I didn’t get a late morning pot of coffee or tea, neither did I get the very excellent steak-and-kidney pie or hot muffin I looked forward to at Mukuvisi Woodlands on Saturday.
Eating Out with Dusty Miller
With an hour and a quarter to kill (a 75 minute “window” as Yuppies and Buppies say!) I parked around the game park and first wandered down to the game viewing platform, perched above a pan favoured by colourful wildfowl and many of the woodlands’ mammal species for a few minutes before ordering.
Zoom lens fitted on one of my favourite cameras, field glasses lenses polished, I was about to switch on a few classical tracks on an MP3 and insert earphones, when a chilling, very odd sound came from the nearby bush.
It was a menacing growling rattle, followed by a lion-like roar, accompanied by a hectic flapping noise. And into sight came a very irate male ostrich, grunting and groaning, flapping its 2m wide wingspan and pecking, viciously at a male giraffe which looked to be having trouble remaining calm and patient.
In the background were the giraffe’s mate and offspring, so this very unusual “spat” between mammal and bird may, somehow, have been territorial.
The bickering almost immediately stopped to be replaced by the two creatures literally staring one another out. It was the sort of silent, sneering, contemptuous, macho scenario witnessed in boys’ school playgrounds or culminating, later in life, in bloody pub brawls.
It went on maybe 10 soundless minutes before the ostrich (two-metres or so tall) took a nasty peck at the backside of the giraffe (about five-metres high). An ostrich (the world’s fastest land bird), it is well-known, can disembowel and kill a fully grown man with one slash from its horny feet, but I’ve never seen one pecking sharply at another creature (other than other ostriches) before.
Giraffes have been known to kick to death wild dogs, hyenas and even would-be predator lions; this had all the makings of a latter day rumble-in-the-jungle of David and Goliath proportions.
The giraffe reacted in defence, not with long legs and heavy hooves, but by swinging his head and neck at the pesky bird; almost the animal kingdom equivalent of a “Glasgow kiss” (a vicious head-butt.)
The “brawl” lasted a further 12 minutes or so before — and I couldn’t believe it at first — the massive giraffe began to see that discretion was the better part of valour and gapped it at the high port, disappearing into the arid veld in a trail of dust.
Tea and a butty called temptingly, but just as I was to pack up my kit, a Goliath Heron, bored with staring pensively into the waters of the pan ready to snap up a fish lunch with his enormous beak, spotted a Reed Cormorant, who’d already captured a struggling, silvery, sardine-sized bream.
The law tall, leggy of the jungle clicked in and the heron — it looked a bit like Leo Mugabe? — took to the air, soaring silently across to the 60cm swimming cormorant who, in panic at the rapid approach of the shadow of a bird measuring 140cm, lost the fish which apparently escaped unscathed.
Whether the heron spotted the fish swim away or not, I don’t know, but dog-in-the-manger-like, he pursued the squawking, flapping, screeching, splashing cormorant the full breadth of the pan, anyway.
My next assignment was 10 minutes later. No time for tea and sticky buns!