The weather has changed. The wind whistles and chills as I add another layer of clothes. How could it be so cold, at least a 50 degree drop, when it was in the 90’s yesterday? We bundle up in the open topless lorry, (I’d wondered why there were blankets on all the seats) to stalk the wild. Frost biting our noses and fingers, I almost wish to be back inside when Moses points out a big herd of elephants. A bull turns at us ears full bore to check for danger. Knowing the smell and shape of the lorry, he continues eating unperturbed. I forget my chill in the joy of watching them undisturbed in their daily routines. A calf suckles from behind mama’s legs, moves to the side for a better hold. Another snuffles the ground for roots dusting away the dirt with his feet, then casually crosses one foot over the other and chews. A big cow pushes over a tree to reach the more tender leaves and bark.
Moses receives a call of a large male lion sighting from another guide. We chase off road through the heavy bush following his directions. How can he possibly know where to go when the terrain is monochromatic and identical everywhere? “Mind. Mind.” warns Moses as we crunch over small trees, huge thorn bushes scratching at our sides. “Look ahead,” he points. It takes a moment for our eyes to adjust and pick out through his camouflage.
“Oh my God!” The great maned lion sits calmly in all his splendor, looking quite bored, while we, like buzzing gnats, click shutters, ooh and aah around him. He appears so tame, beautiful, approachable. I just want to cuddle up to him, stroke his head, gather between his huge gentle-looking paws calmly crossed in front of him. Barely glancing our way, he closes his eyes, rests head on paws and falls asleep.
Another call, another wild ride to a massive gang of water buffalo. A calf nurses from behind by alternately taking a pull then head-butting the udder for more flow. Watching the calf Moses notices a bird pecking an open wound on its back, “That’s a parasitic bird feeding on the flesh. As the wound grows larger a bigger predator will smell the blood and bring the animal down for an evening meal.” It’s survival of the fittest in action.
Moses, our driver, is an excellent guide, a locally trained and professionally educated trekker. He alternates between firm seriousness (the rifle is on the dashboard within arms’ reach) and a rollicking sense of humour. He knows when to linger, where to put the lorry for best viewing, and when to move on to the next sighting, keeping in constant contact with other guides. His brother Hendrick is our spotter, sitting above it all on the left front hood. He has eyes like a hawk even in the dark.
Hendrick spots some giraffe heads above the trees and we stop to observe these unusual creatures. Moses relays interesting facts about the animals we see and their relationships. “See the tick birds skittering up and down the giraffes’ necks? They’re not parasitic like the ones on the water buffalo. These are symbiotic – they get dinner while removing the tick parasites from the larger animal.” He distinguishes between the sexes. “Both have horns, but the males are bald and the females have tufts of hair.” While watching them carefully check around before slowly splaying their legs to drink at the water hole he explains, “the lion is the only predator who poses a serious threat to the giraffe, especially in this compromised position. But if upright one well-placed kick can crack a lion’s skull.”
Even though exotic animal behavior is fascinating, the people we shared bush camp with were equally entertaining – couples from the UK – two couples on honeymoons, one getting engaged, and set of safari addicts. Tune in next time for the human element on safari.