Upping safety for visitors or closing the popular Amphitheatre in the Drakensberg is under discussion after a brutal attack on three hikers in the area last week.
On Friday Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife spokesman Musa Mntambo said stakeholders in the area said the safety situation was being reviewed, and that closing the Amphitheatre would be “a last resort”.
“The recent incident has led us to review the safety situation in consultation with a number of affected stakeholders. A number of proposals aimed at avoiding the closure are being discussed.
“No decision has been taken by Ezemvelo to close the Amphitheatre,” Mntambo said.
He added that there had been previous attacks. He also expressed concern that not all such attacks were being reported, and that not all hikers were reporting to Ezemvelo before going on hikes.
“The meetings being held with relevant stakeholders are aimed at coming up with strategies that will improve security. Closure will be a last resort when all else has failed.”
The attack on local hikers Jody Main-Baillie, Cameron McLean and David Moldenhauer - which occurred on Saturday, April 23, when they were viciously set upon by a gang of armed men and their dogs in Fangs Pass - has caused alarm, particularly within the climbing and hiking fraternity.
Main-Baillie said they had set up their tents and gone to bed at about 9pm.
They were then awoken about two hours later by rocks being thrown at their tents.
“David was in the tent with the supplies, and they attacked him first. We woke up and thought we were being shot at, but then rocks came into the tent.
“There were about 10 dogs, and the men were armed with knobkieries and rocks. Every time we moved, the dogs would come for us.
“I was bitten on the back, and Dave’s head was bleeding badly after he was hit by a rock and a knobkierie,” said Main-Baillie.
The three hikers managed to escape, but only in the clothes they were wearing. Luckily, they had managed to keep one cellphone.
“We put a beanie on Dave’s head to try to stop the bleeding. Apart from what we were wearing, we had a sarong and a space blanket. It was freezing cold, and at about 1am we found a cave to hide in.”
During the night they managed to contact rangers with the cellphone, but it was only at lunchtime the next day that they managed to meet up.
“We covered about 20km during the night. It was pitch black and we had no torches, but fortunately we know the mountain ranges in that area.”
Once rescued, Main-Baillie had his bite wounds treated and had to undergo treatment for rabies.
Moldenhauer, who came out of hospital this week, said his injuries were so severe he required a titanium plate for a skull fracture and stitches for lacerations. He has had to have steel pins inserted into his right hand.
“I was bleeding profusely, so the only option was to keep my beanie on until we reached the hospital. It worked well, as it helped the blood to clot and kept dirt out. We also had a basic first aid (kit), and so could bandage my hand after sunrise.
“The three of us worked as a team to get through this.”
While he felt that his physical injuries would heal soon, the emotional ones would take much longer to deal with.
Main-Baillie and Moldenhauer, who are both experienced hikers, said the Drakensberg region was stunning for hiking, but felt safety needed to be addressed.
“I love the mountains. I will go back, but not for a while.
“The safety of all hikers needs to be addressed as a matter of priority before we return,” said Moldenhauer.
This week safety concerns were also being expressed on hiking and climbing website Vertical Endeavour.
There were also a number of suggestions to address the safety issues in the region, such as the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators, providing security guards, keeping hiking routes secret, and involving community leaders in anti-crime initiatives.
It was felt that closing the Amphitheatre would provide only a temporary solution to the security problems.