Slow down for … warthog? When you overland in Africa, you come across some iconic and also unusual animal road signs. Jan-Harm du Plessis and his family are all about these out-of-the-ordinary traffic signs.
It’s easily one of the most recognisable 4×4 rigs on the road. If you’ve driven past an off-road trailer with a warthog road sign on the spare wheel cover, you know the JEWEL4Travel crew. Why JEWEL? Well, Jan-Harm du Plessis is the J in the name. Then there’s wife Elsie, daughter Luciele (14) and son EW (11): J + EW + E + L = JEWEL. And why a warthog? That’s actually down to a joke Jan-Harm’s parents started.
“Whenever my parents – who adore the outdoors – see someone going on an overlanding trip, they always have the same response. ‘Waarheen vark hierdie mense nou weer?’ (Literally: ‘Where are these people pigging to again?’ Although calling people ‘pigs’ sounds harsh, they’re really poking fun at their own desire to be out in nature.) We picked up on it and adapted the picture of a warthog (vlakvark) as our unofficial emblem,” he recounts.
“On our way back from a two-week trip through Botswana and Namibia in 2016, we noticed the warthog road sign just outside Lephalale. And, well, the rest is history. We had a cover made for our spare wheel and it has been with the family since then. We also consider ourselves to be ‘varke’.”
Born and bred overlanders
Both Jan-Harm and Elsie grew up in homes where spending time in the great outdoors was a way of life. “We’ve been into 4x4s and camping ever since we were in diapers,” he says. It’s a passion that they are instilling in their own kids today. Jan-Harm works as a project coordinator for an infrastructure company and he’s currently stationed in Lusaka, Zambia. Previously, the family was based in Lilongwe, Malawi, for four years. “Elsie and the kids move with me and I can’t see myself doing what I do without them by my side.”
The couple got their first 4×4 vehicle shortly after getting married in 2006 and have been overlanding ever since. “We have been through some trying times as a family and we always seem to find solace in nature. It is in the wilderness that we feel the closest to God.
“The absolute freedom of travelling into the unknown and setting up camp in remote and secluded spots gets us excited. We are very fortunate as Africans to have adventure on each and every one of our doorsteps. We just need to get out there and go!
Wildlife road sign spotting
Although the warthog was the first unusual animal road sign the JEWEL crew came across, it wouldn’t be the last. “Last November and December we did a 30-day trip from Lilongwe to Pretoria via Zambia and Namibia. We were tracing the footsteps of my great-great-grandfather who was part of the Dorslandtrekkers. It was during this trip that we came across a whole range of interesting sign posts.”
(You can read about their trip on the Dorslandtrekker trail in Avontuur/Adventure Afrika issue 25 December 2022 and issue 26 January 2023.)
The photographers in the car were inspired and they started recording the animal road signs they encountered. Jan-Harm shares their story.
Kudu, Trans Caprivi Highway
This is probably the most common road sign for wildlife. It always brings a smile to my face because it means we are close to the bush. This particular sign post is truly justified as there are plenty of kudu and other antelope that graze either side of the Trans Caprivi.
Wild dog, Trans Caprivi Highway
This was a surprising find for us. Wild dogs are our favourite animal, so coming across this sign was special. We did not get to see the ‘painted dogs’ of the Caprivi, but it was refreshing to know they are there. We did, however, have some very nice leopard sightings in Bwabwata National Park. Perhaps the authorities should consider a road sign for them as well?
Elephant, Khaudum National Park
Even though this sign isn’t that unique, Khaudum National Park is perhaps one of the wildest places we’ve ever travelled. This animal road sign always gets your blood pumping, especially if you are completely alone in their habitat on some very rough terrain. We got to see plenty of elephants in the Khaudum.
Hyena, Cape Cross
A sign as rare as the animal it shows. While brown hyena are considered a rare sighting, in Cape Cross Seal Reserve they are frequently spotted. They come from the dunes to feed on the thousands of Cape fur seals in the area. Unfortunately, we didn’t see one that day.
Ground squirrel, Solitaire
This sign is very much needed as you could easily kill a ground squirrel if you are not careful. They are everywhere! This part of the world should also consider a road sign that warns you against another hazardous encounter: apple pie. We had the famous Solitaire apple pie for breakfast and lunch. Dangerous!
The sign that got away
On the Old Great West Road that leads through Kafue National Park in Zambia, there is a road sign for lion. We didn’t get a picture of this sign. What is interesting is that there are two sign posts about 100m apart as well as a sign stating ‘Lion corridor’. It is almost as if lions use that specific stretch to cross the road. This is one sign that works exceptionally well. You tend to slow down to almost a standstill in the hope of seeing lions crossing.
Do you have a favourite African road sign? Let us know in the comments or send your picture to firstname.lastname@example.org