And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.—Genesis 9: 1-2.
Long ago, as the first book of the Bible reports, when the waters of the flood receded, the Lord made a covenant with Noah and put the race of man in charge of the lesser creatures of the earth. In all the years since the big flood few men have lived up to the terms of the original contract better than a small company of Africans who are at this moment trying to save the animals of one great valley in the bushland of Southern Rhodesia.
In 1958, when the 420-foot-high Kariba Dam was finished across the Zambezi River, the backwater spread rapidly over the Rhodesian wilderness. Rolling hills soon became islands. In the valley of the Zambezi, elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo, waterbuck and antelope, bush pig and warthog, leopard and monkey and ant bear and snake—a zooful of ordinary and bizarre species—were marooned and doomed to starve or drown as the waters kept rising. In Noah's day, with the first threat of rain the animals got the message and boarded the ark without a fuss. The animals in today's flood do not understand, and few of them come quietly.
Along the Zambezi, each busy rescue day is filled with the grunts, snorts, squeals and roars of beasts and the shouts of men. The men chase the rhinoceros; the rhinoceros chases the men. The elephant flees and, almost cornered, turns and charges. Men and warthogs scrimmage in the dust. At the end of the hot, sweating day the men return to camp, their clothes torn and their bodies stinging from the jabs of tusks, hoofs and claws.
Relying mainly on trapping nets, small boats to ferry the animals to the mainland and their stubborn sense of duty, the rescuers have been racing against the rising waters of the Zambezi for close to three years. Thinking back on the scuffles and frustrations, 48-year-old Rupert Fothergill, the tight-lipped game ranger who is bossing the job for the Rhodesian government, recently observed: "They just told me to take the animals off. There was no guidebook. We made it up as we went along." By the hard process of trial and error, in three years Fothergill's rescue team—six white rangers and about 100 Negro helpers—has saved more than 4,000 head of game and lost only 200. Some of the animals died of fright, and a few from injury. A good part of this small loss is attributable to the stubborn reluctance of a few of the animals which were too big and truculent to be moved and too single-minded to be coaxed into saving themselves.
The water behind Kariba Dam is still 25 feet below the planned maximum, but it is already by far the largest man-made lake in the world. When the water reaches the brim of the dam about two years from now, the lake will cover 2,000 square miles and contain 168 islands. These permanent islands are of no concern to Ranger Fothergill and his band of Noahs. Their task is to clear the thousands of islands, large and small, that are continually forming and disappearing as the waters rise.
As the rescuers move from island to island, their mode of operation follows a general pattern. Fothergill and his assistants first try to force all game that can—and will—swim to strike out for the mainland under their own power. Then the rescuers tackle the biggest of the remaining animals, removing them next so that there will be fewer problems to deal with when trying to gather the smaller ones. Elephants and rhinoceroses are not only dangerous but, if not cleared out early, tear up the nets and fences set to trap antelopes and warthogs. After contending with the behemoths and trapping the fleet quadrupeds, the rescuers flush out the burrowing animals—ant bears, honey badgers and porcupines—which ordinarily would stay in their holes until the water started to pour in.
The wise lions
To their grateful surprise, Fothergill and Company discovered that they did not have to deal with lions, all of whom seemingly sensed something was wrong and left the islands at the first sign of encroaching water. The rescuers were relieved, too, to find that elephants were adept swimmers, that, in the face of hooting and hollering and some bravado on the part of the rescuers, usually headed for the water and swam a mile or more to the mainland. Buffalos swam well, too, and as a last resort left their shrinking islands of their own accord. But the rhinos did not swim and would not try, and most of them resented any kind of civil help offered by Fothergill and Company.
In the frequent skirmishes and duels with reluctant animals no man has been killed, but there have been some close ones. Ranger Frederick Stokes was jumped by a leopard and badly mauled. Ranger Frank Junor was hospitalized after being gored by a buffalo. Junor survived the goring only because the mad buffalo had a stiff foreleg and could not get its horns low enough to pick up the prostrate ranger and throw him. Fothergill himself has been flattened by a rhino, and had a 200-pound ant bear explode out of the ground under him when he sat down on a slight rise where there was no burrow in sight.