“Do wildlife roam your streets?” This is a question that South Africans are sometimes asked when travelling overseas. For the most part this question will be met with much derision and the rolling of eyes, but not by the residents of St. Lucia!
St. Lucia is a small town along the east coast of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa that first started out as a little holiday fishing village. It is now part of a UNESCO World Heritage site – the iSimangaliso Wetland Park – and is not much bigger than it was all those years ago. The only difference today is the roads are now tarred and the safari tourists have discovered it, although it still remains one of those hidden little gems with unique opportunities to experience nature in all its magnificence.
Hippos are dangerous and great care must be taken when coming across these animals. Residents have become accustomed to them, but caution is still practiced. The hippos have adjusted to the residents and visitors to the town, negotiating the traffic and tolerating the paparazzi that follows their progress through the streets.
One of the first things you are told when checking in to the various accommodation establishments is to respect the hippos, and how to take precautions in order to remain safe. The residents believe strongly that the town belongs to the hippos and they should have the freedom to roam and graze.
Other wildlife also roam the area, such as leopards who live in the surrounding bush and forests. They are shy and pose little threat to residents and visitors, and if you are very lucky you may even see one crossing a road on the edge of the town before slinking back into the bush.
Besides leopards and hippos, you can find bushbabies in the trees at night calling one another, or even duikers darting across the road into the bush as they forage for food. Vervet monkeys are commonplace, and can be seen from the verandah of most of the local guesthouses. On occasion even hyenas have been known to venture into town.