Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Clash of Spiral Horns

One of my favourite things in the whole wide world is to grab a couple of beers from the bar of whatever game lodge I'm staying in and take them, along with my camera, binoculars and bird book to the hide over looking the waterhole. Not all lodges have these, but if yours does, go there one afternoon while everyone else is sleeping off their lunch. Sit quietly and patiently for an hour or two and you never know what you'll see.  Idube Lodge in the Sabi Sands area of South Africa near Kruger National Park has a great hide (Or "blind" as they tend to call them in South Africa.) It was here that I saw two magnificent kudu bulls sparring.

For twenty minutes the bush echoed with the clash of their great spiral horns as they butted and fenced, seeking to impose their superiority. Finally, with neither animal gaining the upper hand they decided to call it a draw and have a drink at the waterhole. Just to their left a family of warthogs were kneeling and grazing on the new green grass shoots not far from the water's edge. It was a hot, still afternoon and I could hear them pulling at the grass. The only other sound was the incessant rhythmic hum of the cicadas and the equally rhythmic call of the yellow-billed hornbills from somewhere in the trees beyond the waterhole. It was a better and cheaper way to relax than having a massage.

My wife and I were at the bar one day at Idube lodge, (Have you noticed how much time we seem to spend in the lodge bars?) one evening. Our guide was with us regaling us with tales of daring-do with lions and elephants, when one of the gardeners ran up in a lather of panic. "Pardon me sir." He said in broken English  looking at my wife. Then he turned to our guide. "Dere is a warthog inside the pool." We followed the guide and the gardener across the lawn to the swimming pool, and sure enough swimming round and round, it's eyes building in absolute terror was a huge old boar warthog with very impressive warts and even more impressive tusks.

He was searching for a way out. One end of the pool sloped gradually to cope with just such events but standing at the shallow end, blocking the animals escape route was one of the other guests. An Aussie teenager of about fourteen. He was frantically pushing his fringe out of his eyes to get a better look at the action. We immediately saw that he'd get a better view than he bargained for if the warthog decided that it was better to run straight through him rather than drown. I dread to think of the mess those tusks would have made of the kid. With remarkable restraint our guide quietly told the boy that if he didn't want to be gored and bleed to death he might like to join us at the deep on of the pool. This he did with a grudging shrug. Immediately the warthog saw his chance and dashed up the slope, out of the water, his trotters skidding in all direction on the concrete and his tail bolt upright as he disappeared into the scrub.

Another lodge with a great hide is Mashatu Tented Camp. Mashatu is a wonderful private game reserve in Botswana, just across the Limpopo River which forms South Africa's northern border. I've mentioned Mashatu before in this blog.
Mashatu Main Camp also has an excellent waterhole. It has no hide though. The lodge restaurant overlooks the waterhole, but even the low murmur of the voices of people enjoying their meal doesn't seem to put many of the animals off, and there are always birds and turtles to watch, not to mention a medium sized crocodile.

Whatever lodge you happen to be staying at, take some quiet time to yourself. Even if there is no hide. Just sit on your deck or veranda and observe. There's always something to see if you sit still and silent. Besides, it's good for the soul.


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