The Meanest Critter in the Neighborhood

By Safari Mike

Cape Buffalo

OK, not only isn’t there anything pretty about this guy, but he can be your worst nightmare. I’ll get back to the nightmare part in a little while. If you didn’t know it he’s a Cape Buffalo and one of the most deserving members of Africa’s Big Five. Just a refresher… the Big Five are the five most dangerous animals to hunt in all of Africa. Today they are the photo-safari “must have” list of sightings (lion, leopard, rhino, Cape buffalo, elephant).

However, this could be the meanest critter in the neighborhood. Big boys like this one could weigh in at up to 2100 pounds. If they are in a herd they actually don’t seem so bad, but you never want to tangle with an old lone bull. They’re the ones with the massive boss (boss is safari talk for the huge spread of horns on bulls that are almost fused together like armor) and perpetual PMS (I know he’s a guy, but you get the idea).

When hunters went after Cape Buffalo, they frequently found out they were the ones being hunted. This is one animal whose teeth are not the issue. After ‘Ferdinand’ got finished with you with his horns and hooves there wouldn’t be much left to bite. Oh, and the least known bit of insight is they have an excellent memory. That goes well with their ability to hold a grudge.

So….of course there’s a story. It was June 1983 …I had my group booked for 2 nights at the Mara Serena Lodge in Kenya’s Maasai Mara Preserve. The Mara has always been the crown jewel of Kenya’s safari locations. There is incredible game viewing throughout the preserve, although this sector had the greatest concentration of predators (the great migration comes through here every year and that’s like the worlds largest buffet for the predators). The Serena Lodge is built at the top of a hill with great views wherever you looked. However, due to a scheduling glitch, our arrival night was overbooked. Not the best of news on a safari since you only have two options… None and Nada.

The lodge was just one room short, so guess who that might affect (not Bwana Mike….hmmm) There was actually one area that might  have been a possibility for the one night, however, a second issue came into play.  You see…. Peggy R. had her two young daughters with her. She had gone on safari with my group the year before and wanted her girls to have the experience. Well, her younger daughter made “safari mistake #1…she left an open bag of chocolates on her bed (oh no…please, not open).

We left for our late afternoon game drive and upon returning  went directly to dinner. So while away for 4 hours with a window left half open (oops, safari mistake #2…oh no…please not open) their room was visited by about 50,000 siafu…SAFARI ANTS! If you just shuddered at the thought you’re not alone. These are the huge nasty ones. This was truly a BIG problem. So, with an overbooked lodge the manager, my buddy, Thomas Okenyo (don’t ask me how I remember this stuff, it must be in my DNA) gave them the room that supposedly didn’t exist. Somehow he found it and put 3 cots in it and moved them so that the siafu could be vacated (meaning encouraged to exit, not killed) .

INTERMISSION (oh hell, I wasn’t even planning that story, but it’s needed to finish this epic).

So, there we are, no rooms at the inn. It’s about 8:30 pm and pitch black outside. I ask Thomas if I can just sleep on a cushion in the dining room, but he has a “much better idea”. Thomas lives in his own little hut-like structure with an extra bed. Why don’t I just bunk with him for the one night and the rooms we need will be available tomorrow.

Perfect… By the way, Thomas, where might your cozy little hut be hiding (sez me).

“Oh, it has a wonderful view, just follow the path that leads right to it at the top of the hill…you do have a torch don’t you (they talk funny over there)? Just don’t leave the path and the door is not locked (of course it’s not locked, who the hell in their right mind would be coming to call). I’ll be over after closing up the main area” (sez he).

So, with flashlight, camera bag and my safari duffel in hand I start to follow Thomas’s ‘yellow brick road’. It is still pitch black and I am walking down a path I can barely find…that I wouldn’t have chosen to walk in the middle of the day. This is really insane. Thomas lives here and now I’m sure I’m probably gonna die here. At this point I’m really far from the lodge (especially at night) and doing the one thing that’s sure to attract a lion or maybe a whole pride out for its evening kill. Bwana Mike is thinking he’s in over his head and wants his rubber ducky. Believe it or not, I finally made it to the hut without being eaten or worse. At last… I get to the door and have about 10 seconds of relief before I hear some noise at the side of the hut. Before I can get the door completely open, I foolishly peek around to my right only to find myself looking into the eyes of what I thought was about to be my last sight on earth. An absolutely huge Cape Buffalo, probably around 2,000 pounds had apparently just gotten up and was now standing little more than the distance of the door… staring at me staring at him. OMG!! He won the staring contest ’cause I was through that door so fast I don’t think his little brain had time to register what had been in front of him a nano-second earlier. Standing inside the room, I tried to comprehend what just happened while I could still hear and feel my heart going at warp speed. I didn’t think  I’d survive the walk, so who needed the Cape Buffalo to complete my evening. Well, now for the cherry on top. I finally calm down and decide I’ve had enough excitement for the day and get into my assigned guest bed next to a view window. Oh, No! Looking right back through the window at me is the same pair of eyes and set of horns I was just trying to forget!

Can you guess what the subject of my first question would be when Thomas finally showed up, assuming he made it back in one piece? Turns out that same Cape Buffalo had been coming around for over a month and just slept next to that window. It seems they had an unwritten agreement that Thomas wouldn’t bother him if he didn’t bother Thomas. Seemed logical to them, but I had to sleep with Ferdinand as my ‘almost roommate’ barely separated by a thin mud wall. Although he was gone by morning, on schedule, I had just experienced my worst nightmare. As for Thomas….ho hum, just another normal day of  life in the bush. As for me….can’t wait for my next safari!

Safari Mike, Michael Appelbaum

Read More Safari Mike Adventures:

On Safari
One Tall Drink of Water
Wildlife Adventures


7 thoughts on “The Meanest Critter in the Neighborhood”

  1. Great story.!!!! Better you than me. My adventures are limited to the ABC tours in European cities after stopping along the Rivers in Germany, Austria and Hungary.
    If you’ve never gone on an ABC tour , you should try one. ( Every day you visit Another Beautiful Castle or Another Beautiful Cathedral.)

    1. "SafariMike" Appelbaum

      Well, Ben it sounds like I’d be as happy on that European tour as you seem to feel you’d be on safari. I know most people find those tours to be wonderful, but I’m afraid I’d be missing the Land Rover, dust and all those incredible 4 legged creatures. I’ve done some of Europe, but if I have the time to go anywhere it would have to include 25ply tires and the smell of Africa. But, don’t get me wrong. I think travel is a lot like the menu at a good restaurant…so many choices to fit everyone’s taste. I’m glad you enjoyed my mishaps.

  2. Once more you enthrall us with your stories of survival…..wow that was an experience. Thanks for remembering…God has blessed you with a great memory to be able to share to us. Donna

    1. "SafariMike" Appelbaum

      It really is amazing how some experiences can seem so vivid and real after so many years and yet I can’t remember five items on a grocery list. Strong emotional situations will either be remembered forever or locked away and hidden from memory or possibly remain in denial. I just love reliving some of these very memorable incidents and adventures. It’s really great for me, Donna cause I may be boring but I’m never bored. Thanks so much…I always appreciate your comments.

  3. Another fantastic Africa story. Epic!!!
    Got to experience those ants in a much tamer situation. Walking from the open air eating area to our tent at Mara Bush Camp, there was a long line of ants marching in single file across our walking path. Each time we would be warned by our escort to carefully step over the line of ants. I wondered why they didn’t use some kind of spray or at least sweep them away. We were told that they eventually move on to another spot. It took 3 days of stepping over them, but magically they did disappear.😊

    1. "SafariMike" Appelbaum

      Thanks Kathy. I’m really glad to hear that the staff allowed the ants to move out on their own. Generally these “siafu” will gather in millions! Colonies can be tremendous and they are just part of the African wildlife. You really don’t want to mess with them and you certainly learned how they magically appear and then just as magically disappear. You’re right about having a tamer introduction. It’s an entirely different situation when they decide to join you in your tent.

  4. Manijeh Badiozamani

    I tried to think what I was doing in June of 1983 – 38 years ago – when you were on that Safari having your adventure with Cape Buffalo! I suppose to go on such a Safari, one would need to have: interest, maturity, stamina, and financial ability.

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