12 January 2011 by Julienne du Toit

The Inside Job

The stage is set, with an impala carcass tied to a tree-stump. The audience, a dozen businessmen on a bush break, sit in their vehicles, cameras poised. The big man with the dart gun waits. Cue Pumba.

Suddenly, the outraged squeals of a warthog rend the bushveld air. They turn to cries of anguish. Enter the cast, a quartet of lions who stride up as if summoned by a dinner bell at boarding school. Their ears are pricked forward, their eyes are alight and focused, and their noses taste the air to pick out the scent of a surprise evening snack. Bokkie on a stick.

Madikwe Game Reserve ecologist Stephen Dell hits the stop button on the tape recorder, and two large speakers that had filled the plains with the unmistakable gnashing squeals of a hog in distress go silent.

Douw Grobler takes aim, and a dart with ridiculously girly-pink feathering flies into the rump of the unsuspecting lioness. She whirls around to eyeball this annoying insect, yanks the pink intruder out with her teeth and then chews thoughtfully on the empty container as Douw curses her under his breath:

“No, no, no! That’s two hundred rands worth of dart you’re eating there!”

She belches delicately and sits down suddenly, in the manner of one who has overindulged somewhat in tequila.

One more dart into the neck of a second young lion already tucking into the impala and then it’s a waiting game…

The businessmen have paid several thousand a head for the pleasure of being a temporary part of a wildlife veterinary team needed to dart the lions for game management purposes - a collar removed here, a blood test done there.

I knew this ‘game management safari’ as they call it, was good for wildlife. I just didn’t how how vivid the experience would be.

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