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Living in the African Bush

on September 26, 2013

Life in the African Bush can be quite exciting and unpredictable; that is one of the biggest reasons why so many tourists come to Africa every year. It allows us humans to get in touch with a more primal aspect of our existence: the possibility of encountering predators that can and will kill us if given the chance.

For that matter, growing up in the wild areas of Africa is very very different from growing up in Europe. Nick and I are “Europeans”. We were born and raised in UK and Portugal respectively and even though we love the wildlife and have decided  to move to South Africa to be closer to it, we’re very aware of its dangers and necessary daily precautions.

Today I have decided I would like to make a little list of the things that we have to be careful during the day while living in a game reserve with wild animals such as lions, leopards, cheetahs, white rhinos, elephants, buffalo, dozens of species of snakes, spiders and scorpions, and much more.

Our living area is not fenced at all so in theory (and in practice) animals can come and go as they like and if we are lucky (or unlucky) we get to see them.

Our day starts in the morning with the “shoe check” which is pretty much making sure that there are no scorpions, spiders, lizards or bugs inside our shoes before we put them on. Last thing I want to do with my day is being driven all the way to the nearest hospital (over 2 hours away) because a scorpion stung me while I was still half asleep. Going to the bathroom during the night is also an adventure since I must make sure there’s nothing in the slippers before I put them on in the dark and then make the “bathroom check” while my eyes are still barely open.

The “bathroom check” is very similar to the shoe check. It mainly consists of checking out if there are any snakes behind the door, in any corner or behind the toilet before I approach it. If that part is clear I then proceed to check out the toilet itself for spiders, scorpions, lizards or any bugs before I sit on it. After I’m done I make sure that the toilet door is properly closed in case something decides to crawl in the window during the night. At least that way it will remain in the bathroom or crawl back out before I notice it.

After going to the bathroom and putting the clothes on we must confirm that all windows and doors of the house are closed before we head off. Baboons will take advantage of any little entrance they can find and getting back home just to find that all food is gone and the house has been trashed and defecated all over is not my idea of a great end of the day.

Once actually outside the house we must confirm that there’s no animals around the path. During the day most predators would be already gone but sometimes elephants like to just walk by undisturbed. Do you know where a 7 tonnes animal goes to? Anywhere he wants to…

Smaller herbivores are also seen around the area often. We have a couple of Klipspringers living just behind our house and they are very territorial animals. They are tiny but can get aggressive if they feel you are in their way, and like any animals with sharp horns they can do a lot of damage if struck in a bad area. Just a few months ago an elderly lady was killed when a Nyala accidentally(?) pierced her in an artery.

There are paths with gravel where we are which makes it easier to avoid snakes while walking however sometimes we have to walk through rocky areas to reach some other more remote areas. Rocks harbour many species of reptiles, arthropods and rodents, most of them quite harmless but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. During Winter times many species will be dormant and there’s no need to be extremely careful (although it helps, of course) but as Summer arrives venomous snakes start waking up and moving around, sometimes hiding under those same rocks we walk by every day. Avoiding something you can’t see is obviously quite hard so the best course of action is just to stamp your feet and make a bit of noise while walking past. Most snakes will try to move away if they sense that something is coming their way. If they are not the type to just move away (like the Puff Adder) they will at least make themselves visible and audible to scare off whatever is coming. That way we may see them before we step on them and regret it deeply.

Snakes, scorpions and spiders can also be found in areas where firewood is stored. During the Summer the weather is quite hot and people are not as interested in making a fire as they would be during Winter. For that matter, wood storage areas are good places for some species to be safe and undisturbed for long periods of time. Unfortunately for us, when the time comes to get those wood blocks out we must proceed quite slowly and carefully and definitely not putting our hands there to grab it without checking it with a long stick first in case anything strikes.

Although we are surrounded by trees and lots of wood we can’t just use any of it. Unfortunately some people sometimes decide to be cheap and try to use “free wood” instead of bought ones. This can be deadly since some trees release toxic fumes when burnt that can kill humans. In the African bush even trees are out to get you…

The best course of action is to just use the properly stored wood to make a nice fire on a cold night.

Storing food can also be a problem. When living and working in a commercial area, large quantities of food must be stored for staff and guest consumption. Those areas must always be properly closed and locked with a key to avoid animals (especially baboons) entering and raiding it. Just last week someone forgot to lock the door when they left and a baboon got a few minutes of heaven. For some reason that male decided that he wanted to eat strawberry flavoured jelly. I don’t know if it was the colour, the smell or the taste that appealed to him but if I find a pink poo around that smells of strawberry I’ll know which baboon did it.

Having a nice meal can also be hard in the bush. When it’s hot I like to eat outside and enjoy the breeze and the animals foraging around the waterhole in front of us. Unfortunately baboons are always around waiting for the right moment to strike. Putting down the plate and going inside to grab a drink can be a very bad move. The boldest baboons will immediately go for your plate and steal your meal. If you’re lucky instead of a baboon thief you can just have a bird thief. They eat less but are a lot more persistent and keep on coming back even after you shooed them several times. And worst of all, they might even poo on your head…

Now let’s say your day has been good so far but suddenly the power goes out. If it’s during the Summer this will be a common occurrence due to the strong thunderstorms and the fact that we live in a high levelled area that gets hit by lightning quite often. So what do you do when the power goes off? You obviously go check out the generator room so that we can get some energy back. Now this wouldn’t be a problem if there wasn’t a black mamba living there. Yes, a black mamba. One of the deadliest snakes in the entire world lives just a few meters from my room. Guess who doesn’t leave the room windows open at night?And it’s not even a small specimen. It’s a fully grown up adult black mamba. I haven’t seen him(?) yet but just the reports of its existence make me take the long route around the generator room…

And then you reach the end of the day. The sun goes down and the stars are bright in the sky. Unfortunately humans have not developed night vision which is quite an impracticability when surrounded by predators. If anything needs to be done at night we carry a small torch to be able to scan the area and (try to) check for any predators’ eyes. Seeing them is the least of our problems if they are coming for us though. Both me and Nick are aware of what to do when facing several species at night, the most dangerous around this area being leopards, lions and elephants. Running is always the worst possible option unless you want to die faster so we must be ready to quickly assess the situation and act on it accordingly. We always try to go out together if possible since most predators would prefer to stalk a lonely human rather than one with backup but some other species such as elephants wouldn’t really care too much about that. If you are in their way they will let you know.

For now this is all. Living in the African bush can be dangerous but exciting and if you know the “rules” you have better chances of surviving.

We’ve only been living here for a few months but I’m sure that more “funny” situations will arise in the future and I’ll be ready to write about them.

Keep in touch!




If you liked this entry, make sure you check out our Dangerous Animals category.
Previous Dangerous Animals entries:
When Herbivores Attack: Buffalo & Hippo
Adam Sandler attacked by cheetah in South Africa
When Herbivores Attack: Elephants & Rhinos

3 responses to “Living in the African Bush

  1. Jim Morrison says:

    fascinating, thank you for this

  2. I found your blog on a random Google search! When I get home today I’m going to read everything. In the few posts I’ve read so far I’ve laughed many times AND been informed! 🙂

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