A few days ago one of my guests asked to go on a bush walk after breakfast. Earlier, during the morning safari we had seen a group of three buffalo bulls moving eastward close to Karula. Keith was very keen to learn some bush craft and so I saw an opportunity to show him how to track down big game.
Most people assume the Cape Buffalo to be a fairly placid and docile creature at first glance. But this is an animal which has built up a fearsome reputation over centuries of big-game hunting. As most of you will know, the “Big Five” are the most dangerous African animals to hunt on foot. What most people don’t know is that the Cape Buffalo is considered to be the worst of the bunch. We are talking about an animal which is 1 700lbs of pure muscle, charges at speeds of 35mph and has earned the nickname of “Black Death”. This all sounds very daunting but the situation was in our favour as we would be a small party and we would cover some fairly open terrain.
So, after a thorough briefing we headed out along a sandy road to pick up the tracks. Our eyes strained as the road was baked hard from the rain a few days before. Eventually a few scuff marks gave the buffalo away and we turned off in their direction. We followed the spoor for about ten minutes before we lost them. As we paused to search for any further signs I heard something – a group of Red-billed Oxpeckers. These are the birds which crawl over large mammals removing ticks, dead skin cells, ear wax, etc. They are usually an excellent early warning sign that danger is nearby.
After another briefing we set off in the direction of the bird calls. After only two hundred yards we came to a shady thicket where I was sure the Buffalo lay resting. I explained to Keith that to continue any further would be suicide. As we turned to move off we spotted one dark outline – “Buffalo!” We crouched down on our haunches and watched the great beasts milling around for a short while before deciding that discretion was the better part of valour. As we came out into a clearing we looked to our left and noticed that the Buffaloes had moved in the same direction as us! I then noticed that the wind had changed and was now taking our human scent directly towards them. They immediately picked it up and came in our direction at an alarming pace.
The only cover available was for us to head back into the thick bush and I told Keith in no uncertain terms to make it quick! After a further hundred yards of dodging Buffalo we made it up onto a termite mound. As we looked back we could see the Buffaloes snorting, stomping and still searching for the pesky humans, in the wrong place of course. At this stage we could afford to have a good chuckle and once we had returned safely to camp I’m sure Keith realized he had experienced something most people can only dream of!
Cameron Pearce – Kapama Karula Head Ranger