No hippo issue at canoe event
Mbombela - Organisers of the Lowveld Croc Canoe Marathon have implemented innovative new measures to ensure that hippos pose no threat to paddlers during the popular two day race on 22 and 23 September.
The stretch of river widely used by river marathoners has a history of hippos, and has in the past forced paddlers to make long portages around pools where hippos have been spotted, and in some years entire stages of the race have been scrapped due to the danger posed by the animals, particularly when calves are present.
After years of wrangling with the problem, the race organisers have come up with a novel plan to manage the animals safely and keep them away from the river that will be used by hundreds of paddlers on the weekend of the race, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary and doubling as the Gauteng K1 championships.
Bales of lucerne have been dropped off daily at a dam fairly close to the river, luring hippos who are generally struggling to forage for food during the dry winter months to the dam. This plan has so far attracted seven hippos to the dam, where they have settled in. An electric fence will be put up at the dam area to keep the hippos confined to this area until the race is over.
"This we believe will take care of hippo problem in the area around the end of day one," said Eric Dixon, chair of the Lowveld Canoe Club. "We are also closely monitoring three hippo that move between a dam near the start and Kwena dam, but they do not seem to come down to the river. Together with the local landowner we will monitor them closely on the days of the race."
"This solution works for us and the hippos because the veld is dry and exhausted and the poor blighters struggle to find decent food in winter," said Dixon.
On every day of the race, club officials will trip the river ahead of the first paddler to check for any unaccounted for hippos. "If we find a hippo in the river, we put in a place a compulsory portage so that the paddlers walk around that pool."
"The truth is that no-one has even seen a hippo on the race in the last four years," said Dixon. "In the few cases where paddlers have come across hippos in the river they have not been aggressive at all and are happy to move away from the paddlers. We find that the hippos prefer to be away from the river during the day and move to nearby dams, which suits our plans nicely."
Dixon said the support from a variety of local authorities was excellent, and a round-the-clock hippo watch would ensure that all the large animals are accounted for on the weekend of the race.
Despite the river being named the Crocodile river, there has not been a spotting of a crocodile on the river for many years. "A number of crocodiles have been caught or hunted in the last few years, and the reality of the situation is that we never see them on the river," said Dixon. "Naturally if we spot one on our pre-race trips we will mark a portage around that spot."
The 50th anniversary Lowveld Croc Canoe Marathon takes places on 22 and 23 September from Kwena dam to above Montrose Falls.