How good is your ‘Bush Lingo’?

Posted by Ilhaam Hoosain on 1 July 2022

We’ve all been there. The overenthusiastic Jeep jockey cajoles the reluctant ignition into life, pulls out of camp, and within minutes sidles up to the first wildlife sighting of the day – and starts speaking fluent Bush Lingo.

By Andrew de Blocq

The engine is abruptly cut, they lazily rest their arm on the divider next to them, tilt their head back over their shoulder and proudly state “So guys and girls, these are impala. We in the business like to call them the McDonald’s of the bush”. Those acquainted with the routine groan and their eyes roll back in their heads.

safari bush vehicle

Meanwhile, the trigger-happy first-timers snap away listening vaguely to the story of how the three black stripes on the rump and tail bear a passing resemblance to the famous golden arches, denoting that impala are some of the most common menu items for big cats and other predators.

The safari guiding industry is well developed and a certain ‘lingo’ has arisen alongside it, including several frankly overused sayings. Some are based on useful little factoids that can teach people about the bush, while others are just downright silly. Inexperienced guides typically use these as a crutch to entertain less frequent guests, however, we need not dismiss their value in teaching lessons about the bush and making the experience memorable for visitors. Here are some of the most (in)famous phrases in the bush.

‘Flying bananas’ or ‘banana beaks’

Harking back to Rowan Atkinson’s memorable performance of ‘Zazu’ in The Lion King, this overused phrase is used to refer to any and all species of hornbill. It’s a cheap and easy laugh for first timers or younger guests, but gets stale quickly.

‘Bush ferraris’

Now, this one I actually have time for. This playful phrase is applied to the tsessebe (but can likewise be applied to rollicking game drive vehicles themselves), the fastest antelope species on the planet. Their phenomenal top speed of around 90 km/h is due to their long limbs and athletic build, which, coupled with their reddish-brown appearance, means that likening them to a high-end sportscar is actually a pretty fair comparison.

‘The balance of nature’

While it is true that the ecosystem is intricately connected in a complex web of interactions, which is a useful thing for people to understand and appreciate, the idea of nature being ‘in delicate balance’ went out of vogue scientifically a few decades ago already.

Nature is not always good at self-regulating. One look at the debate raging around how to control exploding and damaging elephant populations across many national parks should nip this one in the bud. Nor is nature always fragile – ecosystem resilience is a recognized field of study all on its own.

‘Pumbas’, ‘Timons’ and ‘Rafikis’

While they do make sightings relevant and memorable, all throwbacks to The Lion King and the ‘Disneyfication’ of animals can do as much harm as good. The latter is often wrongly applied to the Chacma or Olive Baboon while the character was, in fact, based on a Mandrill (although he is referred to as a baboon in the original movie and has a long tail while mandrills are almost tailless – sigh).

‘Well spotted!’

Traditionally used to spice up a sighting of a leopard, hyena, giraffe or some other pockmarked creature, this gaffe is intentionally used by guides to dually congratulate a guest on a sighting while using humour to draw attention away from the fact that they should have spotted it first but missed it.

‘Bush TV’

Ah, the classic end-of-the-day quip. While sitting around the evening fire watching the dancing flames, the stories dry up for a moment, and in order to break the silence the guide pipes up “bush television, am I right?”. I’m secretly quite fond of this one, as I reckon a half-hour spent hypnotized by the twisting kaleidoscope of a campfire is a better use of time than any Netflix rerun.

‘The King of the Jungle’

This phrase is as popular with guests as it is with guides. It irks the pedants among us because while lions are the undisputed apex predators, they live in savannas as opposed to jungles. Jungles, my friends, do not exist in southern Africa. However, some further research reveals that the phrase originates in Hindi, where the term jungli translates merely as ‘wild, uninhabited place’ and is not specific to creeper- and vine-infested tangles. So, one point to the guides here. Sort of.


This throwaway term, meaning ‘Little Brown Job’, is used as an umbrella for all small, indistinguishable drab birds. While identifying cisticolas, warblers, and pipits is not the most thrilling of pursuits for most guests, this term is also used generously by guides to cover up the fact that they do not in fact know what they are looking at, and has led to some guests believing that an “Albie Jay” is a legitimate and uber-common savanna bird.

Some are funny, some are educational, and some pander to the city-slicking masses. Love them or hate them, these sayings are part of the fabric of guided safaris and are likely here to stay and before you know it, you might catch yourself using some of them on your next bush trip.

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Picture: Pixabay


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