Hannah was first featured on this blog in a post called How Hannah got her Peanut “back”, about her role in raising a baby rhino. Now she’s back to tell another personal story about the occupational hazards of working with wild animals in a game reserves, and the worries that she, as a Reserve Ecologist’s wife, has had to come to terms with. Lisa.
A guest post by Hannah Mellet for Notes from Africa.
I suppose working with wild animals every day one should accept the occupational hazards that are bound to go with it. Darting buffalo, translocating antelope, supplementing rhino . . . these are all in a day’s work for a Reserve Ecologist. But when that ecologist is your husband, and the responsibility falls upon him to take care of everything wild on a game reserve, it is much more difficult to accept. And I am not an unreasonable wife!
Late last year Darius informed me that one of the lions on the game reserve in the Waterberg region, where we live and work, had been in a territorial fight and come out the other end a little worse-for-wear. Immediately, nightmare visions started flashing through my mind of lion dartings gone wrong and attacks at meal times. I knew this meant that for the following months my husband would be spending more time with a male lion than with me, but what bothered me more than this was the constant danger that my other half would be in. Little did I know.
Well the darting of the huge male lion called Tsava was actually totally pain-free, and I felt privileged to be a part of it. The vet assessed the seriousness of the wounds and although most of the cuts and grazes looked worse than they really were, it was decided to place the animal in a holding boma to allow the lion time to recover and Darius to be able to monitor his progress. Darius’ daily routine was altered greatly to be able to feed, water and observe the majestic lion on a regular basis, and I assisted when my work would allow.
It was one afternoon when I received a radio call from Kobus, the Reserve Manager who works very closely with Darius, that I knew something was wrong. At the time I was busy talking to a guest in the lodge and so I ignored the initial calls on the radio. But after the third time Kobus called my name insistently I realised it was serious – and despite his claim ‘I don’t want you to worry, but . . .’ my heart stopped.
The following hours were a blur – a mixture of blind panic and desperation to reach the hospital. What Kobus told me was that Darius had had an accident and he had a suspected broken leg. He instructed me to get his ID and wallet, and drive immediately to the hospital in Bela-Bela, the closest town an hour’s drive from where we live. I immediately assumed it was the lion and I feared for Darius’ life.
With the required gear in tow, I jumped in the bakkie (pickup) and started driving. I kept the radio close in case Kobus could give me any more information, and I aimed for the hospital. Unfortunately, in my panicked-state I had not checked the fuel gauge and I did not make it to Bela Bela. Half-way to the hospital I stopped at the only petrol station in the area just to be told they had been empty for weeks. I was stuck! The wait for Kobus to catch up with me took over half an hour, but it felt like longer. The accident had happened in the middle of the reserve and a long and bumpy journey on the back of a land cruiser had ensued before reaching even our own gate. Kobus transferred the casualty to a more comfortable vehicle before continuing the journey and picking me up half way.
And so I heard how events had unfolded, and that the culprit was a warthog – not a big cat! Darius and Kobus had been in search of prey to feed the injured lion and had spotted a herd of blesbok in the distance. Following the antelope on foot to get a better shot, both the men started trekking through the bush. Darius was 100m or so from Kobus, when he screamed in pain and Kobus turned to see what the commotion was. At first thinking it was a joke as he observed a warthog running away from Darius who was now on the ground, Kobus was annoyed with the interruption. But realising quickly that Darius’ on-going groans were with pain and not humour, he ran to the casualty. As he focused on the area that appeared to be causing such agony, Kobus saw that the shape of the injured ankle was in a zigzag, with bones jutting in different directions from his foot up. Without hesitation he radioed for help knowing he would not be able to carry the 100kg patient to his vehicle. As they waited for Orneth (from the anti-poaching squad) who was patrolling nearby to arrive on the scene, Darius – in typical Darius style – demanded that his Caterpillar boot was taken off immediately to prevent it from being cut off later in hospital when swelling would make it impossible to be removed.
In Darius’ opinion he believed that he had disturbed the warthog which had been caught unawares, and with Darius between him and his escape route, there had been nothing to do but charge at the unsuspecting person. If it had been a vicious attack the warthog would have turned back, and Darius would have much more serious injuries to contend with. In hindsight, I think Darius is incredibly lucky to be alive, and despite the many months of rehabilitation that followed, we are both thankful it had been a run in with a warthog and not a lion. I am pleased to say that the incident took place 6 months ago now, and Darius has made a full recovery. The process was a slow and steady one, but one that made us realise how lucky we are to have such supporting friends and family, and of course each other – whatever the occupational hazards are.