Magazine article The Spectator

Wild Life: Aidan Hartley

Magazine article The Spectator

Wild Life: Aidan Hartley

Article excerpt

Laikipia

'Awayoo,' was how our head stockman Apurra said 'how are you?' in his texts from Pokot country, where I had sent him on a mission to search for thin tribal steers for us to buy. Now that we have plenty of pasture, we are looking for large-framed beasts that we can fatten and sell to the butchers. 'Boss, Awayoo,' Apurra's message asks, with news that he has gathered a good mob of steers that are now being trekked to the farm.

When we first completed the electric fence, which now extends 15 kilometres around the entire ranch perimeter, I thought that was largely the end of the game for wildlife. Electricity flows like a river, a 6,000-volt stream, enough to kill an entangled zebra. Claire and the children were dismayed that I aimed to exclude wild animals in favour of productivity. I, on the other hand, rejoiced when I observed how, inside the fence, the pasture grew thickly into a rippling sea of red oat grass. After prolonged rains that continued through January, we had 1,000 hectares of grazing in good heart. This was a completely different picture from March of last year, when we were a dusty hell, overrun by scores of spearmen with their thousands of cattle. Though I expected the electric fence to stop the movement of game, the main aim was to prevent trespassing cattle and goats. The fence posts are just three feet high.

One evening I was on the farm boundary when I saw a harem of about 30 impala antelope leaping over the wire into us in a graceful ballet. Each night lion have been waking me up because they are simply crawling under the electric strands. One roared from a garden flowerbed so near my bedroom that I considered shutting the windows in case it joined me under the duvet. On the plains I encountered a cheetah on the summit of an anthill, angrily flicking his tail, presumably because the grass around him was so tall that he could not observe any animals to hunt. A resident leopard mauled one of our baby donkeys. Reticulated giraffe, rare in the world today, walked by the house like sailboats rocking on a gentle sea. At the barn I rumbled a herd of eland that guiltily ran off after raiding my haystack. The rocky west corner of the farm is now so infested with buffalo that I dare not take my evening run through there. To top it off, the elephant are back. I came face-to-face with them in thick wooded bush, seeing first a tusk and a wall of wrinkly grey hide. Two huge bulls have taken up residence in the valley, having broken through the fence as if it was cardboard, and to show their contempt for me they have made a point of pushing over a couple of trees in the garden. …

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