First leg of 5000km trek complete

Guy Rogers

IT is a giant of a challenge – but they are one fifth of the way there.

News of the 5000km Tracks of Giants expedition was announced yesterday by the Wilderness Foundation, the Port Elizabeth-based organisation which is spearheading the project.

The team – including representatives from the Wild Foundation in the US and other South African NGOs – are walking, cycling and canoeing across Southern Africa with the goal of highlighting “the human-wildlife interface”.

They started by trekking south down Namibia’s Atlantic coast and then, overcoming extreme temperatures, they cycled through the Namib Desert, encountering elephant, a cheetah with her cubs, aardwolf, and a bat-eared fox, project spokesman Claire Warneke said.

“There was much celebration as they crossed the 1000km mark, and they are now headed towards Botswana.”

The project is co-led by specialist wilderness guide Ian Michler and Wilderness Foundation leadership and education director Dr Ian McCullum, who is also an honorary professor at NMMU.

Michler said although they were still in the early stages of their journey, “it has already highlighted a number of conservation and human issues including land- use competition, tender and stakeholder disputes, human-animal conflicts and the vital need for corridors for both wildlife and the nomadic Himba people”.

“Our most demanding challenge is going to be recording these disputes, challenges and successes as accurately and authentically as possible.”

The route will take the trekkers through six countries: Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique, and the trans-frontier parks linking those countries.

They are following the old elephant migration paths because jumbos can play a key role in anchoring conservation initiatives and attracting tourists, the foundation’s Andrew Muir explained.

The team will be carrying an elephant collar throughout their journey. The collar is linked to a GPS tracking device, and armchair travellers can follow them live on the map posted on www.tracksofgiants.org.

Muir said the team would be looking at issues including climate change and how it had forced people as well as plants and animals to migrate. The trek is scheduled to finish in St Lucia on the KwaZulu-Natal coast in August.

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