Stories from your childhood are often the most humorous, even if they are scary in hindsight. Previously I shared with you some of the most interesting snake stories from my childhood but I thought why stop there? Surely at least some of you will find entertainment in reading about a few more unfortunate events? Here, I will be focusing on stories from the most amazing place I lived as a child. No, there are no snakes this time but there are rhino, buffalo and antelope stories. Why not keep reading if you are curious?
Rhinos were a big part of life for anyone living or working on Mauricedale Game Ranch. It was, without a doubt, one of the best aspects of the place. Below I would like to share with you some of the most memorable encounters and memories I have with these magnificent animals. On more than one occasion we were faced with the brutalities of poaching in this area and it never became less heart-breaking. Rather than going into detail about those horrors, I would implore you, the reader, to make yourselves aware of the issue. Instead of delving into that sad topic, I will share with you some entertaining times I shared with these pachyderms.
A Bicycle is no Match for a Black Rhino
Back in the day, my family lived in a house a short distance from one of the game farm gates. The distance was a kilometre, maybe even less. Now, a kilometre is not far by any means, but in this case it may as well have been equal to the flight from South Africa to the UK.
My sister and I were asked to cycle to that gate and make sure it was locked. We must have had guests at some point, because this gate was always locked. Anywho, we get on our bikes. I have this chunky pink monstrosity and my sister has an elegant purple on (I was like 10, okay?). We set off, no problem. Rhinos usually steered clear of the area we lived in so being sent on little trips like this was no big deal. Well, this particular day, that was not the case.
We rode down the dirt road, breeze flowing through our hair, no doubt talking about something funny. There is no care in the world between us, then we see it. We stepped on the breaks so hard it was worthy of a scene from Fast & Furious. There, a little bit too close for comfort, was a black rhino. If you should not one thing about rhinos it is that you should steer clear of any and all black rhinos unless you are in an armoured car. So, there we are, two kids on their bikes, surrounded by bushveld. It looked at us, sniffed the air and I swear for just a second my soul left my body. My sister and I turned around faster than you can say rhinos are scary and left the pachyderm in the dust.
Stories of Rhinos in Bomas – Who Knew They Liked Cacti?
Not so much a story but worthy of a mention in this article. A big part of life on this game farm was the rhino bomas. The bomas were used to house any rhinos that were sick or needed to be monitored for an array of reasons. Calves often stayed with their mothers until a time for their safe release came or injured adults were nursed back to health. The amount of time the animal’s spent there varied but eventually they would all be released back into the bushveld. I remember spending hours by the bomas watching the animals – an experience that not very many people ever get the chance to enjoy.
Unusually, the black rhinos (who are aggressive in the wild) became tamer while the white rhinos (who are rather passive usually) became more aggressive. Because of this, black rhinos were the fan favourite when it came to life in the bomas. Many of them even enjoyed cacti snacks on a daily basis. If I am being honest with myself, this was probably my favourite reason for visiting the bomas. We would all pick out the juiciest chunk of cactus we could find and treat the rhinos to their favourite snack. If you have ever had the pleasure of watching a black rhino eat something then you will know exactly what that looks like. The top lip will twist and grip onto the food like a hand before they indulge. That sight, paired with the calves and adolescents practising their mock charges from behind the thick beams, is something to cherish.
The Story of Easy Boy the Roan Antelope
When we still lived at the first house on this game farm we quickly became aware of a magnificent animal who lived in the area. He had become known as ‘Easy Boy’, and was a mature roan antelope bull with a bent leg. His leg had presumably been broken at some point and never healed in the correct manner. Nonetheless, Easy Boy was one of, if not the largest roan antelope on the property and had splendid curved horns to match.
My family, being how they are, began feeding Easy Boy (along with the rhinos who ventured into our front yard) animal pellets every now and then. After some time it seemed like a relationship was forming between us all. Of course, that comes with its own set of problems.
Imagine being home, doing your own thing, when you suddenly hear a strange noise coming from the entranceway. The doors are left open most of the time (and you wonder why we had snake problems) for fresh air. When you decide to investigate the ruckus, you wander down the hall to see a massive antelope in your house helping himself to pellets. He does not appear to be too bothered by you having caught him in the act and simply continues his munching. With the door practically beside him and the threat of him hurting himself on the smooth stone floor, we have to gently shoo him from the house.
That day there was a happy ending and life continued as it should for a time. Easy Boy came and ate his treats but after some months passed it stopped. It was devastating to learn later that he had been hunted only for his beautiful horns.
The Buffalo Breeding Programme
Another big part of life here were the buffalo. There was a breeding programme on the go to help get the numbers up to a safe level again. It was a sight to see. Some buffalo calves had to be hand raised due circumstances before being released with the herd when old enough. Jersey cows provided milk for those who were unable to get enough and the operation ran smoothly. Calves released onto the game reserve were tame, almost like their Jersey cow step-mothers.
You could walk amongst many of them with little more than a gentle perspiration – they were wild animals, after all. At times herds of buffalo would approach vehicles on the farm, a sight that is more than a little bit intimidating. I recall jumping from the back of a bakkie once to rescue a terrapin from a pond in the road only to land in the middle of a herd of buffalo. Perhaps not the smartest idea I had ever had, but saving and relocating terrapins was a hobby of mine. Buffalos were not about to stand in my way of preventing a terrapin from being crushed by the wheels of a car.
The Sable Saga – Horns Bleed a Lot
One of the most vivid memories I have has to be this one. You may recall the vet, Justin, from my previous list of childhood stories. He worked hard and loved his job, although he was not exactly the snake (or spider) whisperer. On this occasion my dad, Justin and a small group of people were called out to intervene with a sable antelope. This sable bull had broken a horn in a fight and appeared to be in need of some veterinary assistance. So, naturally, my dad brought my mom, sister and I along for the adventure. The day started off normally – we hopped into the bakkie and drove down the dirt road to an open field of long, dry grass.
A team of people were already there and Justin was waiting for everything to get set up. The tranquiliser was readied and, after a long wait, everyone was ready to bring the antelope down. As always, it took a while for the animal to begin feeling the effects of the dart. We waited. And waited some more. None of us were known for our patience so when the creature went down at last silent cheers went up. The team blindfolded the animal to minimize potential risk, and Justin brought out a saw from his vehicle. A few strange looks were shared between the others as Justin settled himself beside the dozed antelope, saw in hand. He examined the broken horn and concluded that cutting it off was the safest option for all involved.
The Sable Saga Continues
There Justin is, saw in hand, determining the best spot for the amputation. Everyone, including me, gather around him in equal measures of concern and curiosity. The window to get the job done is limited – keeping any animal tranquilised for extended periods of time must always be avoided at all cost.
At last it was ready to begin. Justin marks the perfect spot and begins sawing through. All is well in the world as the teeth tear through the horn and bits of bone and keratin fly through the air. All was well until it was suddenly not well. As if straight from a movie, blood begins to spew from the sawed off horn. No, not a trickle, but a full arch of red as if it was being released from a syringe. Shock (and blood for a few unfortunate souls) descended upon us. There was a mad rush for rags to stop the squirting and the cauterising iron. Using a gas flame, Justin heated up the iron – not hot enough. He tried again and again, every time it worked for a moment before the blood came through again.
Everyone was in a panic and it looked like the antelope was going to begin stirring at any moment. In one last attempt, he heated the iron until it turned white and pressed it to the horn. The awful smell of blood, bone and keratin filled the air, but when he removed the iron, the job was done.
With little more than a few minutes to spare, there was no time for congratulations. The blindfold was removed from the animal and we swiftly made our escape. Soon enough, the sable was on his hooves again and walked off into the distance looking like he’d had a few too many drinks.
Justin vs Spider
The final story involves the trust vet Justin, and a spider. Spiders were no novelty where I lived. Golden orb spiders would spin their webs across 3-4 metre wide roads without a problem and there were more than a few kinds you did not want to mess with. On this particular occasion, a spider of unknown species and unwelcome size had decided to make our house his. My dad wasn’t around and, although no one in my family had a fear of spiders, it seemed like an issue that our dear friend Justin would like to handle. We call him in and quickly realise that he likes spiders even less than we do. No bother, we will just watch him suffer in silence for our sake.
We get a big container of sorts, lid and all, and Justin very carefully gets the whopper of an arachnid inside. Problem solved, right? Not yet. We go outside with him, eager to witness the release of this rather large creature. A short distance from our house we stop. Justin gingerly begins to remove the lip from the container. He held his breath, as did we all. He removed the lid, but nothing was inside. For a moment we all stand there in confusion – how can it be? Quickly, however, Justin looks at the bottom of the lid he is holding. A shriek of unimaginable decibels escapes him as the spider abseils down from the lid on its web. Maybe he threw the lid, maybe he dropped it, all I know is that none of us stuck around to remember.
How to End This?
That concludes some of my fondest memories from Mauricedale. I do not know what the game farm is doing now as it has been sold, but I hope it has continued to do the same work. It is difficult to think back to a time before COVID-19 and the South African variant was rampaging. The recent pain that the world has felt, and is still feeling, however, does not make our memories any less important or precious to us. In fact, the opposite is true. We must all learn to cherish the times we share with others. Whether that time is spent in the middle of a city, or the middle of a game ranch, they are equally important.
If you got to the end of this article, I thank you. Being able to share some of these memories is something I will forever be grateful for. If you enjoyed this article, why not check out my snake stories? I hope you will find something that brightens your day.