African Wildlife....Up Close And Friendly

                                           On the road…again!!!
Essays, Stories, Adventures, Dreams
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
 U is for Uganda

The first sight he ever had of a dik-dik was up close, real close.  His old E-Mail nickname “DikDik” comes as no coincidence.  It was a hint of Africa and a reminder that his first dik-dik took a bite out of his leg before he even laid eyes on him.  OK, it wasn't a gaping hole or even a razor gash... it was more like a nibble on the hairs of his leg as he stood in the waning sunlight trying to spot more mighty creatures on the banks of the river.  The dik-dik was even friendly, too friendly. 



When it was time to return to his hotel room, the little dik-dik insisted on going in with him, and had to be shooed away like a puppy.  Later that evening the bigger critters came out.  Hungry hippos climbed the steep banks to look for tender grass.  They had been doing it for some time, no wonder that the lawn in the back of the Queen Elizabeth National Park hotel is so trim. You won't find a lawnmower on the premises, except for the herd of hippos that mow during evening hours.

The assignment in Uganda was to consider ways to preserve the wildlife resources and their habitats, while also accomodating the needs of herdsmen who lived within the boundaries of the national park.  It was a challenging job, since it also required knowing something about the diets of the animals and the susceptibility of the vegetation to fires set by the herders. Learning about those things also required seeing their preferred foods, up close.

Thus, Footloose Forester got to see his first African elephants in Uganda.  A herd of them, in fact.  Of course, we had to search for them after we spotted the first signs of browse on some bushes near the roadway.  Fresh sign, fresh browse, fresh tracks, and eventually fresh droppings.  Nothing leaves such huge balls of fibrous dung like the giant African elephant.  When the driver finally maneuvered his 4 x 4 into the path of 40+ feeding mammoth monsters, we had to back away.

Uganda is also known for its past history of violence.  It is rumored that Ida Amin Dada used the basement of the Nile Hotel as a torture chamber.  These days the Nile is a quiet place, a place where you can eat your breakfast on the terrace and watch gangs of brightly feathered green ibis quietly foraging in the grass next to your table.  But you are always aware of the stories of how deserters from the Army roam the streets waiting for the right car to highjack.  With AK-47s and short tempers, they let it be known that it is either your car or your life.  Lots of local citizens will confirm that they don’t wait too long before pulling the trigger.

The Footloose Forester will always remember the tale of three members of a non-governmental organization in Western Uganda who told him how thieves stole two of their vehicles one night.  At night, when only marauders are active, they blocked the road with boulders and when both vehicles stopped and attempted to back up, part of the band of thieves blocked the road behind them.  With AK-47s in hand, the thieves made off with two four-wheel-drive Mitsubishi vehicles and all the clothes of his Ugandan colleagues.  Shirts, pants, shoes, and socks. They were not the only group who Footloose Forester remembers arriving home in their underwear. 

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