Bad behaviour in Savuti

Posted on 15 July 2011

Last week I spent some amazing time with some very seasoned travellers in the Moremi, Savuti and Ihaha (Chobe) areas of Botswana. This story relates to our experience in the Savuti Campsite where we camped for three, let’s call it, eventful nights.

Night one

During the course of our first evening there, we were visited by a hyena which very clearly was a regular visitor to the campsite. The animal is handicapped in that it has only one eye with vision and so it would appear that the combination of the safety of the campsite environment and the relatively easy pickings of whatever food he can forage from the visitors there, is good enough for his survival, well at least that is what we are aware of that is in terms of his activities.

We know from experience in the bush and recent unfortunate activities that we had read in recent newspapers and also in many books, that hyenas are indeed dangerous, wild animals and should be treated with great respect, but, left alone and unprovoked, they tend to keep their distance and will take the odd chance to “˜steal’ the odd scrap without intentionally harming people. So during this first night of ours, in the campsite next to ours, we heard a huge commotion take place – frantic screaming and shouting. To our amusement, we saw the offender slipping into the darkness with a potjie pot in his mouth and then he, the perpetrator (Cyclops – our nickname for our slobbery friend) proceeded to lick the contents from the pot before they managed to regain their possession. Cyclops then decided to wander past our camp, but we had ensured that we had not left anything to risk and so he had a good look (well as good as his single eye allowed) and a good sniff and off he went again, coming back every so often hoping that he had missed a mouthwatering morsel during his previous visit, to no avail. But in no way did he harass (the 10 of) us whilst going about his business.

Night two

Night number two was even more worthy of attention to Cyclops because he did his usual rounds around the campsites and again attracted a lot of attention. Further screams and shouts (from a new group of campers) prevailed which escalated into much louder screaming and shouting, which intensified into a massive amount of noise, resulting in the explosion of several firecrackers. And then more shouting, followed by a frenetic car chase around the camp. It appeared as though Savuti had transformed into a Hollywood film set. We discovered a short while later, that in fact, Cyclops had bitten a man on his back whilst he was sitting around the campfire with his friends. Now, whilst we do not know the poor victim of the bite, nor do we know who exactly caused the raucous behaviour before Cyclops vented his frustrations, nor do we know the circumstances under which all of this occurred, having chatted to the campsite manager the next day he explained that never before had Cyclops attacked anyone in the year or so that he had been seen around the campsite area.

Now I don’t want to apportion blame on anyone in particular, because I simply don’t have the facts and neither am I apportioning blame specifically on the poor victim of Cyclops, he may very well have been the unfortunate victim of several sets of circumstances created by others, but clearly there was sufficient enough bad and unruly behaviour surrounding his presence around the greater campsite area for him to attack, but I have a strong suspicion that the fire-crackers must have made Cyclops really tense and ill at ease.

Night three

We had to move from one campsite to another for our last night in Savuti but we were fortunate enough to be allocated a campsite with a large apple-ring acacia tree right in the middle of the campsite. Our good fortune soon appeared from the darkness, for no sooner had darkness arrived and we were settling down for a chat with a few mandatory drinks around the campfire when we heard yet another commotion occur from the campsite next to ours (no, this was not the good fortune referred to earlier). With torchlight beams looming large like giant light-sabres from Darth Vader and his storm troopers, believe it or not, we then witness the appearance of some tasers (stun guns) too, which could be added to the Savuti camper arsenal. For heaven’s sake, what next? But the story doesn’t end here.

What the torchlight beams did reveal were two large elephants making their way silently into the campsite from behind some trees. 10 minutes later while we were sitting around our camp fire the larger of the two giants started making his way in our direction, slowly yet purposefully, with clear intent. It was not us mere humans that he was targeting, thankfully, it was the appeal of the luscious pods of the acacia tree under which which we had decided to slowly make our exit and move to our cars for safety (not that we needed it, as it transpired). For half an hour, we watched this gentle giant make an appearance, with as much respect for us as we had shown him. Slowly he made his way into our space (well actually, slowly we made way for him to enter his space). He looked around our site, sniffed around our kitchen area before heading for the tree. With about three powerful thuds of his forehead against the mammoth tree-trunk, the pods came raining down from this huge tree. With a quick look around, and satisfied that he’d created enough of a snack of this prized delicacy for himself, he, ever-so-quietly and gently walked around the campsite negotiating tents and chairs and the campfire as if he was treading on pockets of air, he slowly but surely picked up and ate the pods, one by one, until he had satisfied himself with this delicious snack, he then slipped away into the darkness as silently as he had arrived.

We slowly climbed out of our cars feeling both amazed and privileged to have witnessed such brutal power and gentleness all at once. His manners would have made the parents of even the most well behaved teenager (if there is such a creature), very proud indeed. After witnessing this impeccable behaviour, lo and behold, we were not let down, for yet again, our human brothers and sisters engaged in more raucous behaviour, shouting and screaming around the campsite, again and again.

We heard the next morning, as we were leaving, that one of the elephants had tipped a trailer. I simply refuse to believe that on the evidence of what we witnesses only a few minutes before the fracas of the previous night that it could possibly have been the giant we had watched in such awe, and he who was so precise and deliberate and gentle in his actions, so much so that I would swear that he could thread cotton through the eye of a needle. It must surely have been his mate and even more surely, it must have been as a consequence again, of some unruly human behaviour. Surely!

Now what is most disturbing is the following:

·         The various incidents of (disgraceful human) activities related in this story, were practiced not by the same group of people, but each incident was by a separate group of campers. Scary!
·         One of the members of our group had heard, from good authority, that the Department of Wildlife and National Parks of Botswana have contracted concession holders to manage these parks from a tourism perspective with their intention of removing the movement of private travellers in and around the parks, which will be a tragedy for those people who can and do behave themselves during their visits, and who are most likely the true nature lovers and environmentalists.

Now, those people who are the guilty ones and are there for an ill-placed adrenalin rush; those who use fireworks and bring the tasers into the camps, it is they who are ultimately going to ensure that the concession holders with over the authorities and are successful in ensuring the eliminate of private travellers from the freedom of the parks. And who can blame them on the evidence seen last week during only a three-day period. But here’s my question: if these happy (or rather, not so happy) campers or adrenalin junkies are so frightened of a visit to a campsite with no fences, such that they have to bring their heavy artillery with them, what’s the point of camping in such a location at all? Rather, they should camp in a fenced campsite or preferably go to a zoo or attend the circus (let alone participate in one as a clown). Places such as these beautiful areas in Botswana and the like don’t deserve this kind of visitor. Surely, if you decide to camp in an unfenced area, you would want the wildlife to grace you with their presence and not be ready for battle in fear of an intruder.

So then, the question is: who are the intruders, and who should be afraid of whom?

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