Top of the food chain? Whatevs, says Ndumiso Ngcobo
About 15 years ago I participated in a leadership course for the multinational corporation I worked for. Part of the course involved our group walking through the Phinda Private Game Reserve, with a game ranger and his rifle as our only protection against the wildlife. I forget what point we were trying to prove. A friend and I protested very loudly against the idea from the onset. Hotheads that we were, our argument was based on the idea that walking through bushes was nothing more than “white people’s BS”. After all, for us, walking through bushes hunting rabbits or collecting firewood was the norm. Besides, walking through the bush with wild animals roaming around was just asking for trouble.
As it turns out, our words were almost prophetic. As we passed through the thicket, our ranger kept us on the lookout for signs of elephants, rhinos and other such threats to our lives. We really should have been looking at the ground. Out of nowhere we heard what seemed like the earth suffering from a gassy tummy. And then out of the belly a baby warthog came flying out, followed by another … and then another.
The last to leap out of the hole was a visibly upset Mother Warthog. She came straight for the matchsticks masquerading as my legs. I was wearing safari shorts, you see. But she was in too much of a hurry and missed by a whisker before darting off in the direction of her soccer team of babies, grunting in frustration.
Everyone heaved a sigh of relief and crowded around me to check if I was
OK. I assured them that I was fine. But I wasn’t really, as evidenced by the brown stain on my undergarments that acted as a reminder of the near-miss. After I freshened up and calmed myself down with generous gulps of whisky, I remember thinking that it was actually a travesty of justice that the warthog hadn’t snapped my legs in half like twigs. We were asking for trouble by walking on top of her house. I don’t care what the law says — if I’m ever woken up by the sound of footsteps on my roof, I reckon breaking a limb or two is justifiable.
Look, I totally understand the need for the existence of game reserves. It’s a noble pursuit preserving the few natural ecosystems we have left after we’ve pissed all over the rest of the planet. And I think I have a decent handle on the economic value chain that necessitates inviting paying tourists into these reserves.
Where it gets a bit murky for me is the line between people appreciating the wildlife, and humans acting like the irrational, reckless penis heads we know ourselves to be.
Our species has a myopic, anthropocentric view of the universe. We hallucinate that we’re the centre of all existence despite all evidence to the contrary. This is why we easily forget that we’re one of the most physically useless species in the animal kingdom. Well, not that our brains function much better, to be fair. We’re so useless we cannot outrun most of the common animals we know.
I remember years ago writing on these very pages how my co-host on Kaya FM’s Uncaptured, Kgomotso Matsunyane, had vehemently disputed that the average hippo can outrun more than 90% of humans. This was ostensibly on the basis that none of us want to believe that an obese creature like the hippo is faster than we are.
I’d bet the house and throw in my dogs that the fastest hippo in the world would snatch gold in the men’s 100m dash at the next Olympics. Most of us can hardly keep up with a domesticated chicken, for crying out loud. Most of us could hardly stand up to a Chihuahua in a physical confrontation. Most of us have spent entire nights being sent from wall to wall by a solitary mosquito in our bedrooms.
Just the other day I had a run-in with a swarm of nasty gnats that left me doubled over with tears and snot streaming down my face. And a friend of mine tells me he once chased a blueheaded salamander up a tree. Feeling cornered, it turned around, got up on its legs and hissed at him. He was so shocked he fell to the ground.
This entire column was inspired by my wife and last-born going to spend a day at the Hartbeespoort Elephant Sanctuary last week. They kept posting pictures of themselves holding on to an elephant’s tusks, walking with it and so on. I asked her what her game plan was if it turned out that Dumbo hadn’t had it all from Mrs Dumbo that morning and was in a foul mood. She told me the ranger had assured them that he was a “very friendly” elephant. I bet the gentleman who got dragged by Shamba the lion uttered those very words before entering that enclosure.
Then again, maybe I’m just a yellowbellied namby-pamby making excuses for why he’s not going on a game drive anytime soon.
The last to leap out was a visibly upset Mother Warthog