Boy Lost in South Africa's Kruger National Park Among Lions, Elephants and More
Editor's note: In an effort to better understand how other countries are managing their parklands, and to compare and contrast U.S. efforts to those from abroad, Traveler on occasion runs items from beyond U.S. borders.
Kruger National Park in South Africa is one of the world's premier destinations for wildlife watchers. Home to lions, leopards, wild dogs, rhinos, elephants and more, it's also no place to get lost on foot. Unfortunately, that's what happened to a 12-year-old boy who became separated from his family.
The park's website notes,
The world-renowned Kruger National Park offers a wildlife experience that ranks with the best in Africa. Established in 1898 to protect the wildlife of the South African Lowveld, this national park of nearly 2 million hectares [4.9 million acres] ... is unrivalled in the diversity of its life forms...
This enormous and magnificent park is one of the most popular public-entry game parks in the world. Its density of permanent game is unrivalled with hundreds of different species: 507 birds, 336 trees, 147 mammals, 114 reptiles, 49 fish and 34 amphibians!
Home to an estimated 1,500 lions, 12,000 elephants, 2,500 buffalo, 1,000 leopards and 5,000 rhinos, this is no place to wander around alone on foot—especially at night. Park regulations (known as the "Code of Conduct") confirms the authorities are serious about protecting both visitors and wildlife:
Visitors must be inside the camp or out of the gate before these times. No travelling before or after these times are allowed... Overnight visitors are only allowed to stay at a booked and recognised overnight facility.
Visitors must remain in their vehicles unless in a designated area ...no part of the body may protrude from a window or sunroof or any other part of the vehicle. Vehicle doors should be closed at all times.
This is a large and incredible ecological preserve.
With greater ecological co-operation across African borders, several countries bordering South Africa have agreed to take down some fences, and those between Kruger and Mozambique's Limpopo National Park and Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou, have been demolished to create the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park. This unique political innovation is creating a colossal wilderness area.
The remote area is also attractive to people other than tourists. Each year tens of thousands of people from Mozambique cross illegally into South Africa in search of a better life.
Among them was Alex Mboweni, age 12, who became separated from his family earlier this month after they ran from guards while crossing the border. The boy's father went to a police station in the border town of Saselamani, and reported his son was lost in the bush. A search was mounted by police and the family in the area where the boy had last been seen.
After learning the boy was missing in the park, police went with the parents to search for him. A police spokesman, quoted in the Daily Sun newspaper, described what happened on the eighth day after the boy went missing:
"We told his mum to climb on top of a hill and call his name. She climbed up the hill and called her son's name five times and on the sixth shout, Alex appeared."
"I thought he must have been eaten by lions and it was only a million to one chance that he would be alive. I couldn't believe my eyes when he came out of the bush."
The youngster provided some details about his remarkable survival in the hostile terrain.
"I got lost and never thought anyone would find me alive. I did not know where I was or where to go and when the sun went down on the first day I sat next to an anthill to keep warm," he said.
"I was really scared at night as I heard wild animals making lots of noise. I heard lions roar in the night..."
On the third day, the boy came across a river, where he shared water with wild animals. Even that wasn't without hazards.
"As I was drinking the water a huge elephant came charging up to me so I ran away... I went to the river once a day to drink some water."
"After eight days I was too weak to walk to the river and I lost all hope. But then I heard the voice of my mother calling my name," said Alex.
"The voices echoed down the rivers and the valleys so I managed to get closer to where I heard the voice calling my name and it was real, it was my mother calling me."
The youngster was taken to a hospital, where he spent a week recovering from his ordeal.