Crime scene

One of the most enchanting aspects of a being out in nature and not seeing animals is to focus of the puzzle pieces their movements leave behind. From learning to identify tracks, to scratches in the sand, to being able to predict movements, it all becomes part of the game that makes you feel nothing short of Sherlock Holmes. The art of recognizing the pieces and trying to place them together is at the very core of becoming a guide and is often amongst the first skills you need to develop. The challenge and the beauty of it is that it’s acquired with a keen eye, constant practice and a sixth sense. I have been lucky to be around some incredible trackers that have been able and still teach me a trick or two, and I’m still lucky to be able to learn everyday from unexpected scenarios.

In a particular uncertain period of my life, going back to basics has been a welcomed relief and also a great way of polishing some skill that may have become a bit rusty. On a certain morning we set out to look for leopard tracks because well, we wanted to find a leopard, any leopard track would have been wonderful but.. that day no leopards had been walking around. Because we had no luck with these tracks, we then started focusing on a smaller things. Thus we came across a strange series of events.

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First suspicions

A slithering track on the road made us stop. A snake has been here. But also.. a civet?. They don’t feel like civet tracks. Let’s carry on looking.

Aha! Something happened here. It seems there was a struggle here, the sand has been clearly disturbed.

The civet killed the snake!

No. Getting ahead of myself with narrative. I look up and the snake track continues after the disturbance. Snake didn’t die, it carried on, civet only came after the snake. Observe, think, question.

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We carry on investigating. White tailed mongoose tracks. Maybe this is the culprit of the disturbance? OH. A scrub hare died here. Now that I’ve gone around I can see it now. Can you?

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It was pinned down to its side

No? Walk around, it might become easier. What about now?It’s a heartbreaking sight of where it was lying on it’s side. Even a faint trace of it little ear.

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Those who can’t draw, photograph

It’s not always a smooth process. Sometimes it takes coming back and forth to try and figure out what it that you are looking at. “Don’t bend your knees, circle the track, go around it”.

Like in a game of clue, we start puzzling the pieces together with the evidence we have.

The snake was here, the snake didn’t get eaten. The small predator’s track are on top of the snake. the snake’s tracks continue. The predator was here after the snake.

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We come back to the predator tracks. Not a white tailed mongoose. No sign of claws. This creature has retractible claws as there are no marks in the sand. It’s not a civet, the tracks are not round enough. This looks like a small cat. Of course the day I need it, the tracking book is left behind. Serval? Caracal? African Wild cat? We take photos, definitely one of them. Judging by size we lean towards caracal or wild cat.

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Image from mpalalive.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy with our results and the evident we have gathered we set to piece the clues together for the evening events.

  1. Snake slithered away.
  2. Predator came around after the snake was gone.
  3. White tailed mongoose was going in the opposite direction, although a brief suspect, not the predator culprit of murder.
  4. Victim is a hare. Death was by predator consumption. Identity of victim confirmed by hair fluffs samples on the side of the road.
  5. Culprit’s track found at the murder scene match African wild cat tracks.

Woho! We did it. Happy with our results we then realised what we were looking at. A wild cat lives HERE?! Wait, WHAT!?

Automatic thought: I will drive this road flat every night now that I know one of them lives here. Challenge… accepted.

Nb: I apologize for poor pc drawings, I hope they gave a better idea of what we look at when we look at tracks.

Where the wild things are

There are moments out there in the bush where small conversations carry a universal feeling. As the last of the lights flicker in the horizon, you allow yourself to wonder at the world, at humanity, at the future. Sometimes the silent whispers and the hushed conversations you share in the wilderness are all that it takes to understand life in all its beauty, in all its cruelty, but also in all its hope.

“One day, we will have a better country. It can’t last long now. He’s getting old.”

“That’s what we thought. But ours died and then it got worse. But how does he do it? How is he still here?”

“He kills them”

It’s not exaggeration, it’s not him looking for sympathy. It’s the plain truth of everyday life, the tacit rule that a nation lives by.

I understand all too well, a nod in the horizon is all we need to share our universal feeling: complete isolation, resignation, fierce hope that it will not last forever. In the hardships of life, in a foreign land across the Ocean, that’s where we find comfort; that’s where our silent burden becomes lighter, someone understands that sometimes the beasts that roam amongst the human kind can overcome all humanity. Some days though, during the random conversations the Universe gifts you, part of this weight is lifted off your shoulders because someone else knows, someone else understands what it’s like to carry it.

In these moments, just before the sun goes down we pray for our fierce hope to stay alive, casting our wishes to the sky, giving each other comfort without whispering another word.

Date in my face

Would you like to go see baby rhinos tomorrow?

Heart stops.

Is the pope catholic?
Do I love coffee?
Are leopards Tristan’s favorites?

Need I say more?

If people know me well enough, yes is always my answer to seeing rhinos, especially young ones. They bring me back to a happy place and fill my heart with love and a ton of belief in the possibilities of life. So when the opportunity arose, I went. A three hour roundtrip for an hour of fierce joy.

Worth it?
Every
Single
Second.

I tagged along on someone else’s journey for a brief chance of being close to baby rhinos. IIt’s been a very long time since I had the opportunity of touching one as all the one I’ve seen in the last few year have been wild ones, and very closely guarded by their mothers. Rhinos and mothers in general don’t take too well to strangers creeping up to their babies, so can’t really blame them. Not knowing them, or what to expect I was quiet during the whole trip. When emotion overwhelms, I become a mute, I zone out, I expect nothing.

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Being close to them was… just as every bit special as I remember. The ear tickles, the collapsing into deep sleep, the whining, the smell, the manipulation, their curiosity, their tenderness. It’s all a treasure.

Although it was so full of happy thoughts, it also left a bittersweet taste. These rhinos we spent our time with, are orphans. Some of them due to poaching, some of them due to natural causes. Despite all the happiness this afternoon brought, there was always a bit of grief and sadness as a back-thought. Grief for our lack of humanity in nonsensically killing these wonderful creatures, sadness because of their loss at such young age, grief for my jeans that ripped exposing my bright colored red underwear.

The good with the bad, never letting the bad take away from the good.

 

 

 

Search for elephants

Of homemade remedies many have spoken. There are those that consider nothing can beat the power of advil and there are those who believe in homeopathy; for them to work, we just have to apply it to the right personality. A small piece of chocolate for the soul, honey and ginger tea for the throat, a cold beer for a hangover and a dark room for a migraine.

But for the heart? What do you take for an aching heart?

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The recipes are endless. The answers can vary from voodoo, to imaginary funerals, to traveling the world, to a new car. In my time here I have found an additional one that seems to work for when the Universe comes crashing down and no words can help: searching for elephants.

Her and I went searching for elephants. She needed the elephants because my words had run empty, my shoulders were soaked and she was dry out of tears. We needed to leave everything behind and travel 1900km in search of elephants, to fight the curve balls the Universe sent her. Together, Johnny Cash and I had this covered.

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With chocolate, two cameras, and a best friend we searched for elephants for 5 days to help repair the cracks and start over. Why elephants you may ask? Because only giants are able to show you how important the little things are, how important it is to belong, how important it is to be kind, how important it is to move on.

Four years ago she found her strength in the elephants we surrounded ourselves with. Today she keeps them all around her life.

Sometimes words are not enough, and sometimes you need someone to show you.

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There is always Hope.

 

World Rhino Day

If you lose the need to wander you belong. I don’t know how to better explain it. It is incredible what you can receive from animales if you don’t treat them like simple beasts. My special case was Bobby, the 4 month-old baby rhino that will forever hold a great part of my heart. This is what I want to do with my life. This were a few months were I took the world’s happiness, tasted it and belonged to me. I hope that if you haven’t found it, that one day you find what you search for. Wherever the road may lead you, don’t be afraid to follow. I found it in Africa, without help form any human beings. For that, I will be forever grateful.

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I wrote this 7 years ago when a baby rhino forever changed my life. The bond we had and the way he fixed things that I thought were forever broken, I could never repay other than with all the love I could give him. Seven years later I still thank the Universe for putting him in my path.

Happy world rhino day Bobby, today and always.