The Waterhole Trap

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The footpaths began to merge. They became more trodden out. They were whispering, “You will find it soon.” The bush unravelled till there were only a few trees, shattered by years of breaking and browsing. And then, there it lay, open to the sky, its surface as smooth as polished glass, a mirror to the clouds.

It was as tranquil, as inviting, as soothing to the eye as had been anticipated. And there were signs of carefree indulgence, in the huge pale patches and the roll marks and the drips of mud and slush, and the rub marks high on the few surviving trees: elephants.

Yet its very silence and desertion muttered of conflict between life and death, between respite and torment. It hung like a plague, always there, waiting to take one, or two…  It was like a Venus fly trap, fragrant, beautiful, but deadly.

Around its black seam of hoof-churned mud I could see the evidence, sense the quivering tension in so many approaches, often fearfully abandoned, always restarted, of warthog, kudu, impala, zebra, wildebeest, eland, even buffalo, driven mercilessly by thirst, into the trap. And the evidence of danger and death was there too, in casual signs of the big predators; where they had delicately lapped, or lain stretched in leisure, indifferent to the bleached fragments here and there of their past kills.

I touched a wildebeest skull, crushed in places by powerful jaws, and with only one of the bony cores of the horns left, with the end of my stick. I myself am prey, I thought. I looked around me. Hardly a leaf stirred. But I knew, even now, hidden behind the scantest of cover, eyes could be watching me, calculating, weighing risk and reward. It sent a delicious shiver down my spine; my daily shot of Essence of African Wilderness, carefully measured to last until the next…

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