In case anyone is planning to move to Africa, and thinking ‘what is the worst that can happen?’ I thought I’d helpfully list a few of my worst ten moments involving wildlife that have happened to me since living in Africa. My next post will be top wildlife horror stories that I’ve heard on the grapevine and which I’m 99% sure are absolutely true:
Puff adder - Apparently a puff adder is a deadly snake. When estimating in terms of minutes how long you have to get an anti-venom shot after being bitten, the answer is usually 'not many'. We had a narrow escape during a river walk with a local guide in Kenya. The kids ran ahead along a narrow path when the guide sharply stopped us in our tracks. It seemed the forerunners had jumped over a puff adder snake, which was wending its way slowly across our path. It’s an unattractive squashy looking reptile and our guide tapped the ground with a stick until it slithered away into the undergrowth (see photo). We asked ‘what if we had trodden on it and it had bitten one of us’ (we were half an hour’s walk from the car at this point). He shook his head, not much hope. I guess we might owe that guy our lives?
Mango worm – This is a particularly revolting fly’s egg that transfers itself onto your clothes then burrows under your skin and grows into a larva creating an agonising boil. Fortunately I’ve only had one, though I’ve heard it’s common to have quite a few at once. The boil has a little black dot in the centre that shrinks away when you try and dig it out or squeeze. The black dot is the maggot’s head. Covering the sore with a thick layer of Vaseline suffocates and kills it, but you will still be left with the problem of extracting the thing. All clothes, towels and underwear are meticulously ironed to try and kill off the larvae before they make a new home under your skin.
Jellyfish sting – Wading through the shallow waters of the Indian Ocean when fairly new to Africa, I got long clear jellyfish tentacles wound around my foot. Feeling a stinging sensation I decided to get onto dry land quick. Peeling off tentacles with little dotted suckers, I began to feel excruciating pain. If only I’d known or had the presence of mind to ask someone to wee on my foot, it would have neutralised the acid burn. Instead I was stoic and had a swollen foot in attractive Velcro sandals for three months. There were many mild jelly fish stings to follow whilst living at the coast, but none so agonising as that first one.
Gecko in coffee – This is my favourite, grossest story. When you live in Africa, you must necessarily share your house with geckos. They run around your walls and ceilings, living among curtain fabrics and behind picture frames. Some people like the little opaque lizards that eat mosquitoes and other little bugs but I think they look kind of fleshy, goggle eyed and yuk. Plus they leave small pellets of toxic black and white gecko poo everywhere and occasionally perfectly formed white spherical eggs hidden among the children’s toys. One day having made a perfect mid morning coffee, I was called away to answer the phone and got a bit distracted. When I returned to the cup, I took a large swig, only to find the coffee cold and undrinkable. Planning to make a fresh cup, I tossed the contents into the sink and out flopped a dead ‘poached’ gecko with blanched eyeballs. At what point did it fall into my mug, I wondered?
Scorpion plus babies – When staying in an island lodge, famous for having many snakes (we saw quite a few of those) we crawled into bed to find a large scorpion on the inside of the mosquito net around the bed. Not wishing to spend the night with this unwelcome guest, we emptied half a can of doom bug spray to kill it. The scorpion released it’s grip on the net and fell down to the floor only to strangely mutate and multiply, as hundreds of babies seemed to appear from the dead body. It was quite a job trying to get them all before they dispersed. Scorpion stings are among the most painful and searing agony can go on for up to twelve hours after the sting.
Lone buffalo and Charging Elephant – Over the years we’ve had a few chance encounters with lone buffalo and elephant in the road whilst driving through national reserves and game parks. Both of these species are notoriously grumpy when alone, often old men who have been chased out of their herds by a younger fitter model. Key advice is to wait quietly and try to back away until the beast has passed. Do not, as we have tried to our cost, beep the horn impatiently as you will find yourself in a ‘charging elephant/buffalo’ situation which is infinitely worse. It’s difficult to reverse along mud tracks.
Lion Baiting – Driving in convoy with a hire car around a national park can be hazardous when the hire car is prone to breaking down. As we stopped to watch a pair of lions in the Mara, our guests from England switched off their ignition and found that they couldn’t restart their landrover engine. Feeling responsible, Mr W headed out through the bush to attach a tow rope to our guest’s car in order to pull them to safety. Meanwhile the kind driver of an official lodge vehicle pulled up alongside the two cars to act as a barrier between us and the lions. Just as the job was speedily done, a third lion came up past our car to join the original pair in a sort of enter stage left manoeuvre. Another lucky escape.
Baboons – baboons are often a picnicking hazard and generally a menace. They are big with long sharp teeth and an inflated sense of their own importance. On many occasions they have snatched sandwiches out of the children’s hands. A camping supper was sabotaged when a troop made off with our ‘baked over an open fire’ potatoes. Once I was elbowed out of my own car by one such primate whilst it searched around the interior for biscuits. The only upside is that when cajoling small, straggling children into the bath, or into the car the; ‘monkey will come and get you,’ or ‘a monkey will come and bite your bottom’ threat actually sometimes works.
Ants – tiny sugar ants can get everywhere. At the sweltering coast it’s necessary to keep all sugary things in the fridge (and rice and flour because of weevils). Leave a cake on a surface for five minutes and it’s alive with ants and on the move. Guests on many occasions have been oblivious to dishes of food being banged repeatedly on the kitchen surfaces to get rid of rogue ants before serving.
Rats and Frogs – more common household wildlife incidents that stick in my mind are finding a smelly dead frog jamming up the U bend under the kitchen sink during rainy season. We took the bend away, to find a pair of frogs legs hanging down. After being on a trip back home to the UK, copious amounts of washing and ironing were done (not by me) as we attempted to ‘catch up’ from our trip. The following day I opened the airing cupboard door to be confronted by a fat rat that had been nesting in the clean laundry over night. The clothes were alive with fleas. Ughh.