SI Vault
Lee Griggs
November 13, 1961
In the bushland of Rhodesia a stout band of Africans have been fighting for three bruising and bloody years to save the game herds from the floodwaters of the Zambezi River
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November 13, 1961

Tireless Sons Of Noah

In the bushland of Rhodesia a stout band of Africans have been fighting for three bruising and bloody years to save the game herds from the floodwaters of the Zambezi River

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The rhinos on Island 100 were, as expected, ornery, but two already were weakened from lack of food. One of these died before Fothergill could administer the antidote for the paralyzing dart. The other was so exhausted from its capture that it didn't move for three hours after being untied on the mainland. After untying it, Fothergill tenderly covered the beast with wet grass to keep the sun off. Then, as the rhino started coming to its senses, Rupert tried to help it to its feet, first by brazenly grasping its horn and tugging, then by pushing its ponderous rear end. Finally the rhino came alive, and the chase was on. Rupert bolted for the lake, the angry rhino not three feet behind. Rupert reached the boat and turned to face the rhino, which was snorting angrily in the water but was unable to attack because of the water's depth. "That's the thanks I get for saving your life, you leathery old bastard," cried Fothergill, taking off his bush hat and belting the rhino with it three times across the nose. The rhino snorted and retreated. The native boys gave Rupert a loud burst of applause.

Down and almost out

The next day, Fothergill had worse luck. When he socked a dart into a young bull rhino, it charged. Fothergill retreated behind a fallen tree trunk, confident that the beast would stop short of the obstacle in typical rhino fashion. But not this time. The rhino struck the trunk hard, snapped it in two and ran right on top of Fothergill. "Get him off me—quick!" shouted Rupert. Game rangers and native boys rushed up shouting and drove the rhino away. Luckily, Rupert had escaped the feet and the huge weight of the young bull. He suffered only cuts, bruises and six broken ribs.

Other animals on Island 100 were a problem, each in its special way. Big waterbuck, though good swimmers, often could not make it to the mainland when forced off the island. Males were particularly weak, pulled down by the weight of their huge horns. From boats the rescuers lassoed them, dragged them aboard kicking and thrashing and tied them down. Fragile impala, driven into 10-foot-high nets and wrestled to the ground by rangers, nearly died of fright before they reached the mainland despite tender ministrations from Fothergill and his lieutenants, including frequent sponge baths and even an occasional tot of brandy. Baboons and many warthogs were driven into the unfamiliar element of the lake, then noosed, grabbed by the tail and dunked underwater to dampen their resistance before they were dragged spluttering into boats. To reduce wear and tear on animals, plaited ropes made from discarded nylon stockings were used to bind them. Still, many cried, wailed and struggled all the way to shore. Warthogs were an exception. Once their jaws were roped shut and they were tied down, they often reconciled themselves to their fate, fell asleep in the bottom of the boat and snored loudly.

Zebras and other animals too big to wrestle with on even terms were run down to the point of exhaustion by lines of beaters rattling cans and shouting, driving them relentlessly to and fro until they collapsed. The same technique was used with baby buffalos and rhinos who were captured for transportation to national parks for restocking. Once a buffalc or rhino calf was chased into the lake or run to ground, like football players in a goal-line stand, a dozen or more rangers and native boys leaped on the wildly thrashing animal and subdued it by sheer weight of numbers in a screaming, shouting melee.

Island 100 was the last to be cleared during the 1961 season. The long dry season is at hand. This and the opening of the spillway gates in Kariba Dam will keep the lake level stable until early next year when the rains upstream will send Kariba's waters surging higher once more. In February, Fothergill and his men will embark again for the flooded valley. After another year of attacks and counterattacks, as the waters stabilize, their job will be done. They will have fulfilled their part of the original contract and will have, if not medals, at least a few scars to prove it.

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