A Season in South Africa

This post is the first of what we hope to be a regular stream of contributions from recent alumni of DePaul University who are off doing interesting and valuable work.

Hemal Lalabhai Patel was fortunate to have spent a portion of the past year living and working at a game reserve in South Africa. Here are some of his reflections.

hemal

I.

Yesterday I got a call asking me to remove a python from behind the bar in the lodge. When I had arrived at the scene with a bag – actually a pillow case – a group of fifteen workers stood by laughing, gasping, and screaming as the snake coiled itself around an electrical box.


The python was about four feet long and two and a half inches thick – a young one that simply wanted to get warm by wrapping its body around the white box. I needed a snake-catching staff. I went back outside and found a dried out piece of bamboo, cut the branch of a silver clusterleaf tree so the end of it resembled a wishbone, then stuck that piece in the hollow bamboo shoot. I knocked the snake off the box and tried to pin down the head with the v-shaped end. In its cunning it avoided the stick the first a couple of times and continued to strike at me until I finally succeeded. Stepping lightly over the back of its head I then started to twirl the stick near its midsection. The adolescent python coiled itself around the stick which made it possible for me to lift and bag it.

I drove down to the dam thinking that the tall grass and water would provide the snake with a good habitat. I had never had a fear of snakes but when I emptied the contents of my pillow case I felt more uneasy then when I had captured it. I watched it slither away hoping that it would look back at me one last time.

II.

It was cool day with plenty of rain. By midday the clouds began to scatter letting sunlight warm the surface of the reserve. I went out with guests on an afternoon game drive, and earlier in the day I had noticed that a sable had come down from the mountain to graze and sip some water from our lake. We were in search of the sable when we saw in the distance a zebra nursing a baby. I knew at a moment’s glance that the mother was not nursing her own offspring  –  the infant was too small and had no stripes. I pulled up to a distance of 20 meters and we watched, instead of a young zebra, a baby blessbok happily suckle on the zebra. The zebra would often lower her head lick the blessbok with a sense of motherly love.

All of a sudden a battle ensued for the protection of the baby blessbok. The infant’s birth mother blessbok had returned.  Every ten minutes or so she would try to collect her baby. However the zebra was being extremely protective of the baby and would chase the mother off with threatening kicks. We turned away and resumed the drive. I returned to the site the next couple of days, and the threesome had moved on. I wonder if the zebra grew bored or finally understood that kidnapping is a crime.

III.

Wildfires. Luckily controlled burns thwart their power of destruction. During these winter months the land becomes dry and arid; fire can be started from a cigarette butt, a lightning bolt, or most commonly, the all-powerful sun.

The southwest corner of the reserve is charred and black from a controlled burn that we did a week ago. New green shoots are springing to life only to be fed on by the grazing animals that roll around in the charcoaled aftermath of a blazed grassland.

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