Scylla and Charybdis on the Zambezi River
A hippopotamus on the Zambezi River, perhaps too close for comfort. (Photo: (c) Mark Seth Lender)
Living on Earth’s Explorer-in-Residence Mark Seth Lender recounts a hair-raising encounter with hippopotamus and Cape buffalo on the Zambezi River and in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.
CURWOOD: The plains of Southern Africa are famous for its wildlife – elephants, buffalo, and hippo to name a few. Living on Earth’s Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender shares this story of a close encounter with some of the most dangerous.
Scylla and Charybdis
Hippopotamus & Cape Buffalo
Zambezi River & Hwange National Park
© Mark Seth Lender
All Rights Reserved
Not the thing you want to hear in a narrows.
“HIPPOS ON THE RIGHT!”
Valerie and me we dig in, double stroke, driving up against the bank so hard there’s dirt and leaves and rocks falling into the canoe, listing to twenty degrees, partway on land and too much of the rest of us in the river.
While the hippos continue straight for us.
Not because they want to get us but because they have a point to make:
“This river is my land it isn’t your land if I were you I’d scram for the highlands – ”
When it looks like we are going to make it and just in the nick of time, there on the bank above and only a few strokes away is an extended family of cape buffalo, staring down, and not in a friendly way. The bulls are close enormous solid as hardwood and they are scowling, their horns lowered, heads turned in unison to look across their shoulders, at us; point being the same one the hippopotamus made:
Get your faces out of here!
And you could have water skied behind our canoe that morning on the Zambezi.
Ten days later, we are on foot in Hwange with Albert Paradzai (one of the best guides we have ever had on any continent) and he says in a marvelously normal tone of voice, “Folks there’s danger behind us.”
This time, elephants. They don’t have it in for us (not like the hippos did) but they are thirsty, and in a hurry, thinking only about reaching the nearby waterhole, and we are standing in the way.
And in front of us?
Cape buffalo. An entire bachelor herd, fifty at least, maybe sixty. They stop and stare the way the first ones did, over their shoulders, heads lowered (Mack trucks on hooves) and nothing but flat ground between them and us. We crowd so close together we are practically in the same set of boots. And instead of leading us to safety (not that there is anywhere safe to go) Albert grabs his rifle in both hands, raises it over his head like in the movies when the platoon is about to ford a stream that everyone knows is probably mined, and smiles, and says, “We can’t just leave without saying hello!”
And he runs straight toward them and what the hell are we going to do except follow. Into the Whirlwind.
To our amazement, the herd parts, like Albert is Moses and they are the Red Sea, and they run away.
And look. A lot less sure of themselves, this time.
“They think I have a bigger set of horns,” Albert says, meaning the rifle, “and they find that verrrry scary.”
And takes another run at them.
How frequently in life we fear when there is no need, and ignore what should scare us.
CURWOOD: That’s Living on Earth’s Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender.
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