The great springbok migrations.

Discussion in 'Hunting Africa' started by Wolverine67, Jun 24, 2012.

  1. Wolverine67

    Wolverine67 AH Fanatic

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    Found this story on another website. Thought it was great reading.

    A Springbok migration in the
    19th century - a tale from
    Lawrence Green's 'Karoo'
    Those vast springbok migrations which
    devastated the Karoo districts of South
    Africa almost up to the end of last
    century must have formed the most
    dramatic scenes in the whole world of
    mammals.
    One cannot see everything, but I am
    sorry these cavalcades of fur and flesh
    occurred before my time. There was a
    trekboer once, a natural artist as a
    storyteller, whose tale gave me the
    human side of it; one of those tales
    which carried the ring of personal
    experience in every vivid detail.
    This man had left the Transvaal with his
    family in the eighteen-seventies as a
    boy of ten. They were members of the
    first "Thirstland trek," a group of people
    impelled by real or imaginary grievances
    and certainly by a restless spirit, to seek
    a new country. Some reached Angola,
    but this family of Van der Merwes broke
    away from the ill-fated wagons and
    headed south. They spent their lives
    trekking with their sheep and cattle in
    search of grass. When the old people
    died, the son Gert went on living the
    only life he knew, sometimes in
    Bechuanaland, in the Kalahari and often
    in the North West Cape. By the time he
    was twenty-one he had a wife and three
    children, two coloured shepherds and a
    Bushman touleier to lead the oxen and
    find the way from one water-hole or vlei
    to the next.
    One morning Gert van der Merwe's
    wagon was plodding along the dry, hard
    bed of the Molopo river where it forms
    the southern border of the
    Bechuanaland Protectorate. Gert
    noticed that the Bushman seemed
    worried about something. In the middle
    of the morning the Bushman left his
    oxen suddenly and ran off into the bush
    on the high northern bank of the river.
    At noon Gert stopped for the usual
    outspan and meal. His wife had just
    settled down to the cooking when the
    Bushman raced into camp and urged the
    party to inspan and 'follow him
    immediately. "The trekbokke are
    coming," the Bushman declared. "It will
    be death to stay in the river-bed."
    Gert packed up, wondering whether the
    alarm was justified, but remembering
    that he had his family with him. The
    Bushman led the wagon out of the
    riverbed, up the north bank to a hill. Van
    der Merwe drove the wagon up the hill
    as far as the oxen would pull it. Then
    they went to the summit of the hill and
    the Bushman pointed.
    At first Gert could see nothing unusual,
    but later he observed a faint cloud of
    dust along the horizon. It was miles
    away and did not suggest any great
    danger to him. However, the Bushman
    persuaded him to cut and pile thorn
    bushes as a barrier round the wagon
    and cattle. The Bushman explained that
    if the running springbok came over the
    hill instead of round it they would
    trample every living thing in their path
    to death. However, he hoped the thorn
    bush and the wagon would make them
    swerve.
    After protecting his wagon and stock,
    Gert climbed the hill again. By now the
    dust was only a few miles away, rising
    higher. the air and spread over a wide
    front. Gert's hill appeared to be in the
    centre of the oncoming game. Now, for
    the first time, he felt a little nervous, for
    he realized that anything could happen
    if such a stampede passed through the
    camp. So he ordered his wife and
    children into the wagon and made the
    dogs fast under the wagon tent. With
    the aid of the two coloured men and
    the Bushman he gathered heaps of dry
    wood and placed them in front of the
    wagon. By throwing green stuff on top
    of each pile he hoped to send up
    enough smoke to startle the buck and
    cause them to swing aside.
    Gert waited on the hill summit. The
    buck were still hidden in their dust
    screen, but hares and jackals and other
    small animals were racing past the hill
    and taking no notice of the human
    beings. Snakes were out in the open,
    too, moving fast and seeking cover
    under the rocks on the hill. Gert and his
    men threw stones at the snakes that
    came too close, but the snakes seemed
    to be dominated by a greater fear.
    Meerkat families and field mice also
    appeared in large numbers.
    At last came a faint drumming. No
    doubt the Bushman had sensed this
    drumming hours before, with his ear to
    the ground. Only now could Gert hear it.
    The cloud of dust was dense and
    enormous, and the front rank of the
    springbok, running faster than galloping
    horses, could be seen. They were in
    such numbers that Gert found the sight
    frightening. He could see a front line of
    buck at least three miles long, but he
    could not estimate the depth. Ahead of
    the main body were swift voorlopers,
    moving along a though they were
    leading the army.
    When the buck came within a mile of
    the hill the Bushman ran to the wagon
    and climbed in despite the growling of
    the dogs. He was taking no chances.
    Gert and the coloured men then moved
    back, pausing only to light the fires.
    They remained with the cattle, which
    had sensed the danger and were milling
    round and lowing nervously. Gert's wife
    wanted him inside the wagon; but he
    was gripped by the vast spectacle and
    climbed on to the hood for a better
    view.
    The first solid groups of buck swept
    past on both sides of the hill. After that
    the streams of springbok were
    continuous, making for the river and the
    open country beyond. Then the pressure
    increased. the buck became more
    crowded. No longer was it possible for
    them to swerve aside when they
    reached the fires and the wagon. Gert
    said he could have flicked the horde
    with his whip from where he sat on the
    wagon tent. Some crashed into the
    wagon and were jammed in the wheels,
    injured and trampled upon. The wagon
    became the centre of a mass of dead
    and dying buck. and Gert saw more
    biltong than he could have secured in a
    year's expensive shooting. But the thorn
    barrier had broken, and the buck were
    among the cattle. Before long the
    terrified, bellowing cattle stampeded
    and vanished into the dust in the
    direction of the river. Gert had to let
    them go. There was only death for
    anyone who ventured after them,
    among the horns and hooves of the
    buck.
    At the height of the rush, said Gert, the
    noise was overwhelming. Countless
    hooves powdered the surface to fine
    dust, and everyone found it hard to
    breathe. Gert's wife, who had been
    watching the rush with frightened
    interest, had to draw the blankets over
    herself and the children. The dust had
    almost smothered them. Everything in
    the wagon was an inch deep in pale
    yellow dust, and the coloured men had
    also turned yellow.
    Within an hour the main body of
    springbok had passed, but that was not
    the end of the spectacle. Until long after
    sunset, hundreds upon hundreds of
    stragglers followed the great herd.
    Some were exhausted, some crippled,
    some bleeding. Gert wondered what
    had happened to the hares and jackals,
    and the snakes which had not taken
    cover in time. Next day he found the
    answer.
    All night lone buck passed the wagon.
    The air cleared, but dust rose again
    when there was any movement in the
    camp. At daybreak Gert climbed the hill
    to see whether he could find his cattle.
    He had food, and there was a water
    hole not far away in the dry riverbed;
    but without the oxen he was stranded.
    The morning air was so clear, the day so
    bright, that Gert felt for a moment as
    though the events of the previous day
    had a nightmare quality. Then he saw
    that the landscape, which had been
    covered with trees of fair sizes, green
    with food for his cattle, were gaunt
    stumps and bare branches. The buck
    had brushed off all herbage in their
    passing, and splintered the young trees
    so that they would never grow again.
    Far in the distance Gert thought he
    could see a few of his oxen. After
    breakfast he set off with his men to
    recover them. Every donga leading into
    the river, every little gully was filled with
    buck. It seemed that the first buck had
    paused on the brink, considering the
    prospects of leaping across. Before they
    could decide, the ruthless mass was
    upon them. Buck after buck was pushed
    into the donga, until the hollow was
    filled and the irresistible horde went on
    over the bodies.
    Other sights reminded Gert of the fate
    he and his family had escaped by
    accepting the Bushman's warning. Small
    animals were lying dead everywhere -
    tortoises crushed almost to pulp,
    fragments of fur that had been hares. A
    tree, pointing in the direction of the
    advancing buck, had become a deadly
    spike on which two springbok were
    impaled.
    For a fortnight Gert camped on that hill
    beside the Molopo, searching for his
    cattle. He found half of them. The fate
    of the others remained a mystery. They
    might have been borne along by the
    impetus of the stampede until they fell
    and were trampled to death; or they
    might have escaped from the living trap
    far away from the wagon. Gert
    inspanned the survivors thankfully and
    the wagon rolled on, away from the
    scene of destruction. When he told the
    tale, it was clear that he regarded it as
    the most memorable episode in a life
    which he regarded as the finest on
    earth. "Ons lewe lekker. Dit is vir ons
    heeltemal goed genoeg," declared Gert
    at the end of his story. "We live well. It
    is absolutely good enough for us."
  2. timbear

    timbear AH Enthusiast

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    That must have been the most amazing sight - if you survived it!

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