When going on safari people often hear of the “Big 5” and wonder what is means. It refers to the 5 animals that big game hunters used to want to shoot to complete their collection of trophies. The animals were:
Today the same phrase is used for those travelling on safari, the five animals that everybody wants to see, albeit these days to shoot only with a camera.
The one everybody gets wrong is the Cape Buffalo. They expect the hippo or cheetah as they are seen as more exotic. But the buffalo provided the biggest challenge to the old hunters; bad tempered, strong and quick, only a perfectly placed shot would bring it down before it charged right through you.
We’re often asked about our scariest moment on safari. Scary is not really the right word. Exhilarating, breath-taking and humbling suit better. But sometimes….
I was on a drive in a private Rhino reserve in Swaziland, with the Head Ranger as we looked out for the animals. Coming round a corner in a fairly well run-in Land Rover we came face to face with a large and rather angry-looking Black Rhino. After a minute or so of sitting watching each other, with a fair amount of head tossing and foot-stamping going on (the rhino, not me) it decided to charge.
The first impact on the Land Rover was impressive. We were out of gear and without brakes and jolted backwards a fair jump. The Rhino decided that the bumper was rather hard and came around the side of the vehicle to look for a softer spot. I was delighted when it chose my side. A short run and ram, its horn came through the side panel of the door and appeared a few centimetres from my leg. The vehicle was lifted off its left-hand tyres and we waved around a bit. It withdrew its horn and retreated a short distance, possibly preparing for a new charge, but we were in reverse and off round the corner. Fortunately it didn’t follow.
A colleague was at the reserve later and informed me that the door, complete with hole, is now mounted over the lodge fireplace. Fortunately, my leg is not pinned to it. It made me realise the strength of the rhino and its speed.
You’re with a group of clients and have been game-driving all morning. You stop under some trees for a packed lunch and are all sitting in the shade, looking out over the shimmering plains to the escarpment in the distance, discussing the morning’s highlights.
Just as you look down to open you lunch box, a large drop of blood splats down onto its lid from above. What do you do next:
1. Tell your group to get back to the vehicles as quick as they can and shoo them along from behind.
2. Leg it, calling over your shoulder for them to follow.
3. Stay where you are. You like your beef sandwiches rare and you cannot go wrong with a bit of extra sauce.
I was talking recently with one of the owners of a lodge we use in South Africa. For the purposed of this story the lodge will remain nameless. It is a romantic property – small, intimate, luxurious, in short the perfect venue for a honeymoon and one which we send clients to frequently. They love it, with a heated verandah bath overlooking the plains and private meals served under the stars. A fantastic place to start married life and forget the stresses of the wedding day. Not so for one couple who were staying there.
On the last day of their visit they decided to go on a walking safari, an exciting way of looking for animals and plants away from the noise of the vehicle. Accompanied by an armed guide/guard they ventured off into the park and all was going well until they stumbled upon a rhino in a patch of thin shrub woodland.
The guide told them to freeze – rhinos do not see well but can detect movement. But the rhino had caught the smell of them and did a short dummy charge. At this the couple did what they had been told at the briefing before the walk, they ran towards the nearest tree that would take their weight and began to climb. The woman got their first and was just getting off the ground when her new husband arrived and used her as a ladder to get to the upper branches.
The rhino departed and the guide was left with another dangerous animal – a very angry bride. She left the lodge that afternoon alone.