Whatever You Do, Don't Run

I just finished a great book I just had to share. It's called Whatever You Do, Don't Run, true tales of a Botswana safari guide, by Peter Allison. In it, Peter describes his years as a safari guide, the stupid things he has done to almost be killed by the ferocious predators of Africa, and the quirky people he has met along the way. It's one of the most pleasing books I've ever read. Quick read and absolutely hilarious. If you're interested in animal anecdotes, pick it up and give it a read.

This is the first entry in the book that made me laugh out loud: the background is that his camp is experiencing a mouse plague, where literally you can throw a shoe into the corner of your tent and kill at least two mice. Peter has tried to alert the camp management (who are based in another location) about the problem, as mice are not typically found on the list of wildlife that tourists on safari would like to see. The camp management simply sends them one small, ecofriendly mousetrap in response to their problem. Peter explains, "we were almost 90 miles away, but we often felt as if we were on another planet from the people in the office. Somehow we needed to make them understand."

The story continues...
"That night we put some peanut butter in the lower tier [of the trap]. As we watched, a mouse approached and climbed the access door to the top level. he ran along inside the cage, until he hit a spring loaded hatch that dropped him to the lower level, at which point the hatch sprang back, trapping him on the lower section. Another mouse followed almost immediately. By morning the cage was so full that mice were pressed hard up against the bars of their prison. Without emptying it, we put the trap into the mailbag and returned it to the office.

"They sent it back, empty, with a note, addressed from the office cat, simply saying, 'thanks.' We decided it was to be a war of attrition, so set the trap again. The first guide to come out in the morning found the cage full again, but with the mice backed in abject terror against one side. There was a cobra whose head and first third were in the cage with them. To the snake the cage must have looked like a buffet, and it had slithered in, only to find that when it swallowed its victims they stuck in its gullet where the bars were pinching. From the lumps we deduced it had swallowed three before possible indigestion or a tail tickling its throat made it stop. Nobody wanted to pull it out, so we picked the whole thing up, stuck it in the mailbag, and sent it away again, the cobra hissing angrily. This time when the office returned it empty, it didn't have a thank-you note."

He tells of the monkeys that, in a very timely manner, which is to say whenever you were napping, would dive-bomb from the trees onto your bouncy tent, having a grand old time at your expense. On one of these occasions, being particularly cranky, he barreled from his tent running at them, but they only sat in the trees waiting for him to return to his attempted sleep before starting up again. He threw a stick at them, which they mistook for a snake. From this reaction, he got an idea. He ran inside camp and stole the stuffed cat from the camp gift shop. He threw it up at the monkeys, who mistook it for some kind of amazing new species of flying cat, and finally ran away.

He describes the dangers of falling in love with the animals that surround camp, as many of them end up eaten or dead rather quickly in the dog-eat-dog world of the African plains. Camp pets include a gennet (a weasel-like mammal with wild cat markings), a reluctant honey badger, a baby squirrel (who took up an unlikely companionship with a lonely mouse), and a bald monkey.

Run-ins with lions and elephants are a common occurrence for Peter, as well as the drowning of two camp vehicles. He attempts to get unusually close to a particular elephant herd and, as he so eloquently puts it, "like every other guide or wildlife lover who is eventually eaten or trampled, I felt that I had a bond with this herd that would make me safe with them." His love of the land is contagious, and his love of wildlife is awe-inspiring. I recommend this book for a quick, easy and fun read to anyone who loves wildlife or conservation.


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