to something if he doesn´t want. Most people use a gun. They don´t learn why things happened. Those people have a narrow mind, but mostly they need money. But we destroy the world.

Hopefully more people will come to get educated by our team and learn from their visit.

It´s true, I need more people to come. Because we don´t know how we are going to be here in the future. But you should come now, because in the older days you were not allowed to come to South Africa, because of many reasons. Now it’s open. Most people have to come. Some people are waiting for 50 years. Now is the time. You have to come and see for yourself. It’s very important. The people from the city must come and see the nature. Everybody is welcome. South Africa is open for everybody to come and see the nature.


Website Greenfire:

Website Siyabona:

Website Krugertravel:

Website Wildwings:

Website Safaribookings:


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