Sights (and smells) of the African bush
Updated: Sep 26
Bushwise student Wes Chapman describes a recent experience in the African bush, where his senses were nearly overpowered!
Camp manager blogs are written by our current students who each get a chance to lead and manage a group (of their fellow students) for a period of one week.
Well, I must confess. I flew from the United Kingdom to the South African bush with the mindset that I was well-versed in wildlife. I would even have gone so far as to consider myself rather knowledgeable! I thought it was the right move, so to speak – well thought out and sensible for someone like me. It turns out I wasn’t as knowledgeable as I thought. The African bush is very much what I expected with regards to the big famous animals: elephants, lions, zebras etc… but that is the tip of the iceberg. Its complexity and beauty runs far deeper than I could have ever imagined. Was joining Bushwise the right decision? Abso-flipping-lutely!
For those who have spent any length of time in the bush I am sure you will agree that lots of the time it’s pure sensory overload. Trundling along in the game viewer with animals popping into your peripheral vision, birds calling and swooping overhead, sun or rain coming from above, ants crawling on your feet and the most astonishing catalogue of sights and sounds. Sensory overload comes from all angles.
However, it is the sense of smell that I wish to say a few words about.
I never realised how much I used my nose in day-to-day life – until I came here. Whether it be the overwhelming perfume of wild basil and wild anise or the ominous scent of a bull elephant in musth. But this week I smelled a smell that shall forever be on my mental smell shelf of smelliest smells!
We were out, as usual, on our morning game drive, when we were informed about some lion activity a short way away. Apparently they had recently got themselves a hippopotamus! So, back to the camp we went to prepare. Now, the kill was apparently off the road so approaching by vehicle was not an option. A plan was devised for the trainers to have a first look and make a call as to whether it was safe for the rest of us to take a look on foot.
And all went rather smoothly.
As we sat waiting for our trainers to come back in one piece, we saw countless vultures circling overhead in their infamous manner. There was definitely something dead nearby.
The trainers returned, informing us that the lions had moved on, so we could safely view the carcass and scavengers. So, in single file we walked in silence. All our eyes focused on making sure we didn’t walk into sleeping lions or step on a snake in the grass (this was when I tripped over my own shoelace and lost my dignity, but that’s a story for another day!)
Now, the heat was intense, and so were the flies landing on my face, but one thing hit me very obviously as we walked. The smell. It was absolutely foul. I used to work in veterinary environments, I am used to bad smells, but this took the biscuit!
Let me try and describe it for you. It smelt like a mixture of old fermenting meat that had been festering in the contents of a ruptured sewage pipe at the bottom of a biological waste dump. It hit me in the back of the nose and my eyes started watering. I could even taste it. I will never forget that smell. It was, after all, the smell of death.
When we arrived at the carcass the hyenas were dragging the leather hippo skin away from the skeleton which had already been picked clean. They kept their distance though! To be at the site where such a large animal lost its life was quite powerful, yet the knowledge of the delicate balance of the ecosystem was obvious. The lions had been successful, they hunted and fed very well. In turn providing food for many more animals.
To be there was humbling and once again it hit home that I am a rather small part of this world. I shall not forget it. My nose won’t in any hurry!
The bush amazes me every day, and it makes me wince to think how confident I was about this world just three months ago. The balance between life and death in the natural world is not limited to your screen as David Attenborough narrates it …
It happens, and I am yet to scratch the surface of the complexity of its amazingness!
Would you like to have some out-of-this-world experiences like Wes? Apply today and pretty soon you could be on a bush walk in South Africa.