Visitors to St Lucia in KwaZulu-Natal are being warned to be on the lookout for leopards or hippos roaming the streets.
Hippos are a nightly sighting on the verges‚ gardens and streets of St Lucia‚ a popular holiday destination of both locals and international visitors to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park‚ a World Heritage Site.
This week one was filmed as it took a stroll through the petrol station on a main street, unperturbed by all the people and vehicles. Another was spotted grazing in a grass carpark‚ perhaps worryingly close to a parked Tata car.
A local resident‚ Larina Joubert‚ captured on camera a normally elusive leopard roaming the streets. The night-time picture‚ although blurry and out of focus‚ clearly shows the animal in the coastal town.
“I could hardly believe it myself until I saw the photo‚” said Bronwyn Coppola‚ who does media for iSimangaliso.
The park’s chief executive‚ Andrew Zaloumis‚ said that magnificent wildlife was one of the greatest draw cards to the St Lucia section of the World Heritage Site. But this also meant visitors had to be on the alert.
“There are few towns in the world with such a combination of warm ocean‚ golden beaches and prolific birds and wild animals peacefully cohabiting with human residents and visitors. It is truly iconic‚” he said.
Zaloumis warned visitors to be very vigilant when walking in town or in the forested areas to avoid any negative encounters.
“Especially at this time of year‚ animals seek their natural food close to human habitation in the leaner winter months.
“Wild animals have lived here since time immemorial. They remain wild and are potentially dangerous defending their territory and young. Give them as wide a berth as possible‚ whether on foot or in a vehicle. Be especially aware of hippo and if you must walk in town at night‚ use a powerful torch.
“Do not at any time be tempted to enter the estuary water. It is the crocodile you can’t see that poses the greatest risk‚” said Zaloumis.