5 February 2011 by Julienne du Toit

Best Bush Books

Richard D Estes is my hero. He wrote The Safari Companion: A Guide to Watching African Animals.

Estes has the most delightful way of describing animals - often encapsulated in a little gem right at the beginning of the entry on whatever animal he’s describing. So an oryx is described as: “Spirit of the desert embodied in an antelope.” Doesn’t that almost bring tears to your eyes?

The roan he describes as an “antelope with long, tasseled ears and a clown mask.”

You’ll need no help guessing what this is: “An enormous amphibious mammal with smooth, naked skin. Inflated-looking body supported on short, relatively thin legs.”

And here’s his entry on rhinoceroses: “Relics of an early era in the Age of Mammals… Massive creatures with barrel-shaped bodies, supported on pillarlike limbs and 3-toed hooves.”

The elephant he describes with unmistakable fondness:
“The largest land animal, Africa’s true King of Beasts.”

He’s obviously fond of impala too: “A one-of-a-kind antelope. No close relatives. Graceful build, long neck…”

My other favourite entry is on the eland, or in Estes’ words: “an antelope in ox’s clothing”.

But there’s so much more. From Estes I learnt to decipher the very strange behavior of blesbok and bontebok, which seem to spend their lives invading each others’ territories, comparing bodies and horn lengths in highly stylised rituals. They’re like Maasai warriors, incredibly vain.

Thanks to him, I also understood why the red hartebeest sometimes acts crazy, drawing designs in the dirt with their horns.

I’ll leave you with his cryptic explanation of one of the finer points of elephant behavior:

“Forward trunk-swish: trunk is rolled up and abruptly unfurled like a party noisemaker, accompanied by a trumpet or air blast. Usually addressed to smaller adversary, including humans.”

Category: Wildlife

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