14 April 2012 by Julienne du Toit

Open your bush eyes

See that stump over there? Look again. It could be a lion. Never mind. In a day or so, game spotting will be so much easier when your eyes focus more easily on wildlife shapes.

Wild animals blend into the long grass. Photo: Chris Marais

I was once on a night drive when the field guide brought the Landrover to a halt just next to a tree. What? Why? There was nothing there.

He walked round to the far edge of the tree and there displayed to us a sleeping chameleon, at the end of a branch moving in the breeze. It wasn’t much bigger than a leaf itself.

How on earth did he see it? Oh, it was just a little lighter than the leaves, he said. Quite easy to see if you know what you’re looking for.

Spot the stripes in the shadows.

It really brought home to me how you need to hone your vision when you’re in the bush. It takes a day or 2 to get used to spotting animals. When your eyes (so used to the computer screen) pop into focus, it really is quite astounding.

Suddenly you can see lions in the tawny grasses. A stump reveals itself as a dozing wildebeest. A branch steps free of a tree and becomes a giraffe. A tiny movement in front of a herd of oryx – and there’s a jackal sniffing about.

You learn to peer up every likely tree, just in case there’s a leopard.

Of course, then your brain goes into overdrive. Stumps become hyenas and rocks become sleeping lions. But that overdrive helps you spot the little things that make your game-drive special – the bit of fluff on a tree that reveals itself to be a pygmy falcon. The spiky shrub that turns out to be a porcupine.

A branch steps free of a tree and becomes a giraffe. A tiny movement in front of a herd of oryx – and there’s a jackal sniffing about.

Best of all is that heightened sense of awareness you get in the bush. You’ll find yourself sniffing the fresh air for that essence-of-grass smell that signals elephants, becoming aware of the wind's direction on your face.

After a while, you’ll wonder why you ever thought you could appreciate life through a screen.

Category: Wildlife


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