The Night of the Apes

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Patrolling in Africa, especially South Africa and the Limpopo Bushveld can be magical, but always has unexpected surprises, like one night, just around midnight when no one knew where to run.

During full moon weekends, we as normal public members support private rhino owners in attending to their farms, helping with patrols, securing fence lines and monitoring their rhino.  We have in faith for the survival of the species, renamed poachers moon to a more positive “rhino moon” or in Afrikaans “Renostermaan”.  During full moon the bush veld is gleaming and a rhino is illuminated as if a neon sign has been switched on, you can even see the shadow of branches falling on their giant grey figures as they roam wild in the bush.

This night we started out on a foot patrol walking the outer perimeter, also known as a red-zone, as this is the area where poachers are most likely to enter a reserve, easy in and easy out.  When a vehicle passes by, you hold your breath, thinking “what if it stops” “what if this vehicle is the one looking for a place to drop the poacher” or “are they looking for markings”.  You pray that none of this is true, as this is a secluded tar road where not much traffic is found during this hour, and all vehicles are seen as a possible intruder.

After a few hundred metres of walking, listening and looking intensely at the fence line, we stop.  A hole dug underneath the fence, draws our attention.  A warthog traveling between reserves maybe.  Lights are shone at a very low angle in order for a spoor to make enough shadow for the APU (anti poaching unit) to see if this is indeed an animal or poacher.  With a sigh of relief we establish that it is indeed a warthog that made his own entrance.  Now with this relief your mind is set at ease and the patrol starts again down the fence line.

In my mind, I remember as a child shaking a lemon tree so hard that the lemons fell to the ground, beating like African drums.  During midnight this memory became real again, something was falling to the ground, loud thumping African drums, and then the screaming began, not just that of the patrollers, but that of Vervet monkeys, hitting the ground and scrambling to safety.  We, as patrollers not knowing what hit us, or from where, or knowing where to run, were stunned in our tracks.

Silence fell, and only then did it come to us that we had walked right past a huge tree where a whole family of Vervet monkeys were sleeping.  The poor leader had a fright and warned his whole sleeping pack to make a run for it.  Most of them only woke up after falling, but they definitely did hit the ground running.

After all that adrenalin and shocked laughter we again started patrolling, feeling safe in the African bush with alert animals surrounding us in the moonlight.