DOESN'T NEED BIGFOOT
March 31, 2013
I left for Africa, stories in the U.S. media were reporting Bigfoot sightings
in Oregon, Alaska and even Connecticut. Among the questions I have about Bigfoot
is why one never gets accidentally shot during hunting season the way hunters
and dogs do. Surely Bigfoot doesn't wear an orange hunting vest.
Another Bigfoot question: why have such legends not reached Africa? I now know
the answer to that one. Africa needs no Bigfoot myths because it already has plenty
of the real thing - very large animals with very big feet. I actually saw two
African wild dogs drinking water out of a rhinoceros footprint. Bigfoot indeed.
While visiting South Africa with Mike Dorcas, a professor at Davidson College,
I heard no stories about the sort of creatures that reside in people's imagination
rather than in the real world. Stories about legendary animals may exist in some
parts of Africa, but they are certainly not needed where we were. At least seven
species of large mammals that roam wild have been documented as killing people
without remorse. When you throw Africa's large vipers, mambas and cobras into
the mix, the I-can-kill-you-if-I-so-choose list passes a dozen.
We visited the world-famous Kruger National Park and surrounding nature preserves
in South Africa where predators and prey alike are protected by law. Upon entering
Kruger, visitors are given strict instructions not to leave their vehicle. If
you were to be fined for disregarding this rule, you would be considered lucky,
because that would mean you were still alive. The prohibition against leaving
the vehicle is intended to protect visitors who might otherwise be trampled by
massive hooves, gored by something the size of a Volkswagen bus or eaten by a
beast with claws and teeth that would rival the Iron Chef's knife collection.
the memorable animals we saw that helped us understand why it would be risky to
leave the vehicle were two predators (lions and leopards) and three herbivores
(African buffalos, rhinoceroses and African elephants). These are known collectively
as the big five. The term came into being back in the day when safari-goers were
interested in shooting animals with a gun rather than a camera. Ernest Hemingway
and other big game hunters of the 1930s considered the big five to be the most
dangerous animals in Africa to hunt on foot, in part because they have little
respect for human beings. Apparently they do not realize that people are special.
one of the big five can run twice as fast as the speediest Olympic runner, which
means your odds of escaping on foot are exceedingly poor. A vehicle provides a
substantial measure of safety. No one is quite sure why if people today stay inside
their car or safari vehicle, they are usually safe. The assumption is that the
animals view a vehicle as a sort of moving rock. Usually they simply ignore vehicles
and the people inside. I saw this many times as lions, hyenas and leopards went
about their business, apparently completely oblivious to the fact that we were
watching them from an open safari bus only 10 feet way.
animal not included in the big five, despite having the qualifying traits of enormous
size, an ill-tempered nature and the surprising speed of 40 miles an hour, is
the hippopotamus. Every safari guide we talked with confirmed that a person who
ventured into the terrestrial area between the water and where a hippo was grazing
should be sure his funeral arrangements had been made. This is not to say that
hippos have a grudge against humans. Any animal that gets between them and the
water is in imminent danger.
was greatly impressed with South Africa. The conservation attitudes in the country
are outstanding. Our safari guides were highly trained professionals. And the
animals themselves provide the greatest wildlife show on earth.
if Bigfoot does exist and should happen to visit South Africa, I suggest that
he stay inside the vehicle.
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