Living alongside wild animals can be fraught with danger and frustrations, but for now Samantha du Toit embraces the age-old dance between man and beast.
Look Mummy, I am jumping into the elephant’s footprint!” exclaimed Seyia, as she explored the banks of the river with her little brother in tow. “I can’t even see Taru when he is in it!” she giggled.
As we watched them playing on the river bank, neck high in mud, I marvelled at the proximity with which we are living with nature. In the early mornings on our way to breakfast, we ‘read the morning news’, etched into the dust on the paths in the camp. We often see tracks of our nocturnal visitors and Seyia, now almost six, is learning how to distinguish between the leopard or the hyena tracks, the mongoose and the genet, the snake or the monitor lizard. If one of us is lagging behind, we circle the best sets of prints for the others in the family to notice and then we discuss the ‘news’ over breakfast.
In the heat of the day, we sometimes see our shy male bushbuck coming down to drink at the river, scaring away the flock of guinea fowl resting in the shade, who take off with loud squawks of annoyance. Lions call frequently from across the river in the early mornings, sometimes waking us up.
And in the evenings, the resident troop of baboons makes their way back up river towards our cottage from their time foraging, and often the children are back down at the river, making miniature farms in the mud, or digging for treasure. The two sets of primates used to watch each other with mutual trepidation, but now they are all so familiar that they ignore each other for the most part, which again is fascinating to watch. Yesterday, going down to fetch the children for their supper, I saw Seyia’s footprints from the day before, now with the tiny tracks of a genet set within them and the bushbuck’s tracks nearby.
The daily dance of people and wildlife was captured by a fellow researcher, who put up a camera trap on a path just outside of camp. Left for four days and nights, the camera picked up the Maasai people using the path in the day and baboons foraging. Then at night, the zebra came in to graze, then a lone bull elephant loomed out of the dark, and last but not least, a leopard strolled past. For us, it is nothing but pleasure and indeed part of the reason we live here. However, it occurs to me that in this area, the saying ‘one man’s pain is another man’s pleasure’ might in fact be the other way around. Sitting at breakfast one morning, Joshua, our staff member, explained to us that he had not slept well because a leopard had succeeded in getting into his boma the night before to attack and kill three of his sheep and goats. As the elephants become more present in the area they seem also to become increasingly brave and sometimes scare the local women away from the river’s edge when they come down to wash. Lions and hyenas often kill and eat cattle if they are unfortunate enough to get lost on their way home in the evenings.
And yet despite this, Joshua was cheerful enough. He explained that he had been angry at first, but that this was not the first time and nor would it be the last, and was part of a Maasai’s life. They choose to live side by side with wildlife, and are proud of this, despite the frustrations such neighbours can sometimes bring. And so the story goes on generation after generation. For how long such tolerance will prevail I am sure many may wonder, but I for one hope for the future, and am grateful that my family and I are the lucky beneficiaries of this age-old co-existence.
Samantha du Toit is a wildlife conservationist, working with SORALO, a Maasai land trust. She lives with her husband, Johann, and their two children at Shompole Wilderness, a tented camp in the Shompole Conservancy.