Letaba is well known for the stunning view over the Letaba River. But even more for the numerous bushbucks that occupy the rest camp. Most of them have been born in the camp and have not known the outside hardships of wild bushbuck.
Every so often we try to minimise the number of bushbuck in the camp by relocating them. Especially the rams can become very aggressive when testosterone starts ruling their heads. And with their straight sharp horns, they can really hurt someone.
So while I was standing in as the section ranger at Letaba a few years ago. we decided we needed to do a bit of a bushbuck clean up in the camp. We focused on mostly the males. The state vets from Skukuza Lin-Marie and her husband Rudi offered to assist. They were going to dart as many rams as possible to take out the rest camp.
I was on patrol the morning, but after I returned I met up with them in camp. I was delighted to hear they had already darted and removed three rams!
One huge ram, in particular, was in my sights and he was hanging around the D circle close to the restaurant. Rudi snuck up to him between the huts. Luckily there were very few people around during the heat of the day. When the dart found its mark the ram jumped and ran towards the restaurant. The drugs were taking longer than usual, possibly because of the darts plunger not activating correctly on impact.
As we cautiously moved closer Lin-Marie mentioned that he was not looking healthy at all. He had a swelling on his neck, and we would possibly have to euthanize him and do a necropsy to see what is wrong with him.
The bushbuck slowly moved around the restaurant and suddenly Lin shouted to us to hurry! The drugs were finally taking effect on the sickly buck and he could fall off the embankment in front of the restaurant.
The last thing I wanted was for people to witness a bushbuck jumping off the edge while they were having lunch. So both Rudi and I started to run. He went left and I decided to run through the restaurant to save time. Thinking only in the moment and in full webbing and gear, I ran down the steps, past the people in the restaurant and over the small wall on the edge of the terrace.
The bushbuck was teetering drunk on the edge and walked slowly towards me. I stood ready and as he approached me he lowered his horns and made a half-hearted attempt to come at me. I held my ground, hands ready and grabbed him by both horns and flipped him on his back away from the edge.
When I made my mad dash thought the restaurant, I didn’t realise how packed the stoep outside was. But when I looked up I saw a huge crowd standing there, filming me wrestle this bushbuck to the ground. I can only imagine how strange this must have looked. And I did not want to let on that we would probably be euthanizing this ram. So I just said: “Sorry folks we just going to get this bushbuck some medical care!” and with that everyone started clapping and cheering.
Red-faced and embarrassed we quickly loaded the patient onto a stretcher. I muttered to Rudi under my breath to move fast as we carried him to the vehicle.
After examining the bushbuck, Lin decided he was in terrible condition and decided to euthanize him outside the camp on a no-entry road. The necropsy revealed that he had terrible TB nodules on his lungs. An act of mercy that saved him from a slow death and possibly prevented other bushbuck in Letaba Rest Camp from getting the same disease.
I’m sure the guests on the restaurant’s stoep did not expect to see a ranger run past them while they were enjoying lunch and the stunning views of the river. And then to see him grab a bushbuck by the horns and carry him off on a soft canvas stretcher!
I got a feeling they did not mind the afternoon action…;-)
Until we meet around the fire again!