Sometimes an African safari goes wrong but not often, thankfully. However, there must be many occasions when there are "happenings" of a more or less harmless/funny/worrying nature although not spoiling your trip could be put down to unfortunate circumstances or happenstance/ coincidence. Well, I'm here to tell you that these things do not happen by chance, they are the work of the Tokolosh.
Now, a Tokolosh is more or less an African relative of our old friend Mr. Murphy - you know - "if anything can go wrong, it will". A Tokolosh is a little imp who goes around messing things up on safari.
I've had a few instances of the likelihood of a Tokolosh operating in my proximity. In the ensuing stories, names and places have been disguised to protect the innocent - and the guilty - they know who they are!
The one that springs immediately to mind is that of the undercarriage.
It was a long charter to a remote region of western Tanzania across a large body of water. Now, I'm not particularly concerned about flying, it's just that I am very prone to motion sickness and like to fly in nice calm weather so that I arrive in good shape and without my visage attaining that sickly green colour. (Yes, it really does!)
The trip itself was uneventful, very pleasant and turbulence free. After a couple of circuits, two of them a bit "bumpy", we landed without incident, or so it appeared. I had noticed nothing unusual, but unbeknown to yours truly, the landing gear would not deploy - thence the bumpy circuits. Due to the professionalism of both my pilot and co-pilot (also my PH), I was unaware of the situation and thought at the time we were flying around so that I could see a bit of the concession from the air. The undercart had to be released manually after some consultation of the manual.
Yes, a Tokolosh had been at work.
A Tokolosh doesn't only operate things mechanical, it also operates things animal.
On that same trip, as we emerged from some dense bush into an open area in the hunting car, our driver suddenly accelerated wildly such that we hunting seat passengers could only hang on grimly whilst the car flew from rut to hole to bump. After about 100 yards or so the driver stopped and, responding to the inevitable stream of abuse, (in both English, Welsh and Swahili), pointed back along the track to where a black mamba was rearing up, trying its best to come after us. It transpired that the unfortunate snake was crossing the track as we emerged from the bush and had been run over by all four wheels, presumably breaking it's back in two places. Poor old bugger! The driver had seen the snake but had been unable to stop in time and took the best course of action ie, get the hell out of it! No-one, not even the Game Scout, appeared keen to go back to put it down.
Obviously, a Tokolosh had arranged matters and we were lucky that our excellent driver took the correct evasive action.
At a recent camp, hyena were a bit of a nuisance for the first few days although I wasn't bothered until the third night when they decided to kill some unfortunate creature in the bush at the back of the camp. OK, that's Africa, but its difficult to get to sleep with all that racket going on 50 yards away. Nevertheless, I drifted off eventually but, about four o'clock, I suddenly found myself fully awake with all senses alert. African nights are BLACK, and inside the tent you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. What with the local frogs serenading their loved ones, the sense of smell was the only sense available. Consequently, I could hear, see or smell nothing but some sixth sense told me there was something wrong. I checked the loaded, safetied .416 Weatherby on the bed near my left hand and the companion Maglite. I lay there trying to make sense of the situation but, no matter how I tried to rationalise, the feeling of imminent danger persisted. After what seemed a very long time,although my watch must have lied when it indicated 15 mins, the feeling passed and I drifted off to sleep. At dawn, there outside the tent, just where my head was inside, was the spoor of a big hyena. Somehow, I had known.
(No, I don't like Fisi, he's far too cheeky and intelligent for my liking. If you can steal dinner away from Simba, youve got to be pretty damn smart!)
On this same trip, hunting was really difficult, noon temperatures were certainly over 40 Centigrade (110+F) and evenings not much cooler. The river was very, very low and water at a premium and there was not much game in evidence because of the heat.
In order to reach that part of the concession where our team thought we had the best chance of a buff, the hunting car had to negotiate a very dodgy track up an escarpment. On this occasion, on topping the ridge, we hit a rock somewhere beneath the Landie with something which everyone assumed to be the towbar - only it wasn't - it was the fuel tank. The long ride that day was made substantially longer by running out of fuel at dusk on the return journey about 10 miles from camp. So there we were, 10 miles out, no fuel, no food, maybe enough water and darkness and don't let anyone tell you it's not DARK! - my God, is it dark! Camp couldn't be reached by radio (silly buggers had switched off) and no-one else was responding. The trackers gathered a stack of wood, lit a fire and we settled in for a long wait.
Our Game Scout - a really top-notch guy - was very worried. Not about us being out in the veldt and not because of what might cause us a problem - we had plenty of firepower to deal with that sort of situation - but because I had said that if lions were to invade as we awaited rescue or dawn, (whichever came first), I was determined to shoot a big male in self-defence. As it was a 10 day safari, lion were not on my licence (minimum 21 days), moreover, I could not have afforded the trophy fee - so it had to be "self defence". The Game Scout knew that if there was such a happening, his head would be on the block if all was not found to be kosher. There was a hand-held spotlight on the car and, for me, taking such a large animal, even with a .416 would have been easy. Unfortunately, only a single hyena put in an appearance but graciously declined to cause trouble.
Eventually, after many attempts and via circuitous routes, the Game Dept was raised by satphone and they came out and rescued us, bless 'em.
Another Tokolosh creation.
As an aside, our splendid Game Scout was expected to defend his patch and the hunters and other persons on it, with a Game Dept issued, single barrel, break-open, hammer 12G shotgun of dubious vintage and all of three, (yes, three), cartridges of equally uncertain age and origin! One of the cartridges looked like an old Eley Alphamax (for our American friends, a magnum 3" probably with an ounce and a half of tripleAs.) I would definitely not fire one of those in that very dodgy looking gun!
On my first trip to Tanazania, I was fortunate to have Armando Cardoso as my PH. His driver and head tracker was a wiry, very bright little fellow with an impish sense of humour and a very keen pair of eyes. Driving alongside the river, not far from camp, a female lion and two or three cubs took off from a patch of reeds, crossed the track and away into the long grass. Now, these were the first live wild lions I had ever seen and I wanted to take a look at the spoor. So, I hopped down from the car, leaving my rifle in the rack and sauntered the twenty or thirty feet to where I thought the spoor might be. I called to my PH that I would not be going far and to cover me. The driver, in the meantime under instruction of the PH, had slipped out of his seat, moved around the grass to my right in a flanking movement and suddenly charged me from the side, roaring. I got a hell of a shock, I can tell you. The rest of the crew were laughing fit to bust and so did I, once I had recovered my composure. Bastards! Motto? Never leave the vehicle without your rifle, you could be charged by a driver.
Incidentally, a few days later, we saw what may well have been a melanistic leopard in broad daylight, very unusual in the wild, so I'm told.