Set at Hongonyi Game Lodge…
On Saturday morning we were expecting guests from Joburg who were flying up for the weekend. The pilot had given me their ETA, and sure enough, right on schedule, I could hear the plane approaching. As is the normal thing to do, the pilot circled overhead, to adjust his approach. I was standing outside reception at the time, so I just watched out of interest to see exactly what plane was going to land. (Piper Cherokee). Then the pilot circled again… and again… and yet again. By now I was starting to think that there must be a problem with the airstrip or something. (We had prepared it well ahead of time, and had checked it again that morning).
Unbeknown to me, when student ranger Quinten had gone up to wait at the strip for the guests to arrive, he had found some of our giraffe standing exactly in the middle of the runway – and had herded them off with the vehicle, only to have them return as soon as he had parked out of the way. So he chased them off again, and waited to see where they went. They seemed to get the idea this time, moseying off into the bush, so he proceeded down the strip to the designated ‘plane parking area’.
By now the plane was approaching, so Quinten settled back to watch the landing, only to be puzzled when the Piper came in low for approach, then aborted landing and went up to circle again. The plane circled overhead, before swinging round again for the second attempt – and repeated the previous maneuver.
With this, Quinten drove down from the parking area onto the strip and found, much to his consternation, that the giraffe were back in the middle of the strip, but this time there were more of them! They had obviously copped on to the fact that there was something good about to happen, so they had rounded up the troops to come and watch. Front row seats, what more could one ask for?
So off sped Quinten, to herd the giraffe away, yet again. They actually weren’t very impressed with his efforts – they were much more interested in watching the aircraft – and only after “a heated discussion” did they dain to move to the side of the strip.
It must be added here that, due to the relatively close location of the Hoedspruit Airforce Base, the giraffe are old hands at aircraft noises – the guys don’t fly all that often, but I have had occasion to watch 3 fighter jets flying in formation almost directly over the Giraffes’ heads.(Who didn’t even bat an elegant eyelash!)
Anyway, the pilot saw the gap, quickly circling tightly and putting the plane down under the impressed giraffes’ noses. After preparing the plane for the night, with thorn branches around the tyres, and the relevant procedures followed, the guests set off for the lodge with a slightly frazzled Quinten. Poor chap hasn’t experienced enough of the bush yet to know that this is VERY normal behaviour from giraffe. Arriving aircraft seem to have a magnetic attraction for them! They always seem to know exactly when we are expecting a plane, moving down to the strip in good time to watch the arrival. Perhaps they were pilots in a previous life, and come to watch and assess the abilities of the pilots coming in. Funnily enough, they are not at all interested in departing aircraft, and barely even bother to put in an appearance for the take-off.
I did notice, when approaching the area on our evening game drive, that a big old bull was appraising the aircraft most carefully. So impressed was he that he went and fetched a few youngsters to come and see the Cherokee. They all stood at a respectful distance, barely even glancing at us as we passed, seeming to admire the aircraft, before ambling back to their mothers.
It crossed my mind that I had perhaps just witnessed the imparting of some ancient giraffe wisdom – “Remember this sight children, for this is a mighty bird, which must be watched carefully at all costs – it roars like a lion, but passes overhead with the rush of a strong wind. It does not follow the laws of nature, humans are not afraid of it, even though it spits them out only to swallow them again later on – so mark it well, and if you see or hear one approaching, at least one of you must quickly come down to the long open area, and stand openly facing the bird, to show that All Giraffe are not afraid, for it only seems to threaten fiercely from above, but does not attack after it has come to rest. Remember this lesson, and all will be well…”
Well, at least, that what I think he told them!
(With tongue firmly in cheek, and thanks to Dave & Charmaine for inspiring this story!)