Hwange National Park is part of the Kalahari basin. Once part of a massive inland sea millions of years ago, it is now a semi-desert with sandy soils that support a mixture of woodland and grass species and a diverse offering of game. There are no perennial or non-perennial rivers in Hwange, only natural springs and underground water.
Currently, Wilderness Safaris pumps 14 boreholes into natural pans in and around its concession. In the wet season, this is not required because the rain manages to fill these pans naturally. However, as soon as the rain stops and the heat from the long hot afternoons evaporate the water levels, the pumping must start.
A new heartbeat can be heard at the water holes once this process starts. The duff-duff-duff of either a Lister or Kubota engine turns a huge belt that pumps the borehole and spits out fresh, clean water from the underground channels. The custodian of these pumps is Willem Botha, affectionately known as “Meneer Botha” or “Mr B”, who lovingly cares for these work-horses.
Meneer Botha starts his day early and sets out on his planned route that will take him on a routine check of each of the 14 pumps. When the season gets dry and winter is upon us in all seriousness, there is no other water around which means that the game, especially the elephants, come to rely on this Hwange heartbeat and what it heralds. There is no room for neglect for without the human touch ensuring that all is pumping well, elephants could take matters into their own hands, so to speak.
Covering all this ground on a daily basis, Mr B gets to see a lot of what is going on in the bush. He tells a story of the first time they got the pump working after a week of toil and strain at Broken Rifle Pan. Just as they were working on the last bits that had to be put together, a large bull elephant plodded over slowly but intently towards them. As they fumbled to finish what they were doing the elephant got closer and just when he was broaching the comfort zone, the pump coughed to life and spewed out fresh, clean and cool life-giving water. Mr B said he could actually almost hear the “thank you” from the elephant – it was so rewarding, really touching his soul.
If you are travelling to Hwange in the next couple of months, I am sure you will bump into Meneer Botha doing his daily rounds. You might even elicit some inside information of what game is being spotted – he has seen large prides of lions, lion kills, cheetah kills… you name it!