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Walking in the Bush, the Most Alive Time of My Life

November 26, 2011 by  

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On my death bed I will tell those, assuming there is anyone listening, that walking in the bush with Jerry Hambana has been some of the most ‘alive time’ of my life. Not fun time, memorable time or unforgettable time – but alive time… moments when the heart beats a little quicker, the eyes were keener and the footsteps more measured. Walking in the proximity of lion and leopard can do that to you and if you are a natural at it (and there are many on the team) then you probably move beyond the excitement phase of tracking to the business end of it.

I’m not a natural bush tracker and I’ll always have a more natural eye for golfballs crouching in 6 inch rough than mustard yellow eyes in the thatching grass. As a result I get set off easily when on foot. Quails and francolins exploding from thickets at knee height and bushbuck and duiker bursting to life from their frozen hiding places are heart arresting moments and I seem to have had many of them. Jerry doesn’t flinch of course but he does watch my spasmodic reactions with some delight.

Beyond the natural sounds that trigger adrenalin when on fresh tracks, there are the internal squeaks and gurgles that can be experienced at the ungodly hours we often find ourselves creeping around in the bush… Serious tracking should be left for after breakfast because my empty stomach speaks in a range somewhere between a cat like growl and an elephant rumble. I’ve watched Jerry freeze momentarily as my internal digestions have shattered a silent morning. If I hadn’t given myself a fright in those moments I probably would have been able to take some pride in foxing Jerry.

More recently I’ve been having other more serious problems. If you have ever had a ringing in one of your ears then you’ll know part of what I’m about to describe. Ringing in the ears is common enough amongst most people and is an indication of some sort of ear damage or hearing loss. This is hardly suprising given our modern lifestyles. I’ve had the whole ringing ear thing before and when I was growing up I was taught a superstition that it meant someone was talking about you. Obviously as a singleton I used to think that it was a gathering of girls discussing me at length but more recently I’ve fantasised that management have been discussing giving me a raise. Alarmingly though, the ringing has now developed into something much more sinister – tinnitus…..

At least I think it’s tinnitus that’s afflicting me. We are a way away from an ear doctor here so I’ve diagnosed myself on the internet. Searching for definitions rendered: “Tinnitus can be perceived in one or both ears or in the head. It is usually described as a ringing noise, but in some patients, it takes the form of a high-pitched whining, electric buzzing, hissing, humming, tinging or whistling sound, or as ticking, clicking, roaring, “crickets” or “tree frogs” or “cicadas”. That description should have most rangers running to an ENT surgeon.

My experience is a rythmical whirring in my right ear and that sound is easily confused with wild dogs contact calling each other. It’s disconcerting when the ‘holy grail’ of animal sightings keeps calling inside your head and poor Jerry has had to learn to disregard my insistence that the pack is nearby and on the run. I’ve also wondered if I’ve stumbled onto, beyond the range of the average human ear, radio transmissions.

More probably I’ve got age and loud sound induced damage. It’s manageable but annoying when things are very quiet and internal sounds are amplified by silence. At it’s worst I’ve wanted to cut my ear off (I wonder if Van Gogh suffered from tinnitus) but now I’ve relegated it to the bunch of other ailments I’ve collected along the way (astigmatism, bad back etc…) and eventually I’m guessing it will become ‘white noise.’

Ipods, snoring wife, rifle practice and parties on Varty Deck all come to mind as the most obvious source of noise damage, but I’ve decided to blame the roaring Majingilane male lions for my auditory impairment.

As such my two New Years resolutions will be to park further away from male lions and to see what compensation the provident fund offers rangers who’ve heard one too many lion symphonies…

Hunting Down Rhinoceros For Days in Southern Africa

October 19, 2011 by  

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So it was another of those kite-windy afternoons at the game reserve that you sometimes get in the fall and we were out hunting Rhinoceros. Typically on your fourth evening with the same guests you wouldn’t be so desperate to see one, but we had skillfully evaded them for days and so were under pressure to find one.

Pressure is defined in the dictionary as ‘The burden of physical or mental distress’. Most people reading this will quite easily identify with the squash of it, but the pressure of picking performing stocks or running board meetings or fighting expressway traffic is very different to the pressure of having to find a rhinoceros.

If you squeeze a small khaki clad mind for long enough funny things start to happen and so puttering around likely rhino hiding places at 20kph I started thinking of Gary Larson.

There can’t be too many people in the western hemisphere that haven’t seen or chuckled at a Larson cartoon. His ‘Far Side’ cartoons appeared in newspapers around the world for 15 years and his 23 books sold 45 million copies. That’s a lot of toilets!

Gary Larson Far Side Cartoon African Lions 

One of Gary Larson’s African Safari themed Far Side cartoons

He retired fearing that he would eventually enter what he called the “Graveyard of Mediocre Cartoons.”  I wish he had made a trip to Londolozi because he would certainly have found a wealth of material for a 24th book. He would have seen rhino tiptoeing through the riparian forest and crawling on their bellies, buttocks high, through the long grass…

When I looked Larson up on the internet I discovered that the various honours accorded him include some newly discovered creatures named after him: The Strigiphilus garylarsoni is a biting louse found on owls and there is an Ecuadorian rain forest butterfly called Serratoterga larsoni . To complete the list of honours the Garylarsonus beetle also carries his name.

After the naming of the louse Larson wrote: “I considered this an extreme honor. Besides, I knew no one was going to write and ask to name a new species of swan after me. You have to grab these opportunities when they come along.”

It appears that naming new animals after celebrities and famous people is a new kind of sport and the list is endless and the reasons are likewise intriguing. I’ve added a few I liked but google the comprehensive list for a laugh as well as the outlandish explanations for them.

Windy afternoons aren’t ideal for finding Rhinoceros and they typically do ‘hide’. With a little of Jerry’s skill and a lot of luck we eventually found a Ceratotherium simum on the banks of the Sand River heading for an evening drink and wallow. (In case you are wondering: Ceratotherium: from the Greek cerato, meaning horn and therium, meaning wild beast; simum: from the Greek simus, meaning “flat nosed”.)

Gary Larson Dust Rhino Cartoon 

Gary Larson Dust Rhino Cartoon

We too then headed for a sundowner at which point I wondered what exactly it was that afforded Larson such a brilliant, upside down view of the world of animals – he would certainly have been a brilliant guide.