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Thursday 19th October 2006

The day of the jackal!
This is in hardly any sense a good title for today's entry. We saw three jackals at one point but it was by no means the highlight of the day's two safaris. A more apt title would be "The day we saw three jackals, but in which a lot more interesting stuff happened making the mention of jackals at best a footnote and in all probability something that is entirely glossed over." Though this is not as catchy a heading.
The rest of my party was very much hoping to see the leopards today, but I had higher aspirations. I had my fingers crossed that we'd catch sight of a brontosaurus. The others felt that this was unlikely, but Africa is a big country and the safari park is the size of Denmark so there's every chance that dinosaurs might have survived here and just not been spotted yet. I would make do with a triceratops if that passed by, but a brontasaurus was the spot I really had set my hopes on. You never know. It was about as likely as seeing the notoriously elusive leopards anyway. Tony argued that something the size of a dinosaur would have difficulty hiding away from prying eyes for all this time, but evolution is an amazing thing. What if the dinosaurs had evolved into being very small (something that happens very often) and were the size of rats now. It gave me an idea for a children's book called "Tiny Dinosaurs" which I hope to bring out if I ever get as famous as Ricky Gervais and people are desperate to print any kind of shit that I might come up with. Til then it's on the back burner.
Somehow with the wilderness that we find ourselves in at the moment it would not seem out of place for a dinosaur to suddenly hove into view. It feels like we've stepped back in time and maybe in a way we have, but when everything is so alien then the idea of the fantastical does not seem so ridiculous. And without hope where are we? I refused to give up on my brontasaurus dream, just as the others kept insisting they'd see a leopard.
And early on we saw the definite signs of a leopard (or if you dare to dream, maybe a brontasaurus - they might have evolved into meat eaters) when high in a tree we saw the mutilated remains of a reed buck. It was a fairly recent kill with its head still intact, but apart from that there was little chance of a recovery. It's ribs were almost fully striped of meat and its hind leg was hanging down from the branch in rather a sickening manner, attached to the rest of the body by a thin strip of skin. It was horrific but fascinating and leopards must have the skills of Mr Butterfly to carry a full grown deer up into the branches of a pretty tall tree.
It had been an early start and we'd been driving around for a few hours already only occasionally seeing something exciting - there were a few zebras, a lot of bucks, the occasional jackal (nothing to make a fuss about though) and of course a hell of a lot of annoying and potentially fatal tetsi flies (I hope I don't catch sleeping sickness as it will be something that would be very hard to diagnose in a comedian). Suddenly though in a little wooded copse we found ourselves maybe ten metres away from another tiny herd of elephants. They were standing in the trees, apparently sleeping and didn't seem to mind too much about our presence, though we must have been a slight annoynance. It was still very hard to believe that we could get so close to these animals. The long drives seeing almost nothing were more than made up for by these unexpected treats of seeing something so extraordinary.
Then we moved on to another waterhole where we saw our first baboons and warthogs. We were able to get out of the landrover and walk around a little, though clearly not get too close. I went for a wee behind a tree hoping that there wouldn't be a hidden lion or dinosaur sleeping behind it. We stayed and looked at the various animals for mayber forty minutes, drinking a coffee. Wildebeest and zebras and some distant giraffes were looked at through binoculars. Then we saw a vulture flying high above the water. It swooped down towards a tree obviously having spotted some carion and as it landed we were amazed to see it frightened off by the flying paw of a big male lion. It had been hidden there all the time we'd been there, sitting over a freshly killed buffalo and had it not been for the adventurous bird we would never have seen him.
We stayed on for maybe another hour watching him stretch and yawn and occasionally rub himself against a tree. Many of the animals (that were only fifty metres from him) had either not noticed the beast or felt a safe enough distance away. We spotted zebras and wildebeest in the distance seemingly heading directly for the tre, unaware of what was waiting for them there. I waited with non-baited breath (I didn't want to attract the lion and was only thanking God that I had chosen a different tree to urinate under), half willing the ungulates to notice the lion and half hoping they wouldn't. How amazing it would be to see a kill in front of my eyes, but potentially how upsetting. My dark side was winning the argument, but as it turned out the lion was happy with his buffalo and the other animals spotted him in time so there was no more blood spilt. The bucks and the zebras though seemed to get some perverse thrill out of standing quite close to the tree and looking at the lion to see what he would do. As if the carcass of the buffalo was not some kind of clue.
Another herd of elephants made their way down to the water and showered themselves with mud. How brilliant is this? It made the jackals look frankly shit. It even made up for the abscence of long extinct giant lizards.
A bus load of what appeared to be African dignataries arrived at this point. They got off the bus talking loudly, apparently mainly not too interested in looking at anything. None of them had binoculars and in fact about five of them stayed on the bus and seemed to be asleep. One or two of them expressed an interest in borrowing our binoculars when we mentioned that a simba was not too far away, but mainly they just made a noise. One puffed up man with a medal on his chest was the worst offender. They were friendly enough, but they seemed to have broken the magic of the moment and we soon went on our way. Later on their bus overtook us as we were looking at some giraffes. A couple of giraffes were about to cross the road and noticing this their driver seemed to accelerate and try and knock them over. Fortunately he failed to do so. It spoiled another slightly magical moment for us though. Still it's their continent and if they want to be blase and try and needlessly kill things then I guess that's up to them. Luckily I do not think they were typical of their countrymen.
Later we saw hippos and crocodiles at the hippo pool. The hippos belched and farted beneath the water and yawned in an amusing way and luckily failed to kill any humans, though I wouldn't have minded them having a crack at the other bus if they'd wanted.
The dinosaurs stayed in their holes and the leopards hid in the grass, but we'd seen some incredible stuff. Nearby a herd of about two hundred buffalo stood grazing. You can't wash your hands in a buffalo, but that didn't make the scale of this any less impressive.
Yes it truly was the day we saw three jackals, but in which a lot more interesting stuff happened making the mention of jackals at best a footnote and in all probability something that is entirely glossed over.

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