meerkats standing on a woman

Buffalo Ambush

333/Buffalo Ambush 4

Bumi Hills and my nerve-shattering encounter in a buffalo ambush

While I was working in Zimbabwe, I had the opportunity to visit Bumi Hills in 1993, a fantastic lodge up on the edge of Lake Kariba with views to die for. I was working in Save Valley Conservancy, and Zimbabwe Sun Hotels sponsored me. It was a great opportunity as I got to visit a lot of the top hotels in Zimbabwe and stay for free. That was only if I was going with one of the ZimSun hotel representatives, though. I couldn’t just march into a hotel and expect free board and lodging.

The splendour of Lake Kariba

There I was, in a tiny plane, being flown up to Bumi Hills for the day. After a few buzzes over the airstrip, to encourage the resident giraffes to move off the landing strip, we landed safely on the shores of Lake Kariba.

We drove to the lodge, and I was shown to my room. Firstly, I was not expecting my own room; I thought that I was there for a day, (although I had been warned to pack for a few days just in case we had to stay overnight or longer). Secondly, the room was set in a stunning location that left my mouth wide open. The room was on the top of an escarpment overlooking Lake Kariba. It was so high up that I could see the back of a bateleur eagle flying below, the balcony being suspended out over the dizzy heights of Kariba plains. Everything had been thought of with the architecture blending into the natural surroundings.

333/Lake Kariba

Siesta time and a little wildlife education

It was also siesta time so, in true African style, I had an hour-long snooze and then got up to look for the others to see what was happening.

I was hoping that there was a chance of a game drive before leaving. I was in time for a drive, but the rest had left me behind and said that they would pick me up in five days’ time. What a lovely surprise! Although knowing about it might have been easier for me to manage, but the thought did count! So, I was to stay longer than I’d hoped for, to learn more about the wildlife and to increase my general knowledge about all things African. I was amazed, what an opportunity to be given, and how generous. I embraced it with both arms.

So began my extravaganza of learning from the guides, and going out with them to do survey work, check on the wildlife, and generally be part of the crew. There were no clients here so I mucked in with them as a member of staff.

African bush-style education

I went bug collecting, tree sampling, and dung analysing. I learnt about butterflies, the resident elephants, and how to track buffalo. The tracking and what to do came in very handy the following day; it was a good job that I had been paying attention.

I was out with one of the guides, and we went to check on the whereabouts of the local herd of buffalo and some other wildlife that needed locating. It was more of a bit of a jolly while walking in the bush but with the premise that we were doing a bit of work.

333/Buffalo Ambush 1

Buffalo is one of the Big Five – dangerous animals not to be messed with, and worthy of respect. There are two types of herd that are usually found in Africa. First are the main breeding herds with a dominant male, females, and calves. Second are the smaller bachelor herds comprising young males (that re-join the breeding herd as they get older), and older males (that remain outside the herd as they can no longer compete with younger bulls).

The older males are often called ‘dagga boys’ as they spend most of their time wallowing in dagga, (Zulu for mud), which helps to prevent flies landing on them. The dagga boys are no longer strong enough to compete for breeding rights and are therefore rather hacked off with life, taking their anger out on most things. They are best avoided at all costs.

The buffalo ambush I will never forget

It was these boys that we accidentally stumbled upon. We had been watching the main herd and were walking back to the lodge when we realised that we had just entered a group of dagga boys. The tell-tale snap of a twig alerted us, but that was all the warning we got, and they knew we were there too. I immediately put a tree between me and the buffalo, it was a rather thin tree, but any tree, whatever its size, was better than no tree at all. Well, it felt better for me anyway.

I held my breath. No large crashing came through the undergrowth, no sudden movements, no bellowing – we were safe for the moment.

There were eight that I could see nearby, but I was certain that there were others in the bushes further away from us, I could hear them feeding in the dense bush. I checked all around me and ensured that my tree was in the right place in relation to the buffalo. There was none behind us, which was a good thing. I did not want a buffalo to sneak up on me, which they can do. My hearing was on high alert.

333/Buffalo Ambush 2

The next issue was how we were going to extract ourselves from the situation. Quietly was the best option and preferably with limbs intact. I felt like I was in a Tom and Jerry cartoon, as we tippy-toed from one thin tree to the next, trying to make ourselves very slim to hide behind each tree. I could even hear the piano-tinkle noise of my own cartoon soundtrack in my head as we moved from one hiding place to the next, and felt my heart exploding out of my chest. If it had not been so scary, it would have been funny. I am certain that I now hold the world record for the longest held breath, it felt like half an hour.

Time for some beer

Eventually, we emerged out of our buffalo ambush, unscathed and relieved. With a tentative scanning of the area, we made it to the bar for a beer. Trust me, beer has never tasted so good.

Even now, after all these years of being in the bush, buffalo makes me twitchy when I am on foot.

The sounds of the African bush are incredible to experience, although it is always handy to know what is actually making the noise. Even if this does scare you more, knowledge is power.

Thank you so much to Jenny Bowen for this excerpt from her latest book, Sense Africa Five Ways.


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