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Complacency and Boredom, Dangers to a Camp Manager

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Graham Simmonds

I have always said that complacency is one’s worst enemy when working in the bush. The fact that sometimes you could think that you have walked the same stretch of boardwalk and that you don’t need to be scanning because its midday and usually everything with teeth and an appetite for you, is lazing under the shade of a bush somewhere fast asleep. Complacency because its full moon and so why use your flashlight to scout the bush as you walk home along the boardwalk at night as you have done a thousand times before. Just rely on the moonlight! Then that little bit of common sense nags at you from the back of your mind and you revert back to the tried and tested techniques of scanning and shining that have let you grace the bush for as long as you have been there allowing you to once more get to your destination safely. Complacency’s a killer! However, there is another ‘enemy’ to a manager in the bush and that is boredom. Now it sounds difficult that someone could even think of getting bored with so many different sights and sounds stimulating the senses or the amount of work that needs to be done constantly to make sure the camp runs smoothly, but on the odd occasion when everything is all setup and you are perhaps waiting for guests to call in you sometimes let your mind wonder what it would be like to perhaps cross the waterway to a little island off of camp or what is under the big log at the entrance to camp or even how high one could climb the tree that keeps your dining area shady. In one such instance i managed to get myself into a little bit of a predicament!


It was the morning at Little Mombo, my bar was stocked, face towels were ready and i was waiting for the guests to come back from their morning safari. The guide will give us a 5minute call so we can be waiting for their arrival at the steps leading to the main area. I had some months before taken a mokorro from Main Camp to Little Mombo as there was a trickle of water joining the two. I realised today that i had about 30 minutes and that with teh 5 minute call i could easily get back to camp in time and instead of wait and read or watch the birds feeding on a nearby fig tree i could actually take the mokorro to the little island in front of camp, wave t the staff and come back. My waitress told me that it was a stupid idea and i chuckled with over confidence and told her that if anything happened then she can take charge of the camp and think of it as a great career move! Well im not sure if she went and prayed to her ancestors for a step up the ladder but this is how it went.


I am a 'self-mastered' mokorro poler and can quite easily go around in circles for hours on the dug out canoe without the a clue of how to really go where i want. I was starting to get used to mokorroing agains since the hippo incident some 5 years earlier and could pretty much go in a slight banana curve at speed. I had gotten to the little island in no time, some 300 feet from camp and started to explore it. A sense of being alone as the fish eagle calls and the breeze swirls around you and the sun warms you from a cloudless sky, winter at its finest. After soaking it up for a bit I noticed the grass to my dismay was rather tall and just higher than my waist. I noticed that a lot of it was flat from where big game had been sleeping, most likely buffalo but i convinced myself it was red letchwes and so i was safe to keep exploring my little island. As it was so small my arrival would have alerted any animal and it would have shot off in alarm (in theory). Upon this island was a beautiful 10 foot termite mound, the very reason why the island was there in the first place, holding sediment and creating a beacon from the annual flood. As i walked around to the far side of the island i realised that it was in fact connected to the main island that was in front of my camp, an island that we had seen leopard, elephant, buffalo, lion, giraffe, kudu and all sorts of other animals on. It then dawned on me that maybe i shouldn’t be wandering around on my own in waist high grass armed only with the ‘ngashi’ or pole that one uses to propel the mokorro. Best to retreat back to the safety of camp, but before that i would have to climb the termite mound, conquering it, call to the staff, wave and then come back for brunch before the guests arrived. My curiosity would have been satisfied and a sense of child like self accomplishment gained, something similar to finding an extra present in the kiddies cereal box. I would be able to tell my story at the next staff braai or general meeting and in my own eyes, be seen as a modern Christopher Coloumbus or Sir Edmond Hillary.


I triumphantly clambered up the termite mound which in my mind, now stood about 120 feet tall and started calling to camp for the staff to come and see their brave manager, atop a termite mound conquering the island for future generations to be in awe of. “Yoohoooo”.No answer. I radioed them and still no answer. I saw some shapes moving on the deck so started calling a bit louder this time, waving and using the radio. In my excitement and flurried waving I lost my balance a bit and had to catch myself from falling using my free arm. This made me turn a bit as my body twisted. As i looked up, now facing the newly discovered fact of the connecting island, i saw what I thought were the tips of ears sticking out the grass. I blinked furiously and looked some more as the ears disappeared but slowly rising behind was the ominous shape of a feline accompanied by light brown colour of a lioness and slightly behind her another larger outline with a beautiful mane, that of a male lion and to make the discovery worse, they were now crouching low and slowly walking towards me! I muttered ‘tau, tau’ (lion, lion) on the radio, without waiting for a reply i had about a minute to get down the termite mound, rush to the mokkoro which was patiently waiting a few feet away and fortunately had not drifted off and hot tail it into some deeper water! This was one time when, as all ‘expert’ mokorro polers know not to go into deeper water for fear of hippo encounters, i was happy to break the golden rule. If there were mokorro races in the Olympics i would have definitely featured in the finals, i frantically poled towards deeper water and ultimately camp, all the while nervously looking back towards the lion sighting. Unfortunately as i was now at water level, the grass and papyrus was covering them. I winced as i waited for the splashing sound of a predator bounding through the water. Fortunately just the call of the fish eagle again! People often believe that cats will not venture into the water, however, cats in the Delta have to live with the water and so have become accustomed to crossing or chasing prey in floodplains. At this stage some staff members, had seen and heard me on the radio so had come to see their now not so fearless manager on his mokorro, aquaplaning. I shouted that there were three lions on the island and as they looked up i could see their facial expressions change. I was slightly comforted by the fact that they were looking a little away from my recent ‘tracks’ through the papyrus but that all changed when they shook their head and said “No, tou are wrong! There are five Mr. Graham!” Mokorro’s usually only have 2 speeds, slowly forward and slowly backwards but i introduced third gear quickly, that of the ‘getaway gear’ and made it back to camps shore in no time at all. I clambered up the decking, forewent the obligatory leech check of my legs and stared out towards what could have been ‘Isle de la Graham’ and there in the open were three females, a young male and a beautiful large male. The adrenaline was pumping as I watched them lying still but a smile did come to my face as i saw the young male still stalking the termite mound, i had outfoxed hunting lions! I turned to my staff and let out a nervous laugh. They looked back in obvious discontentment. The chefs said i must never do that again, the waitress who seemed a little disappointed i had made it back in one piece and that her obligatorily imminent possibility of promotion was now lost, turned to me before walking off and said “What would I have told your mother?” Subtle, but it hit home!




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Oops! What an adventure, Glad you survived the encounter. The mental image of you careering along in 3rd gear on a makoro is entertaining, well for me at least, but probably not so funny for you.


Thanks for telling us about it

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Had a good giggle....


the waitress, turned to me before walking off and said “What would I have told your mother?” Subtle, but it hit home!



With a statement like that your waitress is destined for greater things. At least Assistant Manager in a few years.

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Happy you made it back to retell the tale. I often wonder if those who live and work in camps - day in - day out would be fearless enough to go off on their own. Who would want to feel imprisoned by their environment esp. when the guests are off enjoying the wonders of the bush.


Now i know why camp managers always collect movie dvds.


One day I'd like to see that termite mound :)

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Good story. Very amusing. What would they have told your mother? I'm sure they would have thought something up that sounded a bit more dignified that the truth.


But what would they have told the guests? That the bad news was that the camp manager had been tragically killed by lions... but the good news was there would be some excellent lion viewing during lunch?

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@@Graham Simmonds great story. Scary moments on that termite mound. But Surely that didn't curb your adventurous spirit!

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  • 1 month later...

Brilliant story - seems like it would have been nervewracking at the time, but sitting in the comfort of my office, its a good laugh to start off the day! Thanks...

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