I met Grant Hine ten years ago in the Lapalala Wilderness atop the Waterberg plateau, and immediately pegged him as one of the best field guides I’d ever come across. At that stage, I knew nothing of his bagpiping talents.
Grant opened my eyes to the intricacies of this singular part of South Africa’s savannah. He pointed out what he called the Schwarzenegger termite, which makes nests under rocks - raising heavy boulders off the ground. He showed me the pygmy mouse, which has to keep foraging and eating or its racing metabolism slows and dies.
Grant explained the gestation period of hippos (under eight months) compared to white rhinos (16 months, poor things). He talked about how pregnant impalas can delay birth by several weeks, waiting for rain. I had my first and only sighting of an aardvark with Grant - something I will never forget.
He told me how he had seen lions struggling in vain to kill aardvark, because these anteaters have such strong throat muscles.
I would never see the Waterberg bushveld in the same way again. Around the campfire that night Grant entertained us with his stories and then rashly mentioned in passing that on a recent trip to Edinburgh he’d bought bagpipes. All the guests immediately clamoured for a performance the next morning.
Expecting a discordant wake-up, we emerged at dawn from our tents to find Grant in his khakis down at the reeds beside the Kgogong river, playing Scotland the Brave. The Americans gasped in wonder. His wife Gilly wiped away proud tears. The Australian asked whether we were shooting the cover of Bushveld Piper magazine. These moments stay with you forever.
Postscript: Grant Hine is now head of FGASA, the Field Guide Association of Southern Africa.