Thursday, August 16, 2012

Stalking Buffalo

Stalking Buffalo

Today, we are hot on a buffalo trail. The trackers are amazing. They can track any Mozambican animal. They can tell the difference between this morning’s tracks and this afternoon’s tracks, and they can gather all sorts of information from a track that I can’t even see.

We hike for several hours, following a cape buffalo’s tracks. As we come upon fresher tracks, our pace slows. There are lots of dead leaves on the ground, so we walk really slowly and step in the exact same place as the person in front. I realize that the situation could make a 180 at any second, going from tippy-toeing directly behind the Professional Hunter (PH) to everyone scrambling to get into position. I get between the PH and Tim (the host) so that I can see the animal before Tim. This allows me one more second to get the camera set up. So, the order of our single-file line is: two trackers, the PH, me, and then Tim. I have everything on my camera powered up, so if we run into a buffalo, I’m ready to zoom in, focus, and record.

Tracking an animal is surprisingly intense. It’s crazy that those ghosts of hoof prints in the dirt make my heart beat faster. Even with no animals in sight, I can feel my pulse echo in my head. Often times with the buffalo, you won’t see them until it’s too late. Cape buffalo are smart animals with great sight, smell, and hearing. We push ourselves, but just can’t catch up to the cape buffalo. The grass is very thick (close to ten feet tall) and it becomes hard to track the animal. Since the tracks are so difficult to see through the grass, it’s common practice to set the grass on fire. The burnt ground makes it easy for tracking. Any animal that steps on the charred grasses leaves an obvious print. It is also really healthy for the ecosystem to burn these grasses every year, and every year they grow back just as tall. So, the trackers light some fires and we get out of there.

In the afternoon, we encounter some amazing animals. We see an extremely rare animal off in the distance: an albino cape buffalo. It may even be the only one. Nobody at camp has ever seen an albino buffalo and these guys spend a lot of time in the bush. We also come across a huge heard of cape buffalo with possibly 40 or 50 of them. One rule of buffalo hunting in Mozambique is that a buffalo can only be pursued after it has left the herd. Later in the day, I get to film some elephants, impala, water-buck, and some huge porcupines that are nearly as tall as my thigh.

What a day!

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