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From the City into the Bush

The first night I camped in the wild without the protection of fences around the campsite was in Mokolodi, close to Gaborone, Botswana. They do not have predators, but I was not used to the sounds around us—a rustle over here, something squeaking behind that tree. I climbed into my tent with sunset – much to the confusion of everybody else enjoying a nice campfire. Even the ranger came and asked if I was all right. When I think back to this, it still makes me laugh, realizing how strange I acted back then. That night, I was more frightened than excited; however, I was ready for this adventure.

Photograph © Ruth Heyduck

What you learn to fear when you live in Europe

The dangers seem endless when you read about Africa from a European perspective. That also applies to the African wilderness. First: lions! One of the large predatory cats in the world. I was sure they were waiting behind every acacia tree to have me for dinner, especially in an open Safari vehicle. I thought I must be like an appetizer on a rolling plate. Soon I realized that lions mostly sleep during the daytime. And if you do not take a walk in the bush after sunset, you’re safe. They cannot open cars; they usually don’t care for tents. And if you sit in front of a fire in the evening, they are probably more scared than you.

My second biggest fear was snakes. Again, it turns out that you are fortunate if you even see one. They tend to shy away if they feel your movement on the ground, except for the puffadder that hunts lying still. I have encountered poisonous snakes only since living close to a National Park in Tanzania. A green mamba decided to move into our garage. But that experience again confirmed they mean no harm. Only if I do something that threatens them, and they feel they must defend themselves. Above all, they are beautiful and unique creatures.

Photograph © Ruth Heyduck

What you learn to fear when you live in Africa

In Germany, you can learn about African wildlife in zoos. In Munich, we have lions, monkeys, giraffes, and elephants. I always wanted to get close to elephants. That changed quickly after being mock-charged several times and being stuck in a herd of newborn babies with grumpy moms. When I look through my pictures from years ago, they contain so many elephant pictures. Over the years, the number got fewer and fewer. Do not get me wrong; they are beautiful and majestic animals. But they are way more dangerous than lions and snakes together. My desire to meet them up close and personal changed into respectful appreciation from afar.

Also, as a kid, I loved monkeys of all shapes and sizes. But in Africa, I learned how annoying these little buggers could be, especially when you are out camping. Baboons often come in massive troops, and the dominant male can be aggressive sometimes. Even worse, most monkeys make excellent thieves. They know how to open boxes, sometimes even car doors. They are intelligent and organized, and they are fearless. They are no longer cute when you get raided for food by vervet or sykes monkey. Initially, I thought we were lucky to have them on our campgrounds. But that changed after sykes stole an avocado right out of my hand.

Photograph © Ruth Heyduck

Even after 130 Safaris in 48 National parks in Southern and Eastern Africa, I cannot get enough of it. The real deal has replaced the fantasies I had of the African wilderness. And the more I learned, the more I enjoyed it. Now it feels like I am connected, and I belong. Now I sit in front of a fire, watching the night sky fill up with stars enjoying all the sounds that are now so familiar: millions of crickets chirping around sunset—owls are howling in the distance. Bushbabies are screaming, jackals are barking, and hyenas are laughing. And when I am lucky, I hear lions roar.

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About the Author: 

Stefanie Ruth Heyduck is a freelance writer and consultant. She lives in Tanzania for half the year and spends every free minute in the bush. She is passionate about wildlife, conservation and photography and shares her sightings on Instagram (www.instagram.com/giraffe13).

About the Author:
Picture of Ruth Heyduck

Ruth Heyduck

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