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Harry's Tales: A Thorny Problem

Harry Wroth tells how a vet literally saved his scalp in the African bush.

On the first evening of a two-week visit to Kruger National Pak we were staying at Saara Camp, enjoying a braal in ront of our rondawel. On one of my transits to the rondawel my head collided with a low hanging branch of an Acacia tree. Most visitors would have missed the branch, but I am rather tall. After the shock of the impact I realised that a piece of thorn had lodged in the top of my scalp.

The next morning we were breakfasting at Nwanedzi picnic spot and while the wife was cooking bacon, eggs, tomato and toasting bread on the open grid, I climbed to the viewing structure on the hill top. Conditions were very dry and the little stream was not running. There were a few scattered mudpools and a morning mist was hanging over the area. I had only been there a few minutes when a smallish antelope appeared, slowly and warily walking down the dry river bed. I had never seen one of its kind before. It had a heart-shaped head, was ruddy brown in colour and appeared to be mangy. Parts of its body was covered with patches of longish woolly hair.

I was the sole viewer of this buck. I would only identify what type it was, some years later in a field guide book on the land mammals of Southern Africa where reference was made to the only buck to shed its winter coat. It was an Oribi.

Other visitors arrived at the amp, including a group in two combies. The wound in my scalp was feeling somewhat tender. I did not fancy a long trip back to the resident doctor at Skukuza for the removal of the offending piece of thorn, yet I had to find a doctor. I approached a member of the combi group.

"Pardon me, but do you have a doctor in your group?" I asked.

He replied "Sure, which do you prefer, a dentist or a vet?"

Due to the hairy location of the wound I asked for the vet. Having fetched his bag from a combi and using his twelve year old son as an assistant the vet proceeded to remove the thorn from my scalp. The operation was carried out very carefully, using Scotch whisky as a disinfectant. The vet said I was to wash my scalp at every opportunity while in the Lowveld as the sub tropical atmosphere was conducive to infection of skin breakages.

My eternal thanks go to that vet. He saved my scalp.

Shortly after leaving Nwanedzi, while travelling along the old north bank road next to a dry river bed, my wife cried ,"Stop! I think there is a crocodile tail sticking up down in the sloot.''

We reversed back to the spot, and there it was. Not a small crocodile tail, but the right forepaw of a leopard!

After about an hour it emerged from under the grass tuft, stretching like a just-woken cat. It was a huge magnificent specimen. What a sighting!.

Nearby there was a sad sight. In one of the few small remaining mudholes there were about twenty hippos trying to cool down in the heat. A few miles further on towards Satara, in a shallow concrete watering furrow, there were two other hippo, also trying to cool down, much to the chagrin of a warthog family who wished to enjoy the facility. The warthogs seemed unaware of a pair of lionesses lying only some thirty metres away behind some stringy shrubs.

Some hours later the lionesses were still there. The hippos, the warthogs and several other animals had come to the water and then moved off. It was of course at the height of a drought when all the cats have an easy time as flesh is freely available to them because of limited water supply to the herbivores as well as relatively easy visibility through the undergrowth as foliage is very scarce.

We returned to camp to make a stew and use some of the Scotch that was not on my head.


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