Our first Bush walk!

Now that the rules were ingrained in us, we started our much-anticipated bush walk. Twelve eager beaver’s completely excited and a tad nervous at the same time. For me, it was my first time on foot in a game reserve where the Big 5 roamed free and I was ultra-keen and enthusiastic to learn from the experience but most of all, enjoy it.

The day was ours and we were going to seize it with arms open wide, as we set out in single file with our two highly skilled Trainers and two Trackers. After about five minutes of walking, we came across a herd of impalas, and decided to stop and observe their behaviour. They had seen us and were visibly agitated and cautious for obvious reason, but still afforded us an opportunity to view them. Red billed Ox peckers accompanied the herd so that they could enjoy the easy pickings of their staple diet, the delicious blood-filled ticks, that used impala’s, as one of their host species. A single Impala can have one thousand ticks plus at any given time and males, during rutting season, can have up to five times that number, due to their focus being solely on females and therefore forgetting to self-groom and allow for allogrooming from other members of the herd – the latter being a tactile process where the impala grooms ticks off others, by being able to loosen the incisors in their mouths. The Ox pecker’s symbiotic relationship with various tick host species such as antelope, giraffes, rhino’s, lions and buffalo’s is a special one and important in reducing the number of ticks of their recipients bodies and the frenzied chirping of the birds, a sure sign of an animal or herd close by and an audible bush sign to always take note of, especially on foot.

After a while, we continued our walk and were almost immediately, lucky enough to spot a territorial white rhino bull, about one hundred meters from us. We all stopped in our tracks, with a stop hand gesture from our Trainers and waited patiently and quietly for our next command. We were downwind, so the rhino had not smelt us, quiet like the still of the night and because of its poor eyesight, we had not been seen. Our Trainers whispered to us calmly, to walk to a nearby Marula tree for cover and gestured to us, to crouch down. There we watched this magnificent herbivorous grazer mowing through the grass in a cool, calm and collected manner, with seemingly no worries to mention. He seemed peaceful and at one with his environment, slowly moving through the grassland whilst ripping up grass with his wide lips and in the process adding to his consumption of fifty to sixty kilograms of grass per day. Interestingly, the name “white” comes from “weid” meaning “wide” in reference to this lip. It was an exciting time spent watching him and even better knowing that we had not disturbed him and he never knew that we were there, which really made a huge impact on me and I knew then that walking in the bush would become one of my favourite parts of my future career!

Our walk continued, with us giving a wide berth to the rhino and making sure that we kept our wits about us, should the wind direction change. Whilst walking, we were often stopped to listen to a bird call and then would try and identify it. At that time, I was familiar with but a few, so was on the learning path once again, something that I loved and embraced totally. We also looked at and identified various plant and tree species and chatted about the different medicinal uses, which was another aspect of the bush classroom that appealed to me a great deal. It was crazy and an incomprehensible mind blow to think that there were about 1700 indigenous different trees and shrubs, over 22 000 indigenous seed plants and approximately 850 bird species in South Africa. It was clear that we could never know everything, but what was crystal clear, was that we would never stop learning such a vast and diverse subject.

Suddenly, and without warning, we heard a breaking branch close by. We froze, as per command and as time seemed to stand still for those moments, we wondered what had made the noise. Was it a male kudu breaking a branch with his spiralled horns or an elephant? Our next command to take cover solidified the instant realisation that we had unintentionally walked into a lone elephant bull. Now what?