Alison Pannell Speaks To Rotarians On Safari Travels To South Africa

This photo of a giraffe is one of many captured by Alison Pannell in 2017 in South Africa. Photo by Alison Pannell

Vice President
Rotary Club of Los Alamos

“Game viewing and bird watching are two of the most fascinating and rewarding experiences one can ever have,” remarked Rotarian Alison Pannell as she described parts of her many safari travels in South Africa via Zoom to the Rotary Club of Los Alamos during its first meeting of the year, January 4.

Enhancing her presentation with photos she took in 2017, Pannell explained that her travels with a Los Alamos friend included touring Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve, northeast of Durban, which houses the continent’s rhino recovery center; the Garden Route Game Reserve, along the southeast coast of South Africa with a cheetah preserve; and Addo Elephant Park farther south, just north of Port Elizabeth.  She explained that there are numerous parks scattered around the country, and these mentioned are smaller than Kruger, the national park of South Africa, but have dedicated conservation programs for specific animals.

Due in large part to drought and poaching, the number of large herds of wild animals has dramatically decreased since Pannell was a child growing up in Zimbabwe.  Nevertheless she encountered an impressive variety:  zebras, notoriously “bad tempered” and often accompanied by wildebeests; swift-footed cheetahs and slow-moving leopard tortoises; chatty vervet monkeys and boisterous baboons, “the bad boys of the bush,” who are dangerously aggressive, even to the extent of pestering leopards.  She saw warthogs, too, iguanas, Cape buffalo, and an enormous array of colorful birds, from ostriches to eagles, hornbills to kingfishers.

On an especially memorable jeep ride along “narrow and twisty game park roads,” Pannell’s group rounded a bend to come upon a pride of lions, three lionesses with four cubs.  To take advantage of every opportunity for the passengers to photograph them, the driver “backed up, stopped, backed up, stopped” repeatedly as the lions ambled in single file.  Pannell reminded us that “animals in Africa have the right of way” and must not be harassed.

At Hluhluwe Imfolozi, she also felt very fortunate to see white rhinos, which are almost extinct, decimated by poachers who trade the valuable ivory horns on the black market.  To reduce the threat of poachers, the rhinos’ horns are cut short by park staff.  As the natural breeding cycle is allowed to unfold, the park is able to transport rhinos all over the continent to places where the rhino populations have disappeared. 

Pannell also recommended visiting Addo Elephant Park where on this trip she observed for or five large herds of elephants gathered at a water hole – an amazing convention of over 250 elephants!

She explained that the most populous animals in South Africa are the antelope of which there are 72 species, among them the nyala, klipspringer, impala, sable, hartebeest, eland, and kudu.  The springbok antelope with its distinctive dark strip along its side is the national animal of South Africa.

Pannell also observed hyenas, who are both hunters and scavengers and generally misunderstood, but “necessary to the health of the bush.”  Pannell had the good fortune to see giraffes, her favorite among the many extraordinary animals that live in South Africa.  Once, while sitting with other members of the safari in their vehicle, Pannell slowly realized that they were among a tower of five giraffes quietly watching them, their camouflage making them almost imperceptible among the surrounding trees.

In conclusion, Pannell said, “I am truly blessed to have had so many opportunities to participate in this unique life.”

Pannell, the daughter of English parents who were given free passage to the African continent after World War II, was born in Southern Rhodesia, which at the time was part of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and a British Protectorate.  It is now known as Zimbabwe.  She came to the United States in 1979 when Zimbabwe transitioned to majority rule, and Mugabe became the Prime Minister.

As a child, Pannell recalled, “One of the most affordable vacations a family could take were visits to the game preserves.”  Consequently she and her family spent many happy times looking for animals and birds in these wilderness areas.  Since then Pannell has taken her own children to Zimbabwe and South Africa on many occasions and has most recently led private tours for friends.

The Rotary Club of Los Alamos meets in person Tuesdays, 12 p.m.-1 p.m., in the Community Room, Cottonwood on the Greens, at the golf course.  A Zoom option is available by contacting Linda Hull, Rotary Club vice-president, (505) 662-7950.  Hull is also happy to provide information about the Club and its humanitarian service.