One evening on deployment I was doing a dummy drop (pretending to drop the guys off so if any poachers that are spying will be decoyed. Then dropping the guys in another place altogether) and we had all got out of the car and were milling around chatting.
Me: “Where is number 20? Why do none of the Rhino’s ever go on that hill –Gaitumo Koubwa?”
Lads: “I no know, but they no like it!”
Me: “20 is in this area now isn’t he? This is his territory?”
Having just said this, Mishak grabbed my arm: “shhh shhh, come. CAR!”,
So without knowing what was going on we ran back the 10 meters to the car and hid behind it. Only 15 meters away in the thick bush I saw number 20 sloping off, we had been bloody close. Heart was pounding as we all retreated to the relative safety of being inside the landrover, laughing away.
My favourite part of this excursion was Mishak’s choice of english as we drove away;
“We so lucky that was numba Ishirini not numba inné. Numba Inee very angry, numba Ishirini very polite.” (I know Kiswahili numbers 1-29. Impressed? No? Oh.)
Such a nice phrase. What a polite rhino.
After my night on deployment, Lorré (None of my Kiswahili spellings nor these acute accents are legit, just the easiest way of spelling...) was so disgusted I hadn’t seen a cheetah yet. He was determined to show me one the following day. Before he became a Borana soldier he was a Borana scout (and before that a Borana goat Herder - a lot of the guys first came here as shepherds or cattle men and work their way up. Another excellent aspect of the system here.) and claimed to be the best.
My phone rang at about 9 “Evans come! Cheetah! Bring Cam-e-ra!!” (He had heard on the radio where they were) I ran down to headquarters with my camouflage jacket and we walked out. Lorré with his rifle me feeling slightly unprepared. Mount Kenya was fully visible that day, she usually at this time of year after about 8.30 puts her ‘skirt on’ and is covered in cloud. A stunning day. After half an hour’s walking we came over the top of the Gaitumo Kubwa hill –getting quite warm now. Within seconds Lorré had spotted the cheetahs moving to the sound of frightened guinea fowl 100 yards below us.
We slowly stalked them and had just spotted them again about 30 meters away when we accidentally frightened a Duiker (little deer) right out of the bush in front of us. Oh oh. Poor Duiker, out of the frying pan into the five hungry Cheetah cubs. Within seconds we had watched a cheetah kill, it was awesome although I felt a little guilty. Lorré telling me to “have no fear” we walked closer where the cubs were playing with the half dead Duiker. We must have got about 10 meters away with Mum and Dad hissing and growling at us as they paced back and forth. “Have no fear”. Easier said than done! After a 5 minute amazing standoff with the cheetahs we peeled off to let them eat their lunch. A very special sight, all on foot. The remarkable thing really is that I really didn’t feel afraid at all, my full trust in Lorré and as I know from horses and cattle, animals sense fear.. Keep calm and carry on, and they respect you. Mostly...
Hairy Number 3:
Michael had two guests staying one evening, both very important in international conservation. The perfect chance for me to do a bit of networking... Something I have never been very good at. We went out looking for some Rhinos and for a general drive around the property. I was standing in the open top back of the Land Rover, the two guests sitting and Michael driving. Pretty quickly we found number 14 having some supper as the sun began to fade. Driving pretty close to this particularly grumpy Rhino - 14 made a charge for the car. Bloody exciting, Michael rolled the car forward (engine off) and Ti (as in Tiberius not as in the men who say Ni), my best friend here - Michael’s Golden Retriever gave a bit of a bark. 14 checked himself and stood about 15 meters away sniffing the air, tossing his head and stamping the ground. Suddenly he started charging again, I was right on the back and he was heading straight for me, I didn’t think Michael could see from the driver’s seat and the engine still wasn’t running...
Sadly I broke first, a slightly wailing yelp of “Michaeeeeel” leapt from my mouth before I could steel myself. Just as the Rhino stopped (about 8 meters away) and Michael started moving forward, always in control. Everyone found it very amusing and my hardy image and potential networking had taken a serious blow. “This guys a puss – Rhinos can’t jump!” Embarrassing.