A South African hiker on Thursday described how he and other members of a group hiking the remote Naukluft Trail in central Namibia were set upon by a swarm of African killer bees.
The attack left one of the hikers, Neville Dunn of Johannesburg, dead, and two others badly stung.
Boksburg Hiking Club committee member Deon van Rensburg, speaking to Sapa from Upington shortly after leaving Namibia, said the bees had attacked the 10-member group on Friday afternoon, the second day of their hike.
Three members of the party, Dunn, Van Rensburg and a Namibian hiker, Koos Myburgh, were walking ahead of the rest of the group.
”The three of us were descending Ubusis Kloof. It’s a steep kloof… with lots of big rocks. There are four places where you have to climb down, vertically, holding on to a chain.”
He said they had gone down three sets of chains and had reached the fourth and last one.
”I went down first, and was halfway down when the bees suddenly attacked me. I was the first person they came for. The bee nest was actually in a hollow fig tree, right next to the chain. I went down that chain like an experienced world champion abseiler.”
At that point Myburgh was on the chain, and Dunn was on the ledge above it, about 15 metres above Van Rensburg. Myburgh slid down to join him at the bottom, but by this time
the bees were swarming.
”We ran down the kloof into the wind, with the bees chasing us, and got pretty stung.”
Van Rensburg said he thought running into the wind may have saved them. ”Neville… stayed above the chain. He ran up the kloof, back towards where the rest of the group were descending the higher chains. They were a few minutes behind.
”He ran up, but there was no water, no protection, no vegetation, no anything. It was all rock, with cliffs on both sides. So he was caught in this very narrow gully. He was stung to death.
”We saw the swarm above him; the two of us tried to turn back, but the bees came for us again. We tried to turn back because Neville was calling. He was shouting and screaming… but we couldn’t get back to reach him.”
Van Rensburg said they could not actually see Dunn because of the rock step. ”But the swarm of bees above him was massive, it numbered in the thousands.”
Minutes later, the two men heard the rest of their group higher up in the kloof.
”What we were not aware of until later is that the rest of the group had not reached Neville. They were, in fact, driven back up the kloof by the swarm, and one of them was badly stung.”
Of the seven people in the top group, only two were not stung.
Van Rensburg said one couple — also from Gauteng — escaped by lying on the ground and covering themselves with clothing. The swarm left them untouched.
One man had dived into a pool of water to escape the swarm.
”He stuck only his nose and eyes out of the water, covered his head with a cap and stayed in the water for an hour.”
Van Rensburg said he and Myburgh decided to continue down the kloof to the next hut. The bees were still swarming, and without protective clothing ”there was no ways we could go back up”.
The pair’s ordeal was far from over. On arriving at the lower hut, both were in a state of shock. Van Rensburg’s neck was swollen from the bee stings, and he was
”I collapsed, then drank water and took anti-histamines. By this time it was dark, and the pair decided they would set off to find help at first light.
The walk out to the nearest road was about 19km, and the two men completed this by midday on Saturday.
They eventually reached a phone and alerted the park authorities. At this point they did not know the fate of their companion.
Van Rensburg said he was ”very angry” about the reaction of park authorities to the emergency, which he described as ”characterised by lots of inertia and passing the buck”.
The Naukluft trail is administered by the Namib-Naukluft Park, Namibia’s biggest reserve.
”When I phoned through the news of the attack on the Saturday, 24 hours after it had happened, the exact words of the ranger who answered the phone were: ‘Oh, what must I do?’.”
Van Rensburg said they were told park vehicles did not have enough petrol. It was not until Monday that Dunn’s body was found. In the meantime, rangers dropped the two shocked and exhausted men back at one of the trail huts.
They were obliged to hike for two days, before meeting up with park authorities on Monday afternoon.
”Park authorities only went in on Monday and found the body. This was the first we heard that Neville was dead.
”The rest of the group were not aware either.”
Dunn’s body — which by that time had been lying in the open for four days — was eventually recovered on Tuesday by a team of police and park rangers.
Van Rensburg said he and other members of the hiking group accompanied the recovery team.
Dunn was found only metres away from the top of the fourth chain ladder.
”He didn’t get very far. When his body was recovered, it was seen that he had managed to get his pillow and sleeping bag out of his backpack.
”He had managed to cover about half his body with this, and his pillow was under his head,” Van Rensburg said.
Namibian park authorities were not immediately available for comment. – Sapa