There but for the grace of god

September 8, 2020   ·   0 Comments

By Doug Skeates

How have people survived? Anyone living today can look back over a lifetime, seeing the many pitfalls of the past. There is a sense of gratitude remembering the range of events struggled with throughout our younger years, which we have had the good fortune to survive.  Despite the many instances of gun violence on our streets,  highways and homes we actually live in a safe society, in a land free from the many ills faced by folk in so many parts of the world. 

News items report the troubles faced by millions around the world. The primary cause of most are human based power structures and greed. We hear or read about the literally millions of refugees throughout the eastern world or the results of man-made global disasters such as climate change. Floods, massive fires, mud slides, starvation, lack of potable water, pollution, etc. are becoming more and more frequent.  In the western world society is encountering increasing instances of domestic violence and cruelty as well as the ‘me first’ attitude.  

A personal perspective relates to a great extent on experiences with the animal world.   Our family were fortunate to have spent many years in Kenya, East Africa, famous for the incidence of a wide variety of tropical animals.  Most encounters were filming events but there were also a few frightening times.  One stands out, an encounter with a wild water buffalo.  Generally the most productive lands for humans occurred on the lower slopes of mountains where adequate levels of rainfall supported the growing of agricultural products.  Forest lands at higher elevation were prime habitat for wildlife.  Unfortunately large animals such as elephants and buffalo didn’t recognize man made boundaries.  When they transgressed into human lands the result was trampled crops and occasionally human mortality.

In an effort to restrict the animals, authorities arranged to build a dry moat around Mt. Kenya.  This was done manually with each worker required to dig a six foot length of a trench as a daily task which was then covered with brush and branches.  Animals sensed this insecure footing and avoided crossing to lands beyond.  The odd one managed to cross over, proving to be a hazard to the farming community.  The Forest Department employed a game control officer who was assigned the task of hunting down and killing the intruder.

I was given the opportunity to accompany the officer on one occasion, armed  only with a 300 millimeter lens on the camera.  The buffalo was wounded but escaped into the underbrush.   The animal was dangerous at the best of times but when injured was even more so.  We followed, taking a trail through the thorn brush but the animal reversed direction and charged back along the trail.  With a matter of seconds the hunters became the hunted and had to dive into the thorn-bush to avoid being trampled.  Eventually the game control officer managed to track down the animal to where it was waiting to charge any one chasing it.   I now have its skull and horns as a souvenir of one scary, long distance past. 

There were other experiences which could have been life threatening.  On one trip into Lake Manyarra National Park we stopped to take a picture of a lion lying in an overhead  tree above where the car died.  We had to get out in the rain to dry spark plugs,  It certainly was a harrowing experience standing directly below what appeared to be a hungry carnivorous cat.  On another occasion two of us were reviewing the possibility of planting a property near Voi National Park.  The land rover had a second flat tire and we left our forest guards to fix them while continuing our work on foot.  The second forester made a motion cautioning me to look ahead where a large male lion was asleep.  Luckily we were down wind of the menace, hence being able to retreat quietly to safer ground.

We were very fortunate to have had many adventures with a wide variety of animals which we were able to record in photographic form.  Our time in Kenya has provided many unique memories far beyond what most Canadians will ever be able to experience . 

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