Bad Actors and Empathy
“Be careful!” said my friends when I announced I was going to Africa for a couple weeks, and that was before this Covid-19 virus thing became such a presence in our lives. I imagine they were thinking about lions and leopards and the dangers of a single senior woman in international travel, not the things that I consider dangerous—hippos and elephants and Cape buffalo.
I was pretty confident that “being careful” would not be a consideration. I know my safari manners, though I will admit I have fudged on them a bit while trying to get a better vantage point.
Nonetheless, when our Pangolin photo safari boat pulled up next to a crocodile that was basking in the sun, I stayed back for a bit. Then, I decided to get a croc-level photo of the massive reptile.
I expected Guts, our host and guide, to warn me away any second. He didn’t.
What Guts knew and I didn’t was that crocs rarely attack people on land. Rarely. Not never, but rarely.
But I survived. I also watched the reptile carefully for any sign that it was going to move and I was ready to retreat, not that I am fast enough to outdistance a croc, but there was an aluminum railing in between me and the croc, and the well of the boat right beside me so I could duck into it..
I am grateful that another passenger on the boat took photos of the whole encounter and the above are her photos posted here.
Another dangerous beast is the Cape buffalo, a huge grazing animal that kills around 500 people a year. The worst thing about the Cape buffalo, they say, is that it is unpredictable.
You can stop near a herd and either they won’t pay any attention or they will move away. I have yet to see one that presents a threat, but I see the guides give them a lot of respect when one approaches.
On one safari in South Africa, we were out of the vehicle having morning coffee/tea when an elderly bull passed about 300 feet from us. The guides hurried us back in the Land Rover until it was out of sight.
Today we are on a land safari through Chobe National Park. We come around a corner and a small herd of Cape buffalo are watching us. I pick out two to watch and can only describe their actions as goofy.
The longer I watch, the more I enjoy them. One is using the other’s horns to scratch itself in hard to reach places.
One day when we were on the Chobe River, we were photographing egrets on the buffalo.
Then, we moved to another spot where a number of red-billed oxpeckers were on the animals. These oxpeckers, along with a few other birds can live their lives on grazing animals. Not only do they clean the animals of ticks and parasites. But they also keep a wound open so they can ingest the blood.
When I had time to look at my photos, I was floored by the number of insects on and around the buffalo and for the first time began to feel a little empathy for them.
No wonder they get so irritable.
And no wonder they like to coat themselves in mud.