Cape Town - A Cape Town couple spent an unnerving night in the Kruger National Park after their car got stuck in a riverbed.
When they were rescued the next day they discovered they were in the midst of an anti-poaching operation and the carcasses of rhinos, which were shot by poachers, were a mere 500 metres from them.
The rhino horn poaching crisis has now claimed 203 rhinos in the first 93 days of this year - a record killing rate of one animal every 11 hours.
Meghan Opperman, 22, from Table View and her boyfriend, Keegan Steward, 21, from Blouberg were on their way back from the Baobab tree to the Skukuza camp site last Wednesday when their car got stuck near the Orpen Rocks.
“We were on our way back at about 4pm. Two of the roads were closed so we made our way onto a public road, where we got stuck.
We decided to wait for others cars. We tried putting branches under the wheels, but nothing worked.
“It rained so much that night. We could hear the water running below the car. We were so worried about being caught in a flash flood,” Opperman said.
The next morning, Opperman said they saw a helicopter circle nearby.
“We thought that our parents or the camp site had sent them. Because there was no network, we couldn’t call anyone. Keegan jumped on the roof to try and get their attention, but it just passed us. When the helicopter came back at around at 3pm we managed to flag them down,” she said.
Opperman said the pilot had told them that four rhino carcasses were found 500 metres from them.
“When the pilot told us there were poachers about a half a kilometre from us we realised how dangerous that night was. They took us back to Skukuza.
“The people at Skukuza told us they usually called visitors who were late to check in, but there wasn’t anything on our phones,” she said.
Steward, a nature conservation student who has been going to the Kruger with his family since he was five, said he realised the danger they were in being nearby to carcasses.
“If the road was properly marked or we were given a warning that poachers were now coming closer to camps, we would’ve been more cautious. We were very lucky,” he said.
Last week, game rangers found a mutilated rhino cow that had to be shot. The park has had 145 rhino poached this year.
Major-General Johan Jooste, anti-poaching commanding officer in the Kruger National Park, said poachers would avoid tourists so they were not concerned about people being injured as a result of poaching activity.