Warning: Expect the Unexpected…in the African Bush
In which context do you associate this slogan?
I have been spending holidays in the African bush for many years and it can be a pretty peaceful place. However, I have personally had many exciting encounters in the Bush Kingdom.
These experiences are part of Africa’s wild wilderness, beautiful and also robust, even savage in its beauty. Danger lurks around every corner and we humans should follow the usual precautionary rules. We are only visitors to this kingdom.
Not all encounters are as dramatic as the first one…
- Black Rhino. Black Heart?
He was going to take his first photo of a Black Rhino.
Zanzi spotted the rhino first. The animal was lying in the tall grass amongst a clump of small trees. Much to my dismay, I was told to remain in the Jeep.
They got out of the Jeep, Dad with his camera equipment and tripod. He proceeded to set it up after they had taken up their positions about 200 yards from the rhino. They were close to one another, each next to a medium-sized tree, for just in case…Black rhinos are notorious for their bad tempers and aggression.
Dad was busy tampering with his camera settings while Zanzi started rolling a cigarette. Zanzi gave a long, loud whistle. There was the rustling of grass and bush, then a dark shape and thunderous hooves sounding up towards them. Dad never imagined that a heavy animal could move so fast and gather so much speed within such a short distance.
Dad was rooted to the spot, paralyzed and staring in horror. The beast was upon them. There was a thud and a crack and he watched as Zanzi’s sweating hands came sliding down the smooth tree trunk.
Further down the trunk, the rhino horn had impaled his leg. The animal pulled back with a disgusted snort and ran off. Zanzi fell to the ground and his crumpled figure lay at the base of the tree — blood running from his wound and smearing over the smooth bark of the tree trunk. Zanzi hadn’t even thought about shooting, although he was armed.
Dad’s medical knowledge helped Zanzi in those first critical hours. Zanzi remained in the rural hospital for some time, but he pulled through and continued his work as a guide.
Some months after this incident, Dad did get his photo of a black rhino and fortunately, it was a happy occasion.
2. The Dilemma of Mischievous Monkeys
We got out at the breathtaking picnic spot where the river flows past lazily.
It was a cold winter’s morning and I stood in the sunshine to warm up, taking in the scene: large Jackalberry and Sausage trees, the hum of conversation, noisy glossy starlings, the smell of bacon and eggs hanging heavily in the air. It was bliss.
The agile monkeys were there, as usual, playing and trying to cajole or to grab a bite from an unsuspecting visitor. The notice board read: “Do Not Feed the Animals.”
In a small tree to my right, there was a young monkey peeping up at me from underneath his eyebrows. I clapped my hands together to chase it off.
Before I knew what had happened, I felt a sharp pain in my calf muscle and cried out. I twisted around slowly and pulled up the leg of my denim pants. Blood started to ooze from the two pricks made by the monkey’s incisors.
The little rascal had bitten me quickly and unexpectedly. Some monkeys scuttled away in the branches but the culprit had disappeared.
André was at my side and took me to the main camp to see the doctor and get a tetanus shot. Gone was the much-expected, longed-for rendezvous with the family.
I had been visiting the park for more than 30 years and had never been bitten by a monkey.
The monkeys are so cute, so funny, so much like us humans and one is tempted to give them a morsel. However, they come to expect food from people, lose their fear of humans and become an utter nuisance. They become dangerous and may have to be put down in some cases.
Not long after that encounter, I wasn’t surprised to read a small report in a newspaper that a child had been bitten by a monkey in one of the camps.
3. Close Encounter of a Slithery Kind.
I was driving along slowly in the sweltering midday heat of the bushveld.
It was summer and the bush was lush and green providing easy cover for any animals skulking in the undergrowth.
I hadn’t seen anything significant for the last 30 minutes and the soft hum of the car’s tyres on the tar created a soothing rhythm that almost lulled me to sleep. All the windows were open for me to take in the sounds, the sights, the smells.
With my right arm crooked on the window opening, my head rested in my right hand, my left hand on the steering wheel, sleep was beckoning.
Suddenly a slight movement in front, to the right, caught my eye. As the shape came into focus, I noticed a huge dark snake rearing its head, window-level to me. I saw a gaping black mouth…
I wrenched the steering wheel to the left with all my might. The car swerved dangerously, rocking from side to side.
Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to bring the vehicle on course and to accelerate slightly.
In the rearview mirror, I saw the snake slither across the road and I stopped the car.
I didn’t feel any pain or notice any bite marks on my body. I had escaped unscathed!
I rolled up the windows and made an about-turn but the snake had disappeared into the bush.
Darn, I had no photographic evidence of my close encounter with an impressive black mamba of three meters long!
4. Not so Gentle Giants
There is nothing as exciting as an evening game drive on safari.
It started at dusk — the francolins screeching their characteristic calls. You could hear the squabbles of the baboons as they settled down for the night in a large fig tree.
You could hear the crunching of the Jeep’s wheels on the gravel road, some light banter of the expectant passengers.
Some impala huddled together; their eyes shiny as gemstones as the vehicle’s lights caught their reflections.
It was the extended family from the UK’s first visit to the African bush. We were escorted by the driver (a game ranger) and the tracker, sitting on the elevated stool at the front left of the vehicle.
The driver had to stop for the small boy from the UK to make a piddle next to the vehicle. As he was doing his thing, we heard branches cracking and an elephant appeared close by. As the panicky munchkin was hoisted back in, the elephant was joined by another one, feeding on the leaves of the trees.
The last rays of the sun had vanished and the horizon was coloured a blazing, breathtaking orangey-pink. Two other elephants crossed the road behind us. You can’t believe how softly these giants tread.
We decided to drive on. We hadn’t gone far when three huge, dark shadows loomed up ahead, purposefully walking towards us. The bush was teeming with elephants.
A deathly silence fell upon the occupants of the Jeep. The bush felt eerie and spooked.
After a short deliberation with his guide, the driver veered into the veld to the right. It was heavy going through dense bush and shrubs while circumventing more elephants.
At that point, we came up against a clump of impenetrable thorn bushes. The noise of the labouring engine cut out and all was quiet, but for an irritated elephant bull close by. There was no way out.
As the little boy started crying, his mom tried to console him. My hands were sweating and my heart was threatening to climb out of my ribcage.
The menacing elephant moved closer with ears wide and trunk uplifted. At about 3meters from us, he stopped abruptly, shook his head so that we could feel and smell the sand sifting down on us. Then with a terrible trumpet, he turned around and walked off.
Eventually, the elephants’ magic spell was broken; they dispersed and we got out there.
Back in camp, later that evening, the joyful celebration fires burnt high in the boma as we drank, ate and recounted our versions of the harrowing experience.
5. Lake Panic
I drove along a narrow, winding road through dense bush.
Then in a clearing– the notice board and entrance to the bird hide that leads to the lake. The place was surrounded by large indigenous trees like acacias, sausage trees, and wild figs.
I felt the excitement mounting and my heart fluttering in my chest. I took photos of an elephant and her young calf while I waited for them to move off. The feisty little calf made mock charges at the vehicle. The guttural sounds of two beautiful Purple-crested Turacaos broke the silence as they showed off flashes of blue, red and purple wings.
I pushed open the squeaky gate and walked down the narrow shade-cloth and poles passageway, trying to walk softly as my boots noisily met the ground. Some timid Kudus grazed close by. As I entered the hide, I was astounded to be met by a scene with myriad signs of life. Hippos were snorting in the background. An ominous-looking, half-submerged crocodile glided by; shivers ran down my spine as it disappeared beneath the wooden slats of the deck.
Many birds were nesting and feeding, chattering and chirping — birds like weavers, herons, thick-knees and graceful darters. A pair of Pied Kingfishers hovered above the water and dived in to catch fish. The one perched to tenderize its catch on a branch and swallow it. The resident Fish Eagle couple uttered their plaintive cries.
An Impala and some cautious Bushbuck came to slake their thirst at the water’s edge. It was such a peaceful scene.
Suddenly, the smooth surface of the water was broken by a splash. A huge snout latched onto the impala’s nose, plucked it into the water, rolled and rolled with it a few times and disappeared under the water again. Only some slight circular movements on the lake’s surface revealed the drama that had just taken place.
Spectators caught their breath and voices tumbled over one another. The clicking of cameras stopped.
After an awful silence, life went on.
I felt safe in the hide, nevertheless keeping a proper lookout when I moved out of the enclosed area towards my car.
The way of the wild
Just when things are peaceful and going at a slow pace, expect the unexpected in the African bush. That is what makes a safari so exciting. You never know what you will see or encounter around the next corner.
However, it’s not only about the excitement aspect but also the atmosphere in the camp, the braai (barbecue), the conversation, the smells, the animal sounds (there’s nothing like a lion’s roar), the dawn chorus, the trees and insects.
Nature lovers, have you ever tried an African Safari?
What a way to get away from it all!