That Rebecca Berry, she’s so full of crazy Africa stories. Like this one, in which 33 horses run off into the lion-infested bush and she has to go find them.
When you work with horses, it isn’t uncommon for things to go awry, and when you work with horses in Africa, it is just easier to assume that the day will in some unimaginable way, get completely out of control, and it did, almost daily. I hadn’t lived in the bush long enough to understand all the variables of how it could go wrong. I was aware, however, that there were no vets, no fire trucks, no ambulances and the nearest town was five hours away. I knew there were no protective fences between the wilds and humans. And I understood by law we were not allowed to have guns in camp and our only weapons of defense were our wits and a bullwhip that when snapped correctly sounds like a gun.
Along with Steve and Lucy, the owners of the horse safari, there were six local men from nearby villages that I worked along side with. The barn routine was the same as any barn, anywhere. However when the horses were turned out, they are TURNED OUT into the BUSH as a herd with one man watching over them. You might be asking yourself aren’t there lions and stuff out there? Why yes there are. How one man was supposed to control thirty-three horses if a lion happened along, was a question I could not answer. Thankfully, lions are pretty lazy and shy during the day. But still.
One afternoon the herder came hurtling into the barn yelling, “They all gone. They run.” I felt a twinge of panic.
Was there a pride of not so lazy marauding lions? Had there been a stampede of Cape buffalo? Or had the horses staged a mutiny? It didn’t matter why they ran, but rather that they had. The last thing the horse safari needed was to have all thirty-three horses run off with a mob mentality into the bush with and only five hours of day light left.
I called Steve and immediately search teams were assembled. There were no horses left to saddle up and ride-out on, so it was up to the trucks to take us. Lucy took three of the men with her in the beat up truck that had virtually no radiator and could no longer reach speeds exceeding 30/mph, and headed left. I went with Steve and the other three guys in the fancy Land Cruiser and we sped off to the right.
The concept of tracking eluded me. I thought scanning the bush searching for horse figures was helpful. Apparently, it wasn’t and it is the tracks that will reveal all. That is, of course, if tracks could be found.
I rode up front with Steve scanning the horizon like an idiot, the local men, Shamoney, Moses, and Kidson, well equipped with bush eyes stood in the back searching for tracks. For hours, we drove down this dirt road up that one. We headed out onto the plains, and scouted around watering holes. From time to time, we would stop when we thought horse tracks had been spotted, each attempt more futile than the last. The loose sand was working against the men as it was blurring the tracks making it hard to distinguish one animal print from another. What started out looking like a horse print turned out to be a buffalo or zebra tracks. With only three hours left of daylight our concern grew.
Four hours into the search, Shamoney thought he saw horse tracks. The men jumped out of the truck to inspect the hoof prints while I shamefully waited safe inside, fearful of stepping out in case a herd of elephants mowed me down or in the off chance, a leopard plucked me out of the group.
“The horses have split into two herds,” Steve said, “some of the horses might be in the trees, the guys have gone to find out.” How the many came to this conclusion from looking at the dirt was beyond my comprehension.
My immediate thought was, please let those be horses in the trees and not a herd of cranky bachelor buffalos. My fear of death was immense at all times while in the bush, and just before my mind got out of hand, Kidson emerged through the trees with a horse in tow.
“Rebecca you take Buntu from Kidson, and he and Moses will herd the rest behind you. Shamoney and I will try and find the others.” Steve ordered. Relief of finding some of the horses was quickly replaced with fear. I had to walk a mile or two on foot in the middle of nowhere with deadly animals potentially hiding around every tree, and I was going to have a horse in hand and twenty others running around behind me.
Thankfully, Buntu behaved as he and I strode down the sandy road, with his friends running hither and dither but we had no way of contacting Lucy to let her know that we had found some of the horses. Then as if by magic, the remaining runaways appeared through the thick brush, as though it were no big deal that they had wandered miles away from camp.
It took five hours and ten people to find and round up the horses and I was able to chock this adventure up to another heart pounding experience.