PETREANS

FRIENDS OF PETERHOUSE (FOP)

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Marondera

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Humidity: 69%
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Sunday
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Monday
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Tuesday
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Wednesday
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Petreans

Memories

1967 Makarikari Expedition

"Come on, get organized! Move, but quick sharp!" Thus our Leader frequently exhorted us and suited his own actions to the words. And so did we,-or at least some of us.

Jim Dalton, our highly efficient Q.M., "Yeish" Glover, mechanic and handy-man; Gus MacLaurin, getting on quietly with whatever job needed doing; "Duddles" Dudley, shooting a black mamba smack in the head before most of us found time to grab a gun; Malcolm Smale, perhaps not so quick, but leading his group with infinite patience in perfect textbook formation on their shooting trips. And so I could go on with the list, but let it suffice to say that the boys had the right spirit.

Ghanzi (1963), Chiredzi (1963), Haroni-Lusitu (1964), Zambezi (1965), Makarikari (1966) and now, in 1967, the Botletle--the sixth and largest expedition yet. 26 boys, 6 staff (Pete Ginn, John Greenacre., Mr Coleman., Paul Brodsky, Peter Cooke and Dr. John Driver-Jowitt) and six Africans (Basil,Patrick, and 4 skinners) added up to a big camp, requiring a vast amount of equipment, food and transport, all of which was admirably planned and organized by Mr. Ginn. What with game-licences, vehicle-licences, petrol coupons, permits for fire-arms, entry-permits and passports for everyone, the paper-work must have filled a volume!

The outward journey
The main party in a five-ton diesel-truck and the advance party in a Landrover, both lent by the Schools Exploration Society, left Peterhouse on Thursday, the 3rd August, followed by Mr. Greenacre's Landrover a day later. Another Landrover, very kindly lent by Mr. John Foggin, broke down at Bulawayo and had to be left behind; its driver and 5 passengers were rescued by Mr Greenacre, who came back all the way from Plumtree to pick them up. They spent Friday night at the hospitable Crawshaws, and after a fruitless search for another vehicle, the Landrover with its 13 passengers and heavily laden trailer got to camp by 1 p.m. on Sunday.

The Expedition had more than its fair share of transport troubles and Glover and Co. were kept busy mending punctures. On two occasions on the Francistown-Maun highway local farmers came to the rescue. We had the privilege of sharing our road-side camp with one of them, Mr. Derek Brink from Gaberones, and it was fascinating to watch the art of camping "a la Botswana." We stopped under a vast and ancient baobab, a square giant with each side measuring at least 14 feet. Four Africans set about clearing an area for our beds on the sheltered side of one of its mightly walls, lit a roaring fire in a jiffy, put on a pot of stew, whilst our friend from Gaberones, sitting on his bed-roll and offering beers all round, occasionally gave a few orders in fluent Sechwana, the clicking sounds of which crackled like the twigs in the campfire. The advance party had their troubles too. The lorry missed the unmarked turn-off and bogged down in deep sand, miles beyond the campsite. It had to be unloaded, dug out and towed by Mr. Coleman's Landrover and did not get to the campsite until Sunday morning. The second wave, hoping to arrive in a camp already well established, found itself on arrival plunged in the middle of feverish activity. Confronted by a leader not in the best of tempers, and by the task of erecting tents, digging the kitchen and a vast trench for the oven, it swung into action and by 5 p.m. the camp was pretty well organized and a couple of groups were released to do some collected, to give the skinners some work to do, too! By Monday morning the expedition's "raison d'être-to collect a representative selection of birds and mammals of the area-took precedence over all other activity and we were in business.

The camp site
The camp was set up on the East bank, some 100 yards from the Botletle River - a gently flowing, almost motionless expanse of surprisingly clear water, meandering from bank to bank in a wide, sandy bed between terraces of white sand and golden yellow grass, its surface studded with large patches of waterlilies in bloom, on which the ubiquitous African Lily-trotter would move about with quick elegant steps, turning up the leaves daintily with its long beak in search of some invisible insect. We had been told the water had no bilharzia, but plenty of crocs, so we quickly built a swimming-enclosure with stakes and rushes; however, we saw only 3 crocs during our whole stay, and two of those a long way from camp. A little wobbly pier was constructed next, so that we could draw water free from sand and weeds; it also became a useful gauge when a few days later the Botletle began to flood. It was uncanny to watch the waters rise in the middle of the desert, 6 months after the last rains had fallen in the highlands of Angola, 800 miles away.
The tents were set up in a clear patch among the thornbushes, and water had to be carted in 44 gallon drums by Landrover-a hair raising exercise until Mr. Greenacre organized the "blue route" by clearing a way through the scrub to a less steep slope on the bank.

The local habitat
The thorn-scrub extended some 10-12 miles East of the river where it merged into a gently undulating grass plain, the edge of the Makarikari pan. Thus we had three types of habitat to collect in: the river, the thorn-scrub and the grassy plain. The collecting was highly successful. The boys were divided into five groups: three bird groups, one snake, and one mammal-collecting group; and we managed to collect nearly 400 birds and over 70 mammals. Among the latter were two rare White-tailed Desert-Rats (Ochromys woos nami) of which only a few specimens exist in all the Museums of the world. Several bird-specimens, e.g. the Dikkop, the Emerald-spotted Dove and the Sulphur-breasted Bush Shrike, represent an extension of their range by some 80 - 90 miles, whilst the nearest previously recorded Suricate, a type of mongoose, had been collected 150 miles to the South- West.

The local wildlife
Apart from the interest in collecting, we were fortunate in living in an area teaming with game. Guinea-fowl were so common that we got tired of eating them and springbok-steak or wildebeest stew appeared regularly on the menu. We had plenty of excitement, too. We must have set up our camp in the middle of one of the wildebeests' usual paths to the river, because on our first night they were wandering all round the camp. Soon after midnight we heard the roaring and coughing of lion, and Mr. Ginn established a record for jumping out of a sleeping-bag into the truck to collect a rifle in three seconds flat. However, after a tour of the camp he found nothing but wildebeest and a roaring bonfire in the Africans laager, so he and Mr. Coleman returned to bed. It was somewhat disconcerting for them to find lion spoor 40 feet from our beds the next morning and to be told by the boys that a lioness walked past a few feet from their tent later in the night. Though a hot reception was prepared for them on the following night, the lion failed to oblige and kept their distance for the rest of our stay.

One hot afternoon a party of boys were getting into a Landrover when a mighty big snake came slithering between their legs from underneath the vehicle and made for the bush. Thanks to Dudley's quick reactions, it was shot in the head before it could get away. It was a 7 ft. 4 inch long black mamba. There were frequent kills by lion within a few miles radius of the camp and the vultures were never far away. One magnificent specimen, a Black-backed Vulture with a wing-span of 9 ft. 2 inches was neatly dropped by Dalton as it swept in low to a kill that the lions had left only a few minutes before. The carcass of a wildebeest, shot for the pot, provided an admirable lure for the purpose of filming these loathsome yet fascinating birds and from a skillfully constructed hide several feet of excellent film were taken by Mr. Greenacre and Doctor John. There were also some curious finds. Three abandoned empty 44 gallon drums proved very useful for carting water; an enormous rusty old gin-trap found by McDonald's group was set up regularly with enticing pieces of smelly meat for bait, but all it caught was a young Tawny eagle and a Slender Mongoose.

We had a night-shooting licence for collecting purposes and these trips in the Landrover on the terraces of the river-bed resulted in the shooting of some useful specimens, including several genets, a wild cat and an African Lynx or Caracal. Bush and ground squirrels were collected mainly on the plain. This involved a long and bumpy ride in the Landrover, but it was worth it. We saw a great variety of game: gemsbok, zebra, steenbok, roan, wildebeest and a vast herd of springbok, estimated by Mr. Ginn at 900 head. Here we shot our jackals, after many exciting chases in the Landrover. Searching for the faint home-trail after it had been lost in the heat of the chase proved difficult for some, but not for Mr. Coleman, who demonstrated "navigation by compass" with devastating accuracy to our admiring group which at first entertained some doubt about this method of finding our way home, and had viewed the disappearance of the mark left by the previous party with apprehension.

John Greenacre bundu bashing
Another form of thrill was provided by Mr. Greenacre driving his Landrover through the scrub. With the windows and doors removed, there was little to stop the spiky branches with their vicious thorns whipping at your face and arms and as Mr. Greenacre patently enjoyed bashing through the thickest and thorniest bushes, you had to be pretty alert and nimble to come through it unscathed. In fact, there were surprisingly few injuries of any kind on this expedition, and Doctor John's professional services were required only on two occasions, neither of them serious.

The camp routine
What about the other side of the coin, "the daily round, the common task"? Camp-duties, such as collecting and boiling the water, the baking of bread, preparing the meals were taken in turn by the groups and were fulfilled with notably greater efficiency by some than by others, but the food was good on the whole and the amount of beer consumed well within reasonable limits. The writing-up of specimens was usually done by the more literate members of the group. There was a moment of embarrassment when it was discovered that the big spring-balance to weigh the heavier specimens was left behind; however, the maths department soon came up with an answer to that one. An aluminium tent-pole, a piece of string, a ruler and a pound of margarine would make a serviceable scale, if only Mr. Brodsky could master the simple calculation involved. But as a spring hare could obviously not weigh either 30 lbs. or 3 oz., even he managed to deduce that the right answer must be 3 lbs.

The change of season and weather
From then on it was plain sailing, if we overlook the monotonous regularity with which the pound weight disappeared and was found to have been eaten. Africa is a land of contrast. The truth of this platitude was brought home to us forcibly on this expedition: first class roads alternating with sandy bush-tracks; parched desert on one side, abundant water in the river; thick thorn-scrub next to treeless, grassy plain; hot days and cold nights; winter one week and summer in the next. The singularity of this last phenomenon was particularly striking. On the 13th August the temperature began to rise steeply, on the 15th it was up in the nineties, the sky turned dark and menacing and a thunderstorm blew up with dramatic suddenness.

Our camp was a dry-weather camp and the staff had no canvas over them. They and the Africans took precautions in time; not so the boys ! But they rose to the occasion: in the pelting rain MacLaurin and his group provided an excellent hot supper and with appetites sated, morale was restored and soon the sound of happy singing issued from the boys' vast, if somewhat dripping sleeping-tent. The tunes were old favourites, the words topical and libelous, not to say defamatory. The rain gradually eased up and by the time the last drops fell, all were asleep in more or less waterproof nooks and crannies in the camp.

And so "summer" was "icumen in," but it was not yet the case of "lhude sing cuccu." The birds were still wary and refused to sing. The days became unpleasantly hot and at night a deafening chorus of bullfrogs from the river drowned the howling of jackals. The reptiles came to life. The coming of summer somehow seemed to bring out the more aggressive side of Africa. The mamba was only the spearhead: in one day we caught more snakes than in the whole previous week. When, on the 17th, the last Landrover drove off, we were hardly out of sight when the first vultures began to circle above the abandoned camp. Africa was claiming back its own.

Paul Brodsky

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