Africa Guide
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Guide to Africa

Oryx Battle in Namibia

Written by Matt Dry - trip leader

“I want to see something killed!” G. says with a glint in his eye, a wide grin splitting his face when he introduces himself and says what he most wants to see in Africa on his 56 day trip. There is a titter of laughter and more nods of agreement than not. It is not hard to understand the desire to witness a kill. It is one of Nature’s most dramatic visual spectacles certainly but there is a reason very few television shows allow the sound to be heard of the animals being killed. Most animals sound like a screaming child as it is being brought down and eaten by a predator. Very few people say they want to see a kill a second time. “Be careful what you wish for here in Africa, my new friend.” I say knowingly.

Oryx
Oryx

Indeed, something being killed has its fascination. It is the purest visual form of the Darwinian principles that insure the survival of species. For the lion, only the most capable, the strongest, and most aggressive will be able to bring down its prey to feed its young and survive to breed. For the antelope or zebra, it is only the fastest and most agile that will elude the predators and live to have offspring. With intra-specie competition, only the most powerful must prove in battle that he has the right to live, breed, and reign in his given territory. It is in these battles that kill or be killed is the ultimate rule of engagement and usually the most brutal. It is this experience that brings out the primal understanding that we have about our most essential nature. We as animals, no matter how civilized we believe ourselves to be, have beneath it all a base instinct to survive and perpetuate ourselves as we see fit and within our given worlds.

It is morning in the Namibian desert. The sun has just risen, bathing the stark vastness of the Namib-Naukluft in a golden –orange brilliance. The passengers are still waking up from their early rise, looking forward to being back in the arms of civilization in the seaside town of Swakopmund. The wilds of Africa have not just yet been wild enough for them in savagery’s terms, but certainly so in the lack of civilization’s amenities.

N., our driver, slows as he approaches the animals entangled in front of us in the sand of the desert road. I can see immediately this is not a friendly sparring match between two Oryx bulls. The speed, dexterity, and force with which they are attempting to stake each other with their spear-like horns bespeaks these two mean business. Lethal business. “This is not something that happens very often, guys, let alone seen.” I say to the passengers. “Two antelope fighting to the death is much rarer than most believe. Most animals solve their dominance issues with rituals and almost no physical contact.” N. switches off the vehicle and we sit and watch..

The two animals, magnificent creatures in the prime of their lives, are utterly exhausted. The muscles beneath the animals’ skin writhe like subcutaneous serpents. Their deep, powerful breathing is almost tangible in the truck as they press their bulk and slash their heads sideways and around trying to impale each other. The harsh clacking of the horns as they smash into each other and deftly parry one another’s savage thrusts makes some of the passengers jump. Then, of course, there is the blood.

The horns of an Oryx can be over a meter long. Straight and dagger sharp at the ends, they could easily skewer a foe or an enemy attempting to do it harm. There is an account of a lion, having attempted to make a meal of an Oryx, finding itself inextricably impaled on the horns. Unable to extricate itself from this impalement, the two creatures died in this most intimate and horrible of entanglements.

During this battle, one of the beautiful creatures has snapped his horn off in the side of his foe. Its black shaft sticks painfully from a gaping, oozing hole in the ribcage. It is not quite as stomach-churning as the fact that the horn has obviously penetrated into its lung. With every powerful breath it expels, blood froths from its lips. The other Oryx is a mass of slashes and cuts, blood lying over its beautiful white, black, and grayish coat like an angry Jack Pollack painting. It is impossible to look away

Many sit with their mouths hung open in awe and horror. It is more than a car wreck. Much more. It is the fight for survival that most humans would dread if put in the hooves of such an animal. It makes one wonder what could possibly be worth this battle of blood and certain death. I look at G. to see if he has received his wish. The look on his face betrays his true feelings even as he snaps photos of the living carnage. He could begin projectile vomiting at any moment.

I try and soften the horror of the scene with “I know its tough to see, guys, but this is how Oryx determine who will pass on his superior genes. If an animal like this cannot defeat a fellow Oryx with strength and prowess, how will he do against a lion or group of hyenas? By fighting like this, they make sure the strongest indeed survive.” No one is listening. S. appears at my shoulder, tears in her eyes, her hands thrown up in front of her mouth. I know she wants to close her eyes and never see this again. I know, like everyone riveted to these beautiful animals savaging each other, they will never not see this image when they think of their trip through Africa.

N., perhaps stirred by an innate want to help a living creature suffering, starts the engine and guns it in neutral. The Oryx do nothing to show they have heard it. Indeed, they move even closer to the truck in pushing and shoving each other. Desperately N. honks the horn but to no avail. He finds a gear and jumps the truck toward the antelope gladiators. Some passengers cheer, including G.

We are no more than five meters from the dying, desperate animals when N. stops, but they are oblivious. They, and their fight for dominance, are each other’s entire universe. S. whimpers next to me, “Please go! Just go…”. It is enough. I wave for N. to get us out of here. He backs the truck from the fixated bulls. He guns the engine and we tear away from the merciless battlers. All bodies and eyes shift to the back of the truck as the Oryx fade in the distance.

As the carnage disappears behind us, it is like a funeral in the truck. A few sniffles are heard. Some check their photos as others stare out the window. I look at G. one last time before sitting down. He is blinking tears from his eyes as he fidgets with his camera. I know no photo will ever make him feel better about getting his wish. Yet, these photos and its memories, will help him recognize that he was privileged enough to see one the grim, fascinating wonders, not only in Africa’s wilds, but also in all Nature.

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