Safety alert issued after Drakensberg Amphitheatre attacks


Cape Town - While the current snowy conditions on the highest peaks of the Drakensberg are surely a drawcard for many snow-hunting adventurers, the area has now officially been declared a danger zone. 

The attack on local hikers Jody Main-Baillie, Cameron McLean and David Moldenhauer caused alarm within the climbing and hiking community at the end of April this year, after the group were viciously attacked by a gang of armed men and their dogs in Fangs Pass.

The final decision on the proposed closure of the Amphitheatre has been delayed until after a stakeholder meeting on 31 May this year, KZN Wildlife said on the hiking and climbing website Vertical Endeavour. "We hope by all means to prevent this drastic action from being taken, bearing in mind that the safety of hikers is foremost in our minds and that stakeholder engagement will ultimately guide decisions on the future of this area," the statement reads. 

The stakeholder meeting is scheduled for 31 May 2016, at the Royal Natal Education Centre. The meeting will take place at 10:00, and all shareholders are welcome.

In the meantime, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has issued a set of safety precautions all adventurers need to be aware of when visiting the area. 

The current modus operandi of the suspected attackers at the Amphitheatre area, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife says, is as follows: 

· Aggressive begging for food or money at the Chain ladders. Some hikers have had stones thrown at them when descending after refusing to give food or money. 

· Shepherds watching hiking parties late afternoon when they set up camp to see what can be stolen. Attacks then generally occur around 23:00 to 03:00. 

· Some tents are cut open and items stolen.

A number of suggestions for safer camping on the Amphitheatre are proposed. Hikers and campers are reminded to: 

1. Not camp anywhere on the main Amphitheatre “bowl” or major paths. Rather choose a valley well away from the main trails and set up camp uphill, so that you have the advantage of high ground. 

2. Not set up tents when you are being watched. Generally the culprits will hang around on the ridges above hiking parties in the late afternoons. If you are being watched, keep moving and don’t set up camp anywhere near them.

3. Don’t set up camp near huts or areas of obvious habitation.

4. Be friendly and polite to those you meet, but firm. Don’t display cameras and other valuables openly if you can help it.

5. A party size of three or more is recommended.

6. A watch system at night can be exhausting but might be a good option for known trouble spots.

7. Going with a guide or experienced porters helps tremendously as they can often spot trouble and some speak the local language.

8. Keep all your belongings in the tent with you, and tie your boots to your pack or sleeping bag to avoid them being taken without your knowledge.

9. Consider putting survival items such as a space blanket, cell phones and boots into a smaller day-pack or jacket that can be quickly retrieved if need be.

"Unfortunately at this stage the Amphitheatre is an area where greater vigilance is needed, but this shouldn’t stop you exploring the breath-taking Wilderness of the Berg," Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife says.

"It offers an unrivaled experience for solitude, scenic splendour and adventure and most interactions with Basutho people in the Berg are friendly and safe throughout the Drakensberg."

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