20. Some unpleasant creatures. And some wildlife.

When I was young, I used to love watching wildlife documentaries. My best were the ones narrated by Sir David Attenborough, but most of them followed a fairly similar formula. A large, dedicated team of wildlife photographers would go out and, with incredible patience, over a period a year or two, collect hundreds of hours of film. Film of nature in its natural state. This would be pared down to a few hours of incredible footage which would be clearly and exhaustively explained by Sir David in his sensible, well-modulated, and inimitable voice.

The wise old grandfather of wildlife documentaries

The wise old grandfather of wildlife documentaries

We watched and learned. We learned all sorts of interesting facts, but more importantly than that we learned an approach to nature. Be patient. Be still. If you wait long enough, and observe closely enough, you will see amazing things.

Things have changed. There’s a new approach to wildlife documentaries. It’s fresh. It’s exciting. Documentary makers are no longer happy to sit back and wait. They want to really get in there and be part of the story.

The dodgy uncle of wildlife documentaries

The dodgy uncle of wildlife documentaries

This is how it’s done. You need a cameraman, a sound guy, and an arsehole. You go out and find yourself a large, seemingly dangerous wild animal and set up your camera and microphone. Then you get the arsehole to jump on the wild animal, or at the very least poke it with a sharpened stick.

This is cutting edge documentary making. It’s quick and it’s cheap, and you don’t have to waste any time teaching your viewers any boring old facts. This is not wildlife seen from a detached point of view. This is Grand Theft Auto wildlife. This is getting in there with nature and kicking its ass. And then duct-taping it to a stick.

Nature in all its magnificent splendour

Nature in all its magnificent splendour

If this is sounding a little familiar to some of you, it’s because I’ve written about this before. But I’m revisiting it. Because something special happened this week. A new generation has come of age.

You see, just like me, the generation that followed me apparently also watched a documentary or two. They watched and learned. They learned absolutely no important facts. More importantly than that, they learned an approach to nature. Don’t sit around and wait. Get in there and grab nature by the throat. Kick its ass. Duct-tape it to a stick.

When I scrolled through the news this morning, I saw that two young Australians had put this valuable education to good use. They went off to a remote part of the outback to catch some fish. The fish obviously weren’t biting, because they spent the weekend filming themselves wrestling salt-water crocodiles and posting the pictures on YouTube.

Catch anything?

Catch anything?

Typical. You can’t take an Australian anywhere. At least not if there is going to be beer there. I shook my head disapprovingly and scrolled on. To this. These are my people.

Typical. You can’t take a South African anywhere. At least not if there is going to be beer there.

There’s something a bit sad going on here. What these kids are doing seem wildly dangerous and risky. It makes them seem both stupid and brave. But actually it’s mostly just stupid. I don’t know many of the details of the Australian incident, but there is a reason that Steve Irwin, pioneer crocodile molester, could do what he did.

The saltwater crocodile is the world’s biggest and most dangerous. But it is a crocodile, and a crocodile is a fairly simple machine. It has a limited set of responses, and isn’t very smart. And it has a fatal flaw. Like all crocodiles, it can close its jaws with incredible force. What it can’t do with incredible force is open them again. The muscles that open the jaws are weak. So weak that if a drunken Australian youth gets his hands around them, those jaws are not going to open. And a crocodile without its teeth is a disarmed crocodile.



It is still however, a huge and powerful animal, and if those kids had made one tiny mistake, someone could have died.

I know a bit more about the South Africans. Believe it or not, those hooting, bellowing fools on that vehicle are all game rangers. Young, drunk game rangers, freed for once from the tedium of behaving nicely for their paying guests, and out for a party. As rangers, every day, twice a day, they take guests out to show them animals like elephants. They know elephants. They can read their body language and judge their moods.

I know a little bit about elephants myself. As big and frightening and threatening as that elephant seems, that is not a dangerous elephant. That is a nervous elephant. It’s making itself look bigger to try and get the rangers to back down. But it doesn’t want to hurt anyone. It just wants to be left alone. They knew that 99% of the time, if they ran at him, he would turn and flee. And 99% is good odds for drunken young men.

Nothing to worry about.

Nothing to worry about.

I have seen people do what that fool in the clip did before. But in very different circumstances. The people I saw do this were backing down an elephant that was about to stumble onto a bunch of hikers. They were protecting the people whose lives they had been entrusted with. Not like this asshat, who seems to be in dire need of some quality time up a sausage tree.

I’m sure that this is all sounding a little more ranty than my usual posts, but there’s a reason for that. When I was about eighteen or so, I went down to the bush by myself for a week or two, and I had a run in with an elephant. It didn’t look like the elephant in the clip. There was no posturing, or ear flapping, or slow advancing. The first I knew of it was the crack of a branch behind me. When I saw it, it was coming at me at speed. There was no trumpeting. Its ears were tucked back against its body. It didn’t want to frighten me away. It wanted to kill me.

Time, perhaps, for a little concern.

Time, perhaps, for a little concern.

I put my foot down, but I was driving a thirty year old Land Rover, a car not well known for its breakneck acceleration. The elephant must have got within ten metres of me before I pulled away. But pull away I did, and drove straight up to the area ranger’s office to report it. Elephants aren’t supposed to do that. But soon I understood why it did.

A few days before this happened, an elephant had been shot a few kilometres away. Elephants are amazing creatures, and can communicate over huge distances. All the elephants in the area knew what had happened, and they were all jumpy.

And that’s the thing. You don’t want a four ton behemoth with sharpened stakes at one end to be jumpy. That elephant in the clip isn’t going to disappear into a vast empty wilderness. It lives in the Kruger Park. The Kruger Park is a pretty busy place. It gets visited by over a million people a year. Very few of whom are rangers. And one of those people is going to be the next person who runs into this elephant. And who knows what will happen then.

This guy might have a vague idea.

This guy might have a vague idea.

Certainly not that stupid little boy and his big brave friends.


37 thoughts on “20. Some unpleasant creatures. And some wildlife.

  1. Yup, the ranger did an incredibly stupid thing. In SA we have a variety of jolks about stupid foreigners too. Like the Chinese folks who got out of their car to get a closer picture of a lioness.

    Bet you I could find some pictures of your countrymen raging drunk driving down a highway and make the assumption you are just as stupid?

    It doesn’t matter what environment you live in, everyone has done something stupid at least once in their lives.

    If we are lucky we get to walk away and tell the story.
    If we’re not we end up like those Chinese folks.
    Or roadkill somewhere in Utah.

  2. Max Shields says:

    Reblogged this on Max Shields and commented:
    23thorns makes an excellent (and funny) point about the necessity of respecting wildlife. We all too often forget our place in Nature. This rant puts us back in line.

  3. Max Shields says:

    Brilliant post. Fewer and fewer people are in touch with nature or learn to respect our part within it. Your rant is on target. Two thumbs up!

  4. theh2obaby says:

    “Not like this asshat, who seems to be in dire need of some quality time up a sausage tree.” Thank you for the funniest line all day. And “asshat” just happens to be one of my favorite insults, along with “inbred, knuckle-dragging mouth-breather,” but that doesn’t fly off the tongue nearly so well. I’m not even sure what sort of millinery a bum would go in for or why, except perhaps if it was for the head-already-up. ? (Also, I open each of your posts individually to give highest view count. I know the thrill of the bar graph… but on a MUCH lower scale. Ooo! Somebody read it today.) ~molly

  5. Movies like Jackass haven’t exactly helped either. Not that many young men (and women) need encouragement to be complete morons.

  6. mariekeates says:

    I’m with Narf77, especially on the Johnny Depp front. Young men seem to have a built in self destruct button, just a pity the animals have to suffer. As for Steve Irwin and his ilk (the Uk has Bear Grills, although he usually eats the things he catches), I am not at all fond of dare devil nature documentaries and would much rather have Richard Attenborough or the very sedate and sensible Ray Mears. 🙂

    • 23thorns says:

      It’s not the daredevil stuff that annoys me, so much as the fact that you can watch them do this for hours and learn not a single thing. At least Bear Grylls is teaching people something. Even if that something is how to drink your own urine.

  7. That was really well written. If depressing.
    What happened to the rangers? Did they get ‘disciplined’ in any way? Because you’re absolutely right, they’re not acting towards the elephant in a way conducive to a calm future between that elephant and the next loads of humans it encounters.

  8. mud4fun says:

    Another excellent post 🙂

    I disagree with narf77, it is not just young males that are a problem. I’ve witnessed plenty of very stupid young females too. If anything I’d say anybody under the influence of alcohol is a danger but the teenagers have far more trouble controlling themselves and a group of drunken teenage girls is as equally capable of doing stupid things as a group of males – just ask the Police who have to patrol any major UK city centre on a Friday night!!!

    • 23thorns says:

      I think that’s mostly a UK thing, part of that whole binge drinking problem. Thankfully it doesn’t seem to have reached us yet.

      • mud4fun says:

        You are indeed fortunate. I think however it is heading your way as it is a problem not just for UK but now many places across Europe. We have offices around Europe and colleagues inform me that the teenage drinking issue has spread into places such as France and Spain – to be fair though, it is probably in areas frequented by the undesirables from the UK that now prefer to holiday abroad via cheap flights etc 😉 You should be safe for a while as I don’t think these cheap package deals go to South Africa yet? 🙂

        My eldest daughter, 21, gets upto things that I simply did not do at her age. Sure, I drank a fair amount with my friends but in those days it was pints of beer in the local country pub which closed at 11pm and we all walked home or had a nominated driver who wasn’t drinking. By midnight just about everybody was back at home. These days with clubs open all hours the youngster are out drinking for much longer. We’ve been worried sick at times, especially after getting a call from my daughters boyfriend at 1am to ask if she was at home with us – my wife was in near hysterics as not only was she not here but she was meant to be with him as they lived together in University digs. It turned out she’d had too much to drink and wondered off through the centre of Hull at midnight on her own. Hull at night is a place even the toughest man will think twice about frequenting. The height of stupidity by my daughter! 😦

      • 23thorns says:

        I don’t think those package deals would work out. South Africa is a wonderful place to live, but it is not for the faint hearted. It’s a terrifyingly violent culture. Bunches of inexperienced tourists wandering drunk throught the streets would get eaten alive.

  9. Lyn says:

    I love watching David Attenborough’s documentaries and at the moment, there are two different series running on TV where I am. I’m starting to get a collection of them (yeah, I know, at 65 I’m starting a bit late in life)
    Australians are, I think, quite divided regarding Steve Irwin. We were all sad when he was killed the way he was – especially sad for his wife and little children, but I have to admit I found his ‘style’ of documentary mind bogglingly stupid at times. I think 99% of Australians agree that the one thing he did that was beyond stupid was when he jiggled his newborn baby son in front of a huge croc. The press slammed him well and truly over that and rightly so.
    My daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter stayed in Kruger National Park a few years ago and after seeing all their photos and short videos, I am extremely jealous.

    • 23thorns says:

      I was actually quite fond of him. He had a childlike and infectious enthusiasm that was hard to ignore. And it wasn’t too bad when he was the only one. But he started something. Pretty soon, all you saw on the wildlife channel was people catching crocs. And snakes. And sharks. I hardly watch the wildlife channels any more.

  10. syrbal says:

    I’ve not watched animal shows in forever, as a young teen, I was in love with this guy; but he isn’t wasting his time with a lasso anymore. This is why I am still in love with him!

  11. lylekrahn says:

    Great title. You raise some great points in a good post.

    The sad part is that acting properly really isn’t that complicated.

    • 23thorns says:

      I fear that acting properly is too complicated for young men in the 18 to 30 age group. Look for the ten dumbest bits of behaviour on YouTube, and the people involved will look and sound just like these guys. I just wish they could have found a cliff or a motorbike to play with, and left the animals alone.

  12. When I was four or so I was floating on my stomach in deep water off a reef in the ocean in the north-west of Western Australia with a mask and snorkel. My father was standing on the reef spearing fish. I suddenly felt myself being lifted our of the water as a large dark shadow swam under me. It was a huge salty and Dad lifted me up to give it a bit more room to pass under me. Then he put me in the water again. He said if the croc lets you see it you have nothing to worry about. I can’t imagine what these guys are thinking. A lot of people have been killed by crocs and it’s not the one you’re teasing that will attack. It’s his mates hiding in the shadows you have to worry about.

    • 23thorns says:

      That’s kinda what I was saying. These guys weren’t being as brave as they thought they were.
      Your father, by the way, has balls of steel!

  13. narf77 says:

    There is a reason why insurance companies charge the most exorbitant rates for insurance for males between the ages of 15 and 35. I think your post today manages to shed a little light on that common condition know to all men prior to learning that the world really IS out to get them. Stupidity is a learned and shared experience folks and a group of young men is as dangerous to the world around them and to themselves as a pack of dogs. Nature doesn’t need all of those men…lets be honest, it’s the women that do all that nasty baby stuff and you really only need Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Johnny Depp…oh, and for the girls that like naughty boys, lets throw Robert Downey Jr. into the mix and the rest of you males…well…lets be honest, you really aren’t needed are you? After 35 you are “one of us”…slaves to children and mortgages and tied down to dead end jobs and you finally understand what responsibility is (well…some of you do…enough to allow nature and insurance companies to give you a break…). Prior to that you are wild cards and thus nature allows a goodly proportion of you to eliminate yourselves in highly amusing ways (nature has a sense of humour 😉 ). It’s just a pity that nature usually has to wear the cost of the young human males stupidity isn’t it?

    • 23thorns says:

      Yep. I was going to throw in something about the Darwin awards, but that would have been a whole new post. Or three.

      • narf77 says:

        Yeah…you had best save them for when you are up in the “80’s” and are almost having to resort to sparkly vampires and Justin Bieber (I am actually quite proud that I didn’t know how to spell that! 😉 )…

  14. KG Visions says:

    The elephant probably could not stand the sound of their voices. Thank you for sharing. When I brought people to Yellowstone back in the day, they would attempt to get so close to the bears. They just do not listen until something happens. Animals are called “wild” for a reason 🙂

  15. Hear, hear. I too can’t stand those new nature ‘documentaries’. I just don’t get what’s so fun and interesting in wrestling a crocodile. Sure it can be done, but does it have to be. Have you seen the one with where they catch great white sharks, tag and release them? They make a huge deal about the catch part (uh, oh, so dangerous) but only mention that this is, BTW, supposed to be science and that guy is a scientist, but hey, that shark, watch out, it’s DANGEROUS, and these guys are heroes who catch sharks alive and swim with them.

    Now you git me ranting too. Interesting that part about the elephants reacting to the shooting. Didn’t know that. Hope you could have found it out in a more relaxing manner too.

    • 23thorns says:

      Science schmience. I watched a whole show about a guy hiding in a fibreglass hippo in order to get a skin sample from a hippo by stabbing it. To get a skin sample from a hippo, all you néed to do is pop down to the local zoo and lean over a fence.

  16. Jocelyn Hers says:

    I’ve seen it in Pilanesberg – foreign tourists three feet from an elephant taking a long branch, tying their camera to it & taking a closeup of the elephant’s eye… They were, incidentally, not in a vehicle, but on foot… We left rapidly, but we didn’t hear of any further incident. Maybe we should have fished them out, but they seemed to feel we were insulting them when we warned them…

  17. Thanks for sharing. I spent some lovely days in South Africa in January. Elephants have enough problems with shrinking habitat and being massacred without being further stressed by these young men, who should know better.

  18. A Sign Of Life says:

    I am very disappointed with the way things are going in regards to respecting animals, particularly wildlife. I know how to read house pets and farm animals, but since I have yet to encounter a wild elephant in the badlands of the United States, I don’t know how to read elephants. Regardless, rushing such an animal seems like a terrible idea.
    Rushing ANY animal seems like a terrible idea, and it frustrates me that people do such things.
    Documentaries are awesome, by the way.

  19. What drives me crazy about all this nonsense, is that if someone is killed or maimed through their own stupidity, the animal gets put down. And it furthers the idea that these animals are things, here for human entertainment. Grrrr….

    • 23thorns says:

      It’s not just the animal that gets put at risk. Sooner or later, someone else is going to run into that elephant. And it really is true that they don’t forget.

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