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Guest Blogger Roger Gosden

Red in Tooth and Paw is the last in a short travel series.

I scanned the horizon with binoculars for game, but my local guide always spotted it first with his telescopic eyes. He swiveled his head from side to side, hardly glancing ahead as he steered the truck on a bumpy track in the northern Kalahari. The engine roared and wheels spat buckets of sand.We left our private campsites every day at dawn for game drives. I had ticked every bird and beast on my must-see list plus dozens of other bonus species. The greening landscape after a long dry season now teemed with life. I became blasé about elephants, big cats, giraffes, herds of zebras, and antelopes, while my guide focused on finding novelties to please me.I knew he had seen something when he dropped a gear and plowed at speed through wheel-high grass. I followed his pointing finger, now fully alert after a sleepless night in a hot tent. Yet I saw nothing, not even swaying seedheads, but trusted his uncanny sense of where to find wildlife drama from long experience in the veld. He understood the stakes and could calculate where a chase would end.I didn’t notice the mêlée or hear the yelps until he pulled up abruptly and the engine died. Only five yards away, a pack of multi-colored African Wild Dogs shoved and nipped each other as dogs might fight for a ball in the park. The grin he flashed seemed triumphant at adding an endangered species to my list until I realized I mistook a fresh kill for a rough and tumble in the grass. I suspect he thought every visitor on safari expects that top attraction. I watched the grisly end of an Impala. Lions and leopards drag down prey by the throat until the struggler starves of oxygen. Is that such a dreadful death? David Livingstone said he went numb with terror when a lion grabbed him not far away in 1844. But Wild Dogs have much weaker jaws than big cats. They tear off strips of skin and break weak bones bit by bit. They butcher their prey alive. Two young dogs fought over a tender fetus disgorging from an open belly. The pack picked a pregnant doe as the slowest in a herd for a relentless hunt to an inescapable conclusion. Don’t be sentimental or stupid, I told myself. Nature is red in tooth and paw, and carnivores can’t eat straw! Haven’t you killed animals deliberately or accidentally and frequently by your dietary choices and land use? I hid my emotion from the guide who wouldn’t understand after seeing gore and wounded animals as a past leader of trophy hunters. I am still reluctant to admit complicity with killers who act for me out of sight but not yet a Jainish vegetarian. At bedtime, he came to zip my tent door to keep out mosquitoes and deter inquisitive lions that sometimes wander through the camp. Feeling confident in his assurances, my thoughts turned to the fate of the Impala: was it a tragedy or part of the mystery of nature that enfolds us all? The sound of sniffing and scratching on the other side of the canvas wall distracted me before the night went silent. The next morning pictures taken automatically outside on a game camera revealed a Spotted Hyena had been my nocturnal visitor. Mighty predators can become prey.

To see more posts by Roger, please visit his website.

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