de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2007). A Dangerous Adventure. Living. November- December 2007. Pages 34-35. Volume 03, Issue 02. ISSN 1800-0746.
A foot safari in the Mara and Serengeti, in search of hippos.
Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne goes on a foot safari in the Mara and Serengeti, in search of hippos
Charles had a very self assured manner which had a calming influence on us. He command of English was very good, and his manners very pleasant. He seemed like good raw material to be groomed into senior management. I could not think of an unlikelier place to come across someone like him than the border of Kenya and Tanzania where the savannas of the Masai Mara stretched into Tanzania. Over the border it became known as the Serengeti. These borders exist only on mad made maps perceptible only to us. Similarly the territorial borders carved out by the resident hippos are not perceptible to us. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time could prove to be very dangerous. Especially if one found oneself between a hippo and its safe passage into water.
Under such conditions Charles placed his faith on bush craft and a long barreled gun in his right hand. Better views of the hippos can be had from around the bend said one of the rangers from the Kenya Wildlife Service at this simple outpost. We straggled along the footpath which followed the contours of the river bank. It cut though some thickets and grasslands and we kept going. The ‘bend’ seemed about ten minutes more of walking than we had anticipated. I was not without misgivings about the safety of the un-planned foot safari. One ranger with a gun was having to secure ten adults most of whom could not run to catch a bus. Out-running a hippo would be out of the question. Hippos are not meat eaters. But they can bite a man in half with the same ease as we can bite a stick of celery into half. Hippos being carnivorous don’t actually eat people. They prefer grass. But this is not much comfort if you have been separated into two halves.
There was another creature of the Mara waterside which did eat meat and would be quite satisfied with man on the menu. It has been eating us ever since a bi-pedal hominid evolved in Africa. The Nile Crocodile. Like the hippo, the Nile Crocodile can immerse itself under water shutting its nostrils with a plug to make it waterproof. It can lie concealed in water so that its prey cannot see it until it is too late.
The risk from crocodiles could be avoided by staying away from the water’s edge. The noise of chatter from the group would help a hippo blundering into us. I fell behind the group, distracted by the bird life. I did have a strategy in case a hippo charged. I would fist yell loudly so that Charles would hear. Then I would race off to away from the hippo to the nearest cover, tossing my camera bag aside to distract the hippo. Somehow the plan did not feel quite right and I hurried back to join the group.
A few more bends later, having passed a few hippo groups, the group found a big herd of hippos calmly wallowing in the water. A mother and calf played games submerging and emerging in unison. Pairs of eyes and nostrils protruded water from the silt laden Mara River, which flowed gently. Contented grunts from the hippos interrupted the steady rippling rhythm of the water. Suddenly two sheets of water rose form the water. A seething mass of foam, cloaking the glistening fury of two male hippos who were clashing. Huge jaws opened wide, incisors rounded and pointed, the size of stumps, viciously lashed out. Tooth cut into flesh, blood mixed with the raging water. One male backed off. The victor held ground. With receptive females, clashes between males can be bloody, but many duels are short lived. The water resumed its steady rippling rhythm. Hippos wallowing seemingly contentedly. A Nile crocodile slipped away from the bank, breaking the surface with slow, easy lazy strokes of its tail. We had felt the pulse of the African savanna, a savage paradise, where calmness is just a veneer on the constant friction, the battle for survival.

Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne is a corporate personality who is also a writer and photographer who popularizes wildlife. . E-mail him at gehan@jetwing.lk to subscribe to his wildlife e-newsletter.