The Luvuvhu river that runs through the Pafuri game reserve in the Kruger National Park makes for an uncanny setting for a goat.
The Luvuvhu river that runs through the Pafuri game reserve in the Kruger National Park makes for an uncanny setting for a goat.
Image: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Every visitor to the Kruger Park, even those who pretend they are there only for the trees and birds, hopes to see the big five. Especially the ferocious ones; we’re a bloodthirsty mob when it comes to Kruger.

A lion kill will attract as much traffic, relatively, as the Allandale offramp at rush hour. Competition for prime position is fiercer than for a parking spot in Cavendish Square on a Saturday morning. Buffaloes and elephants are treated with circumspection, while rhinos are almost embraced as the last of the species.

So what to make of a goat?

The goat, a version of the indigenous Boerbok, fits into no Kruger category, not even the insignificant five of which the dainty impala is a member of long-standing. Yet there it was in the far northern reaches of the Kruger bush, on an early afternoon, grazing happily on mopane leaves at one of the most, allegedly, notorious places in Kruger: Crooks Corner, where the Limpopo and Luvuvuhu rivers meet and where Zimbabwe and Mozambique are within bokdrol spitting distance.

The corner is said to have been the perfect hideout for bad guys in the bad old days of gun-running, ivory smuggling and slave-trading, but any spot in that remote part of the bush would have done. It was no good place for a goat, however. Wild animals survive in the bush because of an instinct for danger and camouflage to hide in plain sight. The goat had neither. Its patchwork white-and-brown coat was knitted by its mother, but if it had worn one of designer Gert-Johan Coetzee’s more outrageous creations it could not have looked more out of place.

It had the aloofness of a ramp model, treating two gawking tourists with the insouciance it might a leopard. Even the not-so-smart money was on the leopard that night.

Not just the leopard. Just a few kilometres down the road were a pack of wild dogs near the bridge across the Luvuvhu. Earlier, two black-backed jackals were seen crossing the road from Punda Maria. Any one of those carnivores would have made, well, mincemeat of our Boerbok. It was the greatest mismatch of the bushveld since Jock tried to take on a crocodile, of which there were many basking on the banks of the Luvuvhu, just waiting for a thirsty goat.

“Domesticated animals are dealt with in consultation with the department of agriculture, directorate animal health,” says Sanparks. “This is guided by existing veterinary legislation for stray animals. From a conservation perspective, liaison with Zimbabwe and Mozambique is guided by the international Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area arrangements.”

Such jargon did not hold any comfort for a goat. In plainspeak, it meant: “Sorry, goat, you’re on your own.” Not even the staff at the Pafuri border camp seemed too concerned. “It must be from Mozambique,” said an official with an air of c’est la vie.

Those who run Kruger are quick to tell you that “it’s not gardening”. They let nature take its course. Famous game ranger Frank Watts once watched a group of lion cubs, trapped on a little island, die over several days after they had been cut off from their mother in a flood. But surely a goat should be exempt? Could it not argue a case of mistaken identity?

Life in the bush, however, is harsh. Anxiety about the goat soon vanished in flames of a braai fire at the Pafuri border camp, along with wors and chops accompanied by a few glasses of red wine.

At dawn the next day, before the sun or the inhabitants were out, a movement was noticed among the bushes. It’s best to be careful, and not get too close for it could be dangerous — and it was. Goats are not to be trifled with. It was our goat from Crooks Corner, which is about 2.5km from the camp as the crow flies, but 10km or more as the goat wanders.

Then, as it had emerged from the shadows, the goat disappeared back into them. That might be how it survived the night — and would continue to survive nights ahead. Let’s hope so.

It was easy to understand the attraction, even for a goat, of the north of Kruger. The biggest is the Luvuvhu, a river full of hippos and crocs and where elephants, buffalo and antelope come to drink. The birds are beautiful and so are the fever-tree forests.

Best of all, it has accommodation for only a few at Pafuri, the northernmost of Kruger’s rest camps and camp of the year 2019. It’s almost two hours’ drive from the next camp, which means if you get up early you feel you have the park to yourself. Along with the odd goat perhaps.