Stretching My Gambes


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Anyone who has ever been on safari will be aware of the intractable importance of lists. There are the ‘big five’ and ‘little five’, the latter being smaller variants of their famous namesakes in the former. There is even a perennially unfortunate ‘ugly five’. Some of which really do not deserve their title when compared to those who somehow did not make the cut. Nonetheless, they remain subjected to the sneers of their camera clutching viewers.

Some national parks even have the tenacity to emphasise their own uniqueness, their safari USP, by establishing their own lists. The ‘Samburu five’ being one example I had the pleasure to see four fifths of. Unfortunately the Somali Ostrich proved too elusive. Remarkable when you consider it is twice my height, and has a blue neck.

The ostrich is a creature that really should be in the ‘ugly five’. Observing two pairs of male and female ostriches participating in courtship dances was one of the most aesthetically offensive experiences of my life. Regardless of sex, each bird flitted about occasionally lifting a wing to reveal its morbidly white leg that resembled an oversized chicken drumstick. These flirtatious and solicitous acts resembled a pale nude wrapped in a dirty feather boa occasionally flashing some skin.

Sorry. Returning to task, the handmaiden of the safari list is the perpetual competition over what people have ‘spotted’ during the day. Some groups prefer to retire quietly to a corner of the bar to discuss what they have seen amongst themselves, personal highlights and memorable moments et al. Whilst others prefer to publicise their achievements, ensuring that everyone in the immediate vicinity can hear.

One such character was Brian. At first Brian was a source of annoyance. Dressed in full safari gear for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (it probably conveniently zipped into pyjamas), he was the loudest creature in Kenya. However, it transpired that Brian was a director at Calgary Zoo and had his own TV series. Seemingly a veritable celebrity; he is to mammals what Steve Irwin is to reptiles.

His stories regarding his thirty five safaris to East Africa were actually quite captivating and they became quite enamouring in a peculiarly North American way. One such tale involved being caught naked in a tent by a scavenging female Hyena. In an attempt to remove it he went to hit its nose with a sandal. She dodged it in a manner akin to a nodding-dog and continued to look at him, until trotting off. The following morning a zebra carcass was discovered ten metres from his tent, accompanied by some very satisfied hyena.

Brian transformed from an unfortunately dressed, thunderous American dad into some form of oracle concerning all creatures great and small. He became an institution.

I still find the need for all these lists and boastings a little unnecessary, and at times irritating. However, they did seem to be lead to some wonderfully peculiar entertainment, albeit in the form of Brian.

To that end, I would like to contribute to the production of lists. Here is ‘My Five’, which reflects no particular logic or order. They were either truly enjoyable animals to observe or captivating moments.

– Cheetah: a family of four hiding in the savannah on the Masai Mara – Shakira and her three boys of Big Cat diary fame.

Cheetah (Shakira)

– Greater Kudu: a rare and majestic antelope.

Greater Kudu

– Hippos: the slobs of Africa but can really move when they need to. Responsible for more human fatalities than any other mammal.


– Hyena: somewhat sinister animals with an unfortunate reputation in my opinion. Curiously, the female is the only animal with an external clitoris.

Hyena Cub

– Naked Mole Rat: a blind subterranean creature that is rarely seen, hence the somewhat blurry photo of it peering out of its hole. It’s social structure is closer to insects than typical mammalian habits.

Naked Mole Rat


Written by Henry Smith

30/09/2009 at 16:34

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