« Baby Marrow Soup | Main | A Present For Mary »

Here Comes Treble: Bush Music Revisited

...Instead of turning right and heading directly for our lodge, he turned left into an area of the reserve we’d never seen before. Within two minutes, we were gazing, enraptured, at a lioness and her two juvenile male cubs. They had just feasted on a kill, and were rather lethargic, but after a while mother stood up and staggered a short distance, pausing every three or four steps to pant. Her distended stomach dragged against her spine. Soon, the effort of moving became too much, her legs buckled and she lay down. Her sons followed her in similar fashion, looking as uncomfortable as I usually feel after Christmas lunch. What a thrill, seeing the first of the Big Five within ten minutes...

Isabel Bradley and her husband Leon delight in another visit to a South African game reserve.

Two years ago, Leon and I were chatting to a distant relative who had recently returned to England from a safari in South Africa. He had been frustrated that so much time was spent searching for animals while on game-drives. “At least half of a game drive is spent looking at birds, trees and insects. Why,” he asked insistently, “can’t they put radio collars on the interesting animals such as lion and elephant, track them down and just drive straight to them without wasting all that time without seeing anything?”

We tried to explain that, though some animals in game reserves are fitted with radio collars for the purpose of research, the fitting of the collar is traumatic, endangering the animals’ health. They are anaesthetized by being hunted and shot with darts, they are man-handled during examination and fitting of tracking devices and are disoriented and at the mercy of predators when recovering from the drugs. Radio collars are uncomfortable and cumbersome. Besides, much of the fun of seeing any of the ‘Big Five’ is in absorbing the information and beauty to be found while searching for these admittedly magnificent animals. The Big Five are: lion, elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo and leopard. Not many people, however, know about the corresponding ‘Little Five’, which are equally fascinating and far more difficult to locate: ant-lion, elephant-shrew, rhinoceros-beetle, buffalo-weaver and leopard-tortoise. We were sad that our companion was disappointed with what sounded, to us, like a marvellous trip.

Leon and I own a small share of a game lodge in a reserve fairly close to our home in South Africa. We delight in going on game drives, breathing in the various scents from wild herbs, flowering trees and crushed leaves, or the pungent odour of a rhino’s or elephant’s dung, or the heart-trembling, sour smell of the big cats. Learning of the uses of various plants is fascinating: there are trees whose twigs, when crushed, can be used as toothbrushes; others whose leaves are used as toilet paper; yet others used as brooms and lamps. Medications and poisons abound in the bush.

Stopping to watch the gruelling work of a dung beetle as it rolls its compacted ball of rhino faeces, four times its own size, up an incredibly steep bank, or finding a tiny ant-lion in its inverted cone of sand waiting for ants to drop into its carnivorous, though tiny, jaws, is just as interesting as watching a pride of lion sleeping. In fact, it is often far more interesting. Lions can sleep for hours.

Admiring the vast variety of birds and listening to their calls is another wonderful experience during a game drive. The sight of a fish-eagle swooping over a river and rising with a fish in its talons is a thrill to equal seeing a rhino and far more rare. Catching sight of a woodland kingfisher as it lands on a branch, wings outstretched, to alternately turn its flashing blue back and silver chest in a mating display is a delight difficult to equal.

Watching gentle antelope with their large, dark eyes and shapely horns is a quiet joy, and the antics of a couple of zebra rolling in a dust-bowl can have everyone on the vehicle laughing in delight.

It was December, and once again, Leon and I were privileged to be at ‘our game lodge’ to spend ten days spotting game, enjoying good company and, on my part, making glorious music purely for the joy it.

We arrived at the gate of the reserve and were welcomed warmly by our friends, Roland and Marion who also have shares in the game lodge. The men transferred our luggage, the digital piano and some food supplies into the trailer hitched to the four-wheel-drive game-viewing vehicle and we set out with our good friend and game-ranger, Herbert, driving.

Instead of turning right and heading directly for our lodge, he turned left into an area of the reserve we’d never seen before. Within two minutes, we were gazing, enraptured, at a lioness and her two juvenile male cubs. They had just feasted on a kill, and were rather lethargic, but after a while mother stood up and staggered a short distance, pausing every three or four steps to pant. Her distended stomach dragged against her spine. Soon, the effort of moving became too much, her legs buckled and she lay down. Her sons followed her in similar fashion, looking as uncomfortable as I usually feel after Christmas lunch. What a thrill, seeing the first of the Big Five within ten minutes.

We spent about half an hour watching the lions, then set off for our lodge, glimpsing impala, zebra, wildebeest and red hartebeest all with their young, in the shadowy green woodland.

We arrived at the lodge and unpacked everything from the trailer, carrying it down the steps of loose and crunching pebbles to the living area. After a generous brunch, Marion sat at the digital piano and she, Roland and I played trios, sending the sounds of Weber and Beethoven ringing into the bush on the hillside opposite.

At about four, we set out for our first game drive. It wasn’t long before we saw a white rhinoceros, a rock-shaped mass which vanished behind some distant rocks. Forty minutes later, to the delight of our Canadian friends on their first visit to Africa, Herbert stopped the vehicle and switched off the engine. “Elephant,” he whispered, pointing to our right. We were so close that we could hear the animal’s loud flatulence. We were glad to be down-wind. In hushed delight, we sat shooting photographs and trying to grasp the sheer size of this magnificent animal that rose like a wall next to us. On the side of his grey and wrinkled face, from a gland behind his eyes, musth ran like tears in a line of darker grey. Male elephants regularly secrete musth from the time they enter puberty, when they are ready to mate.

Eventually, we allowed Herbert to drive on. Within ten minutes of this first marvellous elephant sighting, we were amazed to find a herd of matriarch elephants with two youngsters still feeding from their mothers. They were a peaceful sight in their green glade, against a rustling hillside where hidden members of the family plucked crackling branches and ambled silently among the rocks.

Later we came across a lioness, gold and cream in the sun’s setting rays. We spent nearly an hour watching, photographing and following her. Eventually, she came almost within touching distance of the vehicle, the ten passengers adhering strictly to the rules of silence and no body movement while in such close proximity to wild animals.

Over the ten days we were at the lodge, we met old and new friends, all wonderful company who enjoyed the view of the green hill across the rushing stream below the deck, the balmy weather, the cooling swimming pool and the game drives. They listened to or participated in the music which we played whenever there was a breathing space between eating and game drives.

Evenings were spent around the huge, gleaming table, admiring moths the size of bats, and playing hilarious board games such as Balderdash, a pastime almost forgotten in these days of invasive media.

On one memorable game-drive, we unexpectedly came across a group of five buffalo bulls in dense woodland beside the road. They were using a pliable sapling to scratch their chests and horns. After some minutes of this activity, one of them discovered that the sapling effectively scratched an itch in its nether regions. He reversed onto the hapless sapling, bending it horizontal, moving up and down with a glassy expression in his crossed eyes. This had us all guffawing in unseemly mirth. There were, at the time, no female buffalo in the reserve and we understood that a male buffalo has his physical needs.

On our next drive, Herbert spotted a leopard-tortoise, medium sized and surprisingly fast in trying to hide from us. Its beautifully patterned shell gives it its name. This was an exciting new experience. In all our years of game-viewing, we had never seen this representative of the ‘Little Five’. We hoped it was a good omen for the remainder of the drive.

But that is another story.

Until next time, ‘here comes Treble!’

Categories

Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.