In 1998 Graham Wallington and Paul Clifford founded AfriCam, which launched on the 17th August 1998 with a LIVE cam overlooking a waterhole on Djuma Game Reserve at Bush Lodge. This was the first LIVE wildlife cam on the Internet and in these early days the broadcast was limited to a JPEG still image that refrehed every 30 seconds.
The pictures were refreshed every 15 to 20 seconds. It grew in popularity and eventually at hit a peak of 38 million hits which made it a media darling worldwide.
In its first two months of business the company sold more than 4000 months of subscriptions at the equivalent of R42 a month. In 2001 Africam also won the internet version of the Oscars and became a listed business on the stock exchange.
The frenzy over the site led to a major investment which the company relied on to survive. But when its main investor only paid 10 percent of the amount, Africam began to sink fast. It eventually went offline in 2002 and the company was liquidated.
Some viewers, though, kept it on their favourites list faithfully anticipating its return.
* IT STARTED AT A WATERHOLE *
Today Africam has a new owner, Campbell Scott, who has vowed to make the site a success. "We knew this project would work again, but it needed to be done in a cost effective way," he said.
In the past five years technology has advanced in South Africa making it possible to operate a live stream from a remote bush location at a fraction of what it would have cost just a few years ago.
Most of the visitors to the site come from North America. Africam is still widely inaccessible here in its full capacity because of the lack of fast and efficient broadband connection in South Africa.
Scott said though that he believed it would not be long before South Africa's IT capabilities caught up with the rest of the world.
For now people with internet access across the globe are staring patiently at their computer screens waiting for a glimpse of a leopard or lion walking by.
South Africa has great locations where wildlife is abundant, said Campbell.
"Location is not the problem, but the question was 'How do you put up a camera?'"
The cable was set a metre underground and linked to a controller at the lodge. Through a wireless connection via a temporary Telkom satellite link, until a more secure ADSL line is available, the image is transferred to a hub in Los Angeles then to the website. As the footage is broadcast it is stored on a server in Canada.
Scott said he was looking for a game reserve that would be committed to the project once the novelty wore off. Having been co-owner of a lodge where the first camera was set up in 1998, he knew what to look for in terms of a suitable match for the project.
"We had to put it where there is a good waterhole. It had to be remote and not next to another ten waterholes. It also had to be in an open area that has a 360 degree view. We didn't just want to film an animal drinking at a waterhole," he said.
"We needed to choose a place where no matter what time of year people could see the Big 5. People want instant gratification," said Campbel
Scott added that the set up had to have the capability of being troubleshooted and corrected from his office in Johannesburg without interfering with the daily operations of the camp.
"We approached Nkorho because there is a waterhole at the bottom of an open area. The camp is also 250 metres away. It is close enough to run power from and see the waterhole."
Scott and a technical expert set up a camera, roughly the size of three to four cigarettes packets, and placed it in a dead tree balanced on top of an abandoned termite mound. Scott said the ideal set up would be north-facing, but the camera is currently positioned looking south-west because viewers would see the camp if it was facing north.
The only problem is that when the sun sets its glare permeates the camera lens. "It is not ideal, but some people say they enjoy the sunsets," said Scott. People also appreciate the camera's infrared lens, up to 800 mm zoom capability, and the audio component.
For one person who is blind the sounds of the wild are left on for background noise while she is busy working on her computer.
The Africam site itself is also interactive. Viewers post messages about animal sightings including pictures they have freeze framed from the site. Some viewers send messages to each other as the action occurs on their screens.
It has an almost cult-like following," said Scott adding that most viewers are between 45-65 years old and that 60 percent of viewers are women.
Through a partnership with Infotech Business Systems, a broadband stream company based in Canada, Africam broadcasts a live feed for free to viewers interested in catching a glimpse of wildlife at Nkorho Bush Lodge in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve
The site began broadcasting the live stream last September and has so far attracted in excess of 30 million hits a month. Its biggest achievement to date occurred on Christmas Day when a lion killed a buffalo, which was the first live animal kill broadcast in real time across the internet.
The day after the buffalo's carcass could still be seen stripped down to the bone while a lion munched on the last tender morsels of flesh.
the viewing public are effected - they make video's