What happens when you stall a temperamental Willys Jeep near a cranky giraffe in the bushveld of northern Namibia? Ask Liesl de Beer…
Liesl de Beer finds out what happens when you stall a temperamental jeep near a cranky giraffe...
This tall tale – all true! – started with a family friend buying a giraffe bull for his farm Bakenkop near Outjo in northern Namibia. Bakenkop is a goat and cattle farm, but there are also game animals. He collected the giraffe in a lorry and during the drive home, he noticed something odd in the rear-view mirror: Every now and then, the giraffe would lower its neck and bend down to study the vehicle’s tyres. Curious, the farmer stopped to investigate. He realised then that the animal wasn’t inspecting the tyres but rather ducking out of the way of low-hanging telephone lines! Some time later it was university holidays and I drove up to Outjo with my two sisters, Annelie and Nerina, for a farm visit. One morning, over a bowl of porridge and biltong, we decided to spend that night in the game camp. A type of tree house had been constructed there, which was perfect for camping out. There was an early, ominous sign that our plan might not succeed, although we blissfully ignored it: The
farm’s mud-brown Willys Jeep had to be push-started. Oh well, it added to the adventure! There’s a photo of us during our happy send-off at the farmyard: The three of us laughing, dressed in student RAG T-shirts and bright trousers. At first, everything ran smoothly. Nothing could dampen our spirits, not even when the Willys spluttered to a halt short of our home for the night. We carried our clothes, food and sleeping bags across the veld to the tree house. Before it got too dark, we decided to take a quick stroll. We’d worry about the jeep’s flat battery in the morning.
We soon saw the giraffe. He was nibbling some leaves all alone and he seemed grumpy. Maybe Bakenkop’s resident giraffe cow had given him the cold shoulder? He was a real giant, quite graceful, and we admired him from a distance before we started walking back to the tree house. Suddenly Annelie anxiously remarked that we were being “followed”. We turned to look, just as the giraffe bull was hitting his (significant) stride. Run! The three of us bolted and when I looked back a second time, I had to look up because the giraffe was almost on top of us. All I could see was a thundering tsunami of legs and chest muscles. Nerina and I both veered into a clump of trumpet thorn bushes and fell to the ground, scratching ourselves on branches and serrated limestone rocks. We got up like dishevelled meerkats and cautiously peered over the bushes. Annelie was nowhere to be seen. We called for her and eventually we heard her panicked reply. She was high up a mopane tree, clinging desperately to the trunk, and the giraffe was below, stomping the ground and swinging its neck furiously. It was sheer luck that the bull had singled her out. Had he decided to come for Nerina and me, who knows what might have happened? It was getting late and we had to think fast. We leopard-crawled to the jeep in the dusk, careful not to catch the bull’s attention. But the engine just hiccoughed three times and died, this time apparently for good. It was a classic African sunset – bloodred sun silhouetting tree and giraffe – except for one discordant detail: Our sister was also silhouetted in the tree, trapped. It was a very dangerous situation, but Nerina and I couldn’t help laughing. Of course Annelie didn’t share in the humour. She’s our soft-spoken sister, the one who bakes cakes for the retirement village and never speaks out of turn. But that day she used a swear word that even the giraffe understood. He turned and stormed towards us! We swallowed our giggles, rolled under the Willys and stayed there until he returned to guard his more important prey. Nerina and I regrouped and decided to take a wide route back to the tree house, leopard-crawling the whole way. At the tree house we collected our torch, and then we went back to the jeep to put our MacGyver plan into motion: We’d use the jeep as a fort on wheels and try to get as close to the tree as possible, so that Annelie could escape and join us under the vehicle. Things were getting hectic. The bull was going crazy and smashed at the flimsy tree with his powerful neck. Any one of those blows could kill Annelie. Leaves flew everywhere and a dust cloud rose in the fading light as he trampled the ground.
The next setback was the torch – the batteries were almost flat and it wouldn’t have blinded a cricket. It was dark by now and we just forged on. I still don’t know where Nerina and I found the strength to push that jeep 50 m through the sand, but we had to – it was the only way to save Annelie. In the meantime, she also got creative. She took off her T-shirt and the giraffe did seem momentarily confused, but he soon realised she was still up the tree. Then he worked out what we were up to. As we were inching closer, he left his guard post and charged. We dived under the chassis as he stomped around the vehicle, so close that I could reach out and touch his shins. A pattern emerged: The giraffe would return to Annelie, we’d jump out and push the jeep closer, the giraffe would rush back to us and we’d scramble underneath it. Finally we were close enough. The bloodthirsty giraffe now had to divide his attention between the jeep and the tree. The moon came out and the stars shone brightly. Annelie had gone quiet; we assumed she was praying. Whatever she was doing worked because the giraffe’s concentration began to wander. His circles around the tree grew wider and wider. When it seemed like he was far away enough, we shouted at Annelie to come down the tree. But the moment she started moving off her perch he came closer again – a jealous jailor if I’d ever seen one! (We even tried to howl like jackals and roar like lions, but the less said about these efforts, the better…) Eventually the giraffe lost interest and huffed off and Annelie was finally free to get down. It now became apparent just how incredible her athletic effort had been: There were no easy branches to use to get up or down. She must have shot up there on pure adrenaline. Finally she just jumped. She hit the ground like a sack of potatoes and rolled in under the jeep. There was no way we were giving up our cover, but we still had about 100 m to go to the tree house. We kept looking behind us nervously as we pushed the jeep – nothing could separate us from the old jalopy that night. Back at the tree house we scurried up the rope like sea rats.
The ordeal had lasted four hours. We were covered in dust, scratches and cuts. Grass seeds were stuck in our hair and our clothes were torn. We were exhausted and relieved and soon began giggling manically. We were also starving and passed around a tin of baked beans while we changed into clean clothes. As I handed the tin to Annelie, I noticed the tag on her bristle-covered underwear. “Triumph, Small” it read. Indeed it was.
Things were getting hectic. The bull was going crazy and smashed at the flimsy tree with his powerful neck. Any one of those blows could kill Annelie. Leaves flew everywhere and a dust cloud rose in the fading light as he trampled the ground.