Thursday, December 17, 2009
SAFARI (1): YOU CHECKIN' MY BUTT?
There’s a national park twenty minutes from my country cottage here in Elandsdoorn, South Africa, where I've been on location for the film shoot of my novel Chanda's Secrets. The owner and his son-in-law were kind enough to take me. They reminded me of the bush guides who taught me about tracking when I was in SubSahara researching Chanda’s Wars: Instead of looking at the bush, they see through it.
I’d seen all the Big Five except rhino when I was in Bostwana, Malawi and Zambia researching both Chanda books. So you can imagine my excitement when I saw a rhino in the bush to the right of me, and it decided to stoll out into plain view. And my further excitement when it turned sideways and blocked the road.
The rhino stayed like that for a few minutes. As it turns out, he wasn’t posing for me. Or threatening me. Check out his tail. Yup. A bathroom break. Within minutes, his ten-pound contribution to global warming was swarming with dung beetles: nature’s cleanup crew. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.
After they’ve worked the dung into balls, the beetles move it to nests just under the ground where they lay their eggs. The dung provides insulation and food for their little ones. Ah The Circle of Life. I can almost hear Elton John.
BTW, there are cattle around the farm where I’m staying. I’m told that some days the dung beetles are so busy, it looks like the entire field is moving.
Anyway, having looked to the ground to be careful where to step, let’s look up. It’s an incredible feeling to be moving slowly through the bush and to suddenly spot a little guy like this looking down from a tree.
How about a closeup?
Monkeys are cute, but if you leave anything lying around, they’ll snach it. Even salt shakers! No fear of people at all. Equally cute, but hot-wired for fear are antelope. There are so many species bounding about that it’s hard not to get jaded. (Oh, another antelope, ho hum.) Still, who wouldn’t go Ahhh at the sight of these impala? They’re Bambi times ten.
During the heat of the day, impala, like other animals, like to stay in the shade. Who wouldn’t? I’m afraid Dad, here, isn’t so keen on the attention.
Impala like to graze under trees housing baboons. The baboons sit up high and break off leaves the impala couldn’t reach. From their height, the baboons can spot and smell predators from great distances. When they do, they howl like crazy, giving the impala a head start in its race for life.
Note the “M” marking on the impala’s behind. (Black tail and lines on haunches.) Everything eats impala. Because of the ‘M’ it’s known as The McDonald’s of the Bush.
We stopped for lunch. Butterflies everywhere.
None of us have any idea what this is -- even my host who’s lived with the bush for forty-four years. Whatever, it sure looks cool.
It takes eight minutes to upload a photo over here, so I’m going to break my safari into two sections. Next time -- giraffe, a yellow horntail, water buffalo, water buck, warthog, and a grumpy hippo. Hippos kill more people than any other animal in the bush -- even lions. You’ll see it leap out of the water, and understand why Chanda and Nelson feared it in Chanda’s Wars. Till then,