Sunday Times


- Animals · Wildlife

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

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