The important basics of a Bush walk!
Our first week went off well and we were introduced to many new experiences, that were both interesting and rather intimidating. One of those was the day that we went on a bush walk which turned out to be one of the most rewarding things to do and the feeling of being on foot where animals roamed wild and free, stirred my cautious emotions into a bubbling cocktail of adrenalin and calm. But first, we needed to understand the rules before our excited selves could take one foot into the bush.
We were thoroughly briefed on the rules of a guided bush walk, where you are allowed four people / guests with one guide or eight with two, typically being made up of a qualified guide/ ranger and tracker. It was always a non-negotiable rule that all people had to be behind the rifle and there were a few basic hand and voice instructions that had to be adhered to in order to partake in the walk. It was imperative that any walker had to listen and obey all instructions, to never put themselves, the other walkers, the guides and most importantly the animals at any risk. Walking with potentially dangerous animals, particularly the famous Big 5, was not taken lightly and the way in which the walk was conducted was completely professional. The number one goal of the walk was to view animals in their natural environment and to make sure where ever possible, that they never knew you were there whilst viewing them and to not know you had been there, when you had left the area.
Wind direction was important and so was staying close together, always with an arm’s length apart, behind one another in single file and to not stop so that you become isolated and separated from the group. What ever happened, the idea was never to run, especially when encountering lions on foot. The adage of a lion catching a stationary zebra, rang true, as typically predators chase down their prey, when they run away. What we did realise was that this basic “science” could actually only ever be fully appreciated and hopefully carried out by the book at the precise moment, when all things went pear shaped – a lion charging could be mayhem personified, as you can imagine, if everyone never listened and guests ran in all directions. Basically, if you are a runner, you only find out on the day, so it was a potential gamble and was a scenario that one could never 100% predict and one that you prayed would never go wrong. Fortunately, in my 4 years in the bush it never happened on my watch.
With over 400 guided bush walks under my belt, at the end of my tenure in my wonderful bush career, it was a miracle that I had no runners and even more amazing that people actually did listen when in unfamiliar environment and did trust you to do your job. Professionalism was always key and that gave confidence to many a guest, who might have been industry leaders in their respective careers, but when in the bush, appreciated that they knew as little as I did, on day one and gladly handed over the reins, when on their holiday!
It must be noted too, that the animals deserve a big shout out for their untold tolerance of we mere mortal human’s that were visitors to their home and mostly out of our comfort zones. It is completely remarkable that out of all the game drives and bush walks around Africa, that are conducted daily, from 1000’s of lodges in 100’s of Game parks, there are such few incidents and fatalities of animals and visitors – pure miracle. Unfortunately, any incidents were normally as a result of pure ignorance from an unsuspecting tourist or utter stupidity from a ranger that should have known better.
After the rules being drummed into us again and again and each of us having individual turns on practising the drill, and passing the test without any mistakes, we were finally ready for our first bush walk! The butterflies swarmed in our tummies like the annual migration of brown veined whites from Mozambique to South Africa. A spectacle like no other and a feeling in our stomachs, that at the time had to have rivalled such an event, well at least we all thought!