A Bushbaby’s Worst Nightmare

Living and working in the heart of the African bush is a privilege shared by only a few. It’s been my privilege for 14 years – 9 as a field guide before becoming Southern Camp’s lodge manager – long enough to occasionally feel as though I’ve seen it all. There are times, however, when Mother Nature stops me in my tracks with something so amazing that I can’t help but wonder, in all my years of living out here, how much of the magic happening all around me I’ve actually seen.

One of these halting moments happened just two evenings ago, right on my doorstep.

Very distraught lesser bushbaby

Very distraught lesser bushbaby

I was spending the evening relaxing at home when an annoying squeaking sound had me frowning up at the ceiling fan spinning over my head.  To my relief, I realised that the noise was actually coming from the big old knob thorn tree just outside my front door. Naturally, I grabbed a flashlight and my camera and went to investigate.

Shining up into the branches, I was amazed to see that the odd screeching sound was coming from a very distraught lesser bushbaby. These little, wide-eyed primates are long-time residents in the trees around camp, so it surprised me to hear this particular, unrecognisable distress call.  I decided to hang around and keep searching for whatever was causing him so much discomfort.

African rock python

African rock python

It took me a while to find the troublemaker, but when I did I immediately understood the bushbaby’s distress. High up in the tree lay an African rock python, waiting for the bushbaby to move into striking range. I couldn’t see its head, but its distinctive markings made it easy to identify. It’s not at all strange to find pythons in trees, and younger ones often venture up in search of nesting birds and bats – and bushbabies, apparently. Although clearly a juvenile, at almost 2 metres long it was no small threat to the tiny bushbaby. I had never witnessed a lesser bushbaby interacting with a snake before, but now I know that strange, whining distress call that brings to mind dodgy ceiling fans translates to a very particular fear.

The lesser bushbaby kept his eyes on the python

The lesser bushbaby kept his eyes on the python

In the manner of so many prey animals, the lesser bushbaby kept his eyes on the python while shouting out his agitated warning into the night. For almost an hour, I stood outside in the dark watching him leap back and forth between the branches, just out of reach of a killing strike, wondering if it could be a clever tactic to loosen the snake’s grip on the branches so it might fall.

Another 30 minutes or so later, the bushbaby gave up and moved off somewhere safer, and not long after, the hungry python wound its way further up into the tree in search of an easier dinner.

The evening’s entertainment over, I went back inside and thanked my lucky stars for the wonders of the African bush that, even after 14 years, still manage to astound me.

And for the fact that I’m not a bushbaby.

Johan Esterhuizen,
Lodge Manager – Southern Camp

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