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Birthday Bashes in the Bush

It is just after midday when we arrive at our delightful camp site in the Khama Rhino Reserve in Botswana, leaving behind a countrywide cold front. I said to Jenny ‘let’s escape to the warmth of the bush’ only to find the nighttime temp in our camp was only a tad higher than freezing! We are extremely fortunate to be sitting in the shade of the Makongwa Trees that punctuate each camp site. What is really great is that each area is totally private. This little Reserve is full of charm and real African atmosphere and extremely well run. What a pleasure. While we “Park Off” there is a constant flow of bird life from Hornbills to Starlings and so many more birds – how amazing is that!!

There is a majestic Kudu Bull (MAC) that drinks at our bird bath every single day at around 10.30am – which is a real treat, along with all the birds in camp that entertain us every day spending their time looking for “Tit-Bits” that Jenny hands out on a regular basis. The crested Francolin are beginning to look positively ‘round’ as they waddle through the sand.

However, I did get a bit of a reality check, while listening to the Babblers who were in mid chorus in the dappled shade of the bird bath, my ears were suddenly assaulted by a call emanating from inside the vehicle. After listening for a while at this repetitive sound we soon deducted that this very rare call was made by Jenny’s “Pink Breasted Blackberry”!! What a let-down!

Having now set the scene I would like to give you an account of a couple of my encounters whilst I was leading Wilderness Trails in the Umfolozi Game Reserve during the 1970’s:

cartoon of rhino charge
cartoon of rhino charge

“The atmosphere in camp was probably not as ‘jolly’ as it could be because the rain gods had made sure that everything was as wet as was possible, which had in turn dampened the spirits of our city adventurers.

However, I suggested that we take an early morning hike up into the hills near Makamisa Outpost in the southern section of the reserve. On a day like today there is a possibility of finding one of the nocturnal predators out hunting. I have quite often run into leopard on cloudy, rainy days and the best place would be up in the hilly areas.

We had covered about 4 kms and seen very little which didn’t help the morale of the trailers but on we went climbing up the left flank of a shallow ravine, ever watchful and alert as there was a large warthog burrow going under some tree roots and in this weather, it is not uncommon for our tusked friends to be enjoying a ‘sickie’ to still be in their den. On looking at the spoor it looked like the hogs had exited from the hole, so I motioned the trail group past at a safe distance – Just fine! Then to my amazement the Grand Daddy of all warthogs came barrelling out like a cannon ball. Having managed to get the group out of the way it only left me in the firing line. Well, the dance steps I performed would have got ma a role in Saturday Night Fever!! However, to no avail as the thundering warthog caught me behind the knees and sent the trusty Ranger into a back somersault, rifle flung one way and said body the other. Once the dust had settled, I gathered my senses and various appendages and looked for my trusty party. They were all looking totally shocked at this ruffled being sitting near the offending warthog hole brushing off dust and branches. As is common in instances like this it takes a while to see the funny side, but we all ended up killing ourselves with laughter as the story was recounted. This made the whole trip for my walking group.

It is amazing the lengths one has to go to in the call of duty. This all happened on my birthday so keep on reading ………………………..

Sitting in the Botswana some 35 odd years down the road, thinking and recounting some of the interesting experiences makes me even more determined to put back into conserving Africa’s Wildlife through my Gift of artistic ability.

My trail group consisted of two husbands and wives and a single Scotsman who had cameras draped from both shoulders and a pair of binoculars round his neck, which is all very wonderful but in a tight situation can cause a few “stranglement” problems. I decided at this point to keep him right behind me while walking through the thick bush. The trail was going very well, and we had many laughs and tremendous experience on our walking safari.

It was on the last evening in Dadethu Trail Camp while we were relaxing round the fire that I mentioned the warthog incident as it happened exactly one year ago on my birthday and I jokingly said I wonder what lies in store for it will be my birthday tomorrow! Everybody laughed and thought nothing more of it. Oh yeah!………….

The next morning, our last day meant a slow hike along the White Umfolozi river bank where the game liked to drink and enjoy the fine lawn grass in the shade of the sycamore fig trees. The weather was calm, and the walk was most enjoyable.

We wandered our way quietly watching Waterbuck, Nyala and the odd lone Buffalo basking on the sand it came to my attention that there were two white rhino bulls heading our way grazing and slowly picking their path from one delectable grass patch to another. No problem!

Our Scottish friend was shooting away with his cameras to which the rhino twitched their parabolic ears to try and identify the irritating sound. However, as I cautioned “Jimmy” to stop taking photos the two rhino bulls came charging straight at us for no real reason. I shouted obscenities at the rhinos and motioned with great speed that everyone must get up trees while I try and turn the rhinos away from us. The two ladies made a magnificent job of climbing out of harm’s way through thorns and branches, just like they had been doing this all their lives. Meantime John our hardened bush adventurer who could take on the thundering bulk of a rhino without breaking a sweat managed to cling to the trunk of a thorn tree at the great height of 20cm off the ground, his face running in blood from thorn scratches etc. whiles our mad Scotsman decided to abandon all the trees close by and was last seen heading towards Mtubatuba at speed!!

My predicament was made slightly worse as while I was running backwards trying to deflect the charge, I tripped over a tree root and fell backwards as the two rhino bulls thundered past only a couple of feet from where I lay, winded and hoping like hell that my trusty game guard (Sgt Ngoco) had managed to keep the rhino heading away from us. After some time of deliberation and relocating our visibly shaken group it was unanimously decided that my next Birthday would be spent lying on a Zululand beach sipping a beer!

It is amazing that I have retained an image for so many years of a Rhino charging past at great speed, which allowed me to create one in Bronze that is going towards raising funds for Anti-Rhino poaching through the Endangered Wildlife Trust. I am truly honoured to be part of such a meaningful project.

cartoon of rhino charge
cartoon of rhino charge