The Extraordinary Gerenuk Gazelle by Geoff Wainwright

  • Friday, 05 October 2018 10:48
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The Extraordinary Gerenuk Gazelle by Geoff Wainwright: Alien antelope on two legs

My tracker Vincent was perched in the lofty heights of a baobab tree, scanning the Masailand veld with his field glasses. We were in Tanzania with my American client, Bill Carvajal, accompanied by Patrick, the government game scout, and my Masai skinner, Meshach. From our position on top of a hill we had a fantastic view of Lake Natron which stretched all the way to the border with Kenya. We were near the end of a 21-day hunt and had ticked off most of the plains game on Bill’s wish list, including lesser kudu, dik-dik, Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelle, and wildebeest. Now we had just one day left to track down a gerenuk (Litocranius walleri). 

The legendary hunter Frederick Selous described the gerenuk as, “a strange thin bodied gazelle. So thin when standing face to face, with its long legs, narrow chest and giraffe like long neck all in a line that it’s about as easy a shot as at a telegraph pole”. They are coloured in a two-tone brown and only the males have horns on their pinched heads. The horns are short, heavily ringed at the bases and are semi-lyre shaped. Their lips and noses are always moving, and they resemble a big-eyed alien, much like ET – the Extra-Terrestrial. 

Vincent clicked his fingers and smiled at us before clambering down the tree, using the wooden pegs that had been hammered into the bark by honey collectors. We had a brief exchange in Swahili and hopped into the Land Cruiser – he had spotted our quarry. We followed a cattle trail, thorn thickets scratching against the paint work, with Vincent on the back barking out, “kulia”or “kushoto”(left or right). The thicket thinned out into stunted growth and we crossed a plain dotted with flat-topped acacia trees. After a while we stopped at a Masai boma where we left Patrick to guard the truck while we continued on foot.

Within minutes Vincent found the tracks of the gerenuk he had spotted from the baobab. The male and his harem of four females appeared to have moved on. We checked the wind as we followed the spoor, our tracking interrupted by a dainty, toy-like dik-dik which flashed haphazardly across our path. It stopped momentarily to let out the ringing “zick-zick”cry for which it is named, before darting off into the bush. Further on we were confronted by a dry river bed where the spoor indic- ated that the male had walked past waterholes which had been dug by the Masai. Meshach, a cock-sure Murani warrior, outpaced us and continued along the tracks. He stopped to peer cautiously round a bend then took a few steps back, stood poised on one leg like a stork and stabbed my shooting sticks into the sand. He began to gesture frantically at us. Bill and I stalked up to him, low and slow. “Swala twiga (gerenuk),”he whispered to me. We peered slowly round the bend and there they stood on their hind legs, some 200 paces away, huddled around a thorn bush.  

Read the full article in the November 2018 issue of Magnum.

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