Empty Migrations

A soft cloud of dust can barely be seen in the distant horizon. There’s a quiet hum coming from the ground that turns into a stronger vibration. A seemingly wall, miles wide, approaches and the ground begins to shake. Suddenly, the wall becomes millions of Springbok, flowing body to body like a river through fences and wagons. The noise is deafening as hooves shake the ground and dust clouds the senses. After what feels like ages, the herd moves on and leaves behind nothing; a wasteland.

It’s the Migration of the Springbok or Tekbokke, the ‘wandering antelope’. During drought, the herds would go back to their territories in large migrations of sometimes millions of traveling Springbok. The phenomenon hasn’t occurred in the Karoo since 1896. Back then, there was still a relatively low human impact on the wildlife of Karoo. Fences were not yet up and there were sparse farms. Only the vast mountains and rolling hills contained the herds. But as urbanization began to occur, the migration became a nightmare for the farmers. It was an amazing sight to behold, but it was also deadly. A herd miles wide of the Springbok could easily eat an entire farm, knock over infrastructure, and trample anything or anyone in its path.

Now, at the Mount Camdeboo Private Game Reserve, the mountains echo with the ghost sound of hooves. The guides at Camdeboo will attempt to describe what the wall might have looked like coming at you from afar, but nothing can match what actually was. Standing at one of their original farmhouse manors, one can almost pretend they are the farmers, feeling the first vibrations.

Humans at the time saw the herds as never-ending and hunted them down to nothing. They would set fires around their crops to stop the Springbok from destroying them and they would shoot them from their porches to keep them away. They were hunted for their coats and for their meat. After 1896, a migration so big that it could shake the Earth never occurred again.

The vast hills and valleys contain some Springbok, but only as memories of their past. They travel in small herds of fewer than a hundred. A thousand times less than what they once were. The guides at Camdeboo will say the animals still have the restless gene in them and plow through fences like their ancestors. Perhaps missing what it was like to be millions strong.

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