by Duncan Boustead
So I have been pondering the last few weeks and experiences that I have had in the bush and wondering how to convey them to an audience. The issue with the bush and the experiences one has is that they are often intensely personal and difficult to put across. I remember a good friend of mine once telling me how he was alone one afternoon, and he had a standoff with a bull elephant for over an hour - just him, his binoculars and the 6500kg Elephant. After they finally parted company, he went back to the lodge and quietly got on with his work, not sharing this experience with a single soul. I never quite understood this until now.
How do you tell people who were not there, that we had two adult Leopards and a sub adult, in front of our camp for around an hour, with the adults mating whilst we looked on from no more then 60m away…not from the safety of the vehicle but on foot, in the dark?
How do you explain the feeling you get when your guests are happily having an afternoon sleep near a waterhole and three rather large Elephant Bulls are heading your way at a rapid rate, only to become aware of your presence with the soft tapping on your rifle butt not more then 25 meters away?
There are stories however that justify the time and effort to try and get the feeling and point across.
It was the 12th August that we started on a 3 night four days walking trail in an unspoilt conservation area of South Africa. There was still a chill in the air for which I was not too well prepared and as such had a relatively unsettled night. All to soon the Francolins were stirring and our first morning went something like this.
+-04:00: Lions roaring around 1km from our overnight camp site.
+-06:15: Everyone is up and talking about the night sounds. Pearl Spotted, Scops Owlets, the Ground Hornbills currently calling and the whoops of a Hyena in the distance.
+-07:00: We have finished taking down camp and with backpacks packed we change plans for the day and head in the direction of the Lions.
+-07:30: The bird atlasing is good and the species are coming thick and fast. We find fresh Hyena spoor and show the guests the key identification features. It’s a beautiful morning and we are in no rush. Our final destination that day would be to set up camp somewhere on the banks of the Letaba River.
+-08:00: Vultures up ahead, spoor of Hyena fresh on the ground. All signs point to a kill, we tell our guests that we will do our best to find it but no promises. The excitement builds and everyone is using all their senses. It’s times like this that you feel so alive.
+-08:15: We have been moving systematically through the bush, following Hyena spoor certain it will lead us to our target. More and more spoor and the tracking becomes easier.
+-08:20: More vultures…there must be close to a hundred or more scattered throughout the Mopani veld trees but they are still not giving away the kill. Everyone is sharp and on edge…
+-08:22: We are close…the excitement is unbearable…and then we see it…
+-08:23: White Rhino Carcass! The group sees it and the body language immediately changes. We move in for a closer look and its clear its been poached, horns brutally hacked off. No sign of lions around the scene or any other predators in the area. The disappointment is real, very real. We see a second Carcass nearby and again investigate. The stench of death is everywhere and it’s a harsh reality for our guests, a complete 180 from the previous 20 minutes. Postures drop at the disappointment. There is silence, not much is said, it doesn’t need to be, these real life pictures have spoken.
As much as I do not convey many of my personal experiences past a campfire, stories like this need to be told. It’s a harsh reality of guiding and the current fight against Rhino Poaching.
You can help by donating to organistations such as the SANParks Honorary Rangers or buying your Rhinose at CNA today. Every little bit helps.http://www.sanparksvolunteers.org/