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One of the wonderful things about small safari camps is the degree of expertise in animal behaviour that the people working there inadvertently build up over time through sheer exposure to wildlife. Some become experts on insects or birds. Others like a chef by the name of Meru that we worked with for a few years, became extremely adept at imitating the noises that animals make in different situations. One that sticks in the mind is “the noise a leopard makes when you trip up over it in the dark holding a tray of kebabs”
This particular incident unfolded much like a scene from a restoration farce, with cook and large cat approaching each other unwittingly - and in reverse of course - around a corner in the dark. Just like a stage production, the result was that the tray went airborne, cook and leopard fell into an ungainly heap. Fortunately, despite the presence of some rather sharp kebab sticks, nobody was hurt. After a wash they were still pretty good too. The noise – so memorable - that the leopard produced was alledgedly a mixture in equal parts of fear, surprise and intense embarrassment (possibly not the best emotion to evoke in something like a giant predatory cat).
While this was a memorable occasion, it was by no means the only one of its kind that we encountered involving safari cooks and their ability to draw large (mostly dangerous) animals like moths to a flame. From crocodiles causing havok in a flooded kitchen, lions sleeping by the camp fire on fly camps or elephants generally getting in the way, it seemed that the thick of the action was usually to be found somewhere within a radius of a few feet of where the cook was busily trying to produce culinary miracles over an open fire.
So I guess the moral is that even if you think you’ve done it all – game drives, flying safaris, walking safaris – the truth is you ain't seen nothing until you've spent some time at the heart of the real action; at the cook's side in the kitchen on a small bushcamp.