Sunday, April 17, 2011

Stock Detective III.

This is coolbert:

Stock Detective.

Animals & other dangers.

Continuing the interview with Deke, American Vietnam War combat veteran who fought in the Rhodesian Bush War as a private contractor, a stock detective, as part of what was called ranch security. NOT enlisted in the Rhodesian military. Duty, nonetheless, of a military and quasi-military nature.

Warfare as fought in the African bush of course having the constant possibility of wild animal attack, those critters large and dangerous, capable of killing you in the proverbial heartbeat, EVEN STALKING YOU IN THE SAME MANNER WITH WHICH YOU ARE STALKING YOUR ENEMY!

Also, diseases endemic to an area of the world such as Rhodesia [Zimbabwe now] are also a potential threat to combatants. By far more casualties sustained from illness than from combat!

Bert: A particular unique aspect of war in Africa is the possibility of wild animal attack. Did you ever have an occasion to be attacked or in danger from any of the big five? Rhino, elephant, lion, leopard, Cape Buffalo!

Deke: One night, sitting at an ambush site, we smelled and heard lions nearby--I heard one cough. It sounded like the critter was sitting next to me, it was so loud! But it probably was a quarter mile away or even more (or he'd have had a late night snack)--sound, especially that of something you'd rather not hear, travels far in certain conditions in the bush. If you don't believe me about smelling the lion and knowing exactly what it was, go to the local zoo to the lions' enclosures. You'll realize even an urbanized human can smell and differentiate between a lion and other critters in the bush. And when you've been in the bush for weeks on end, not having your smell senses affected by hydrocarbons (petrol or gasoline), you will discover your sense of smell increases dramatically.

Friends in the SAS [Special Air Services] or in other ranch security work told of elephants walking virtually silently through their ambush (without touching or stepping on the men crouched there) or of losing a man to crocs while crossing a stream at night.

One night, when we "spread out" for an ambush, one of my three man team crept back to my location in the middle of our spread. We were each about 150-200 yards apart for this particular site. As he approached, he was whispering loudly enough to be heard a long distance away, afraid I'd be trigger happy enough to shoot him. He was coming from a direction I knew to be his site, so I wasn't ready to shoot him. It turned out he was very excited. He'd set up in a shallow depression with his FN rifle at the ready. He heard something approaching him and readied himself to shoot. But he heard "snuffling" and grunting and gradually realized it was an animal approaching. He crouched deeper into the hole, hoping it would go by without him having to shoot it to reveal his location. Unfortunately, the wart hog that was coming near turned out to be really pissed off at finding a man in her den. My friend had chosen the wrong place to be. Eventually the wart hog forced him out and he had to make his way to me without getting shot by me. It broke up the whole ambush. He had a hard time living that one down.

Bert: Crocodiles or hippo too were a danger when near water?

Deke: Yes, we feared the crocs most but were told the hippos killed the most people. Still, the crocs were what we watched for the most. I never saw one but we didn't go near large streams on my patrols.

Bert: Foraging for your own food, killing and eating wild game is another aspect of African warfare. How often did you do this?

Deke: Virtually every day or so [only while in camp, at a lodge or ranch house, not while in the field on a mission]. An impala per day was the usual and once I shot a 600 or 700 lb. Kudu. Very tasty! The local villagers were quite satisfied with it too. Whenever I shot more than we needed, it went to local villages. I noted that only the adult men ate the meat--women and children were left with mealy or mashed or ground corn.

Bert: Are you a hunter of whitetail deer, etc.? Food animals. Know how butcher and dress wild game for the table at some later date? A skill acquired before Rhodesia?

Deke: Yes and yes. I must make a change in prior answers here. When we were in the bush, we didn't hunt wild meat--we didn't want to give our positions away by gun shots. In the bush we lived on Brit/Rhode rations and what meat we'd shot earlier--mostly jerked meat. When we lived at the ranches or lodges, we shot an impala per day. [hunting wild game during an operation while in the bush - - the gunshots - - would have obviously have alerted any insurgents in the area.] A local was with us and did most of the butchering in exchange for a portion.

Bert: Local diseases were taken into account and preventive measures taken? Tsetse fly for instance.

Deke: No, not that I recall for us--other than the standard inoculations we all had to take before leaving for Africa. Plague, yellow fever, smallpox, some other things I don't recall now.

Bert: While in the field or even in camp, did you ever take prophylaxis measures against illness such as:

1. Take a daily aspirin?

Deke: No.

2. Take a daily multi-vitamin?

Deke: No

3. Use a lot of unscented insect repellent?

Deke: No, we just stunk and warded off mosquitoes as best we could.

4. Grow a beard to prevent mosquito bites on the face?

Deke: No, though we wouldn't shave on patrols. After ten days we'd have a short facial growth that was shaved off as soon as we came in from the bush.

5. Take medicine for preventing malaria?

Deke: Yes, [anti] malaria pills (atabrine?).

6. Use mosquito netting at night covering the whole head and hands?

Deke: No

Bert: While in water you took special precautions against bilharzia? Tie a string tight around your penis to prevent the parasite from entering through that orifice?

[bilharzia - - a parasite entering the body by drinking contaminated water or having the worm or egg enter through an orifice of the body!]

Deke: Are you kidding?? LoL Never heard of that protective measure!! Nothing like a tourniquet around your most masculine part to make it fall off . . . . [still laughing!!]

The only precaution against bilharzia was to know which water sources were likely to be contaminated (eventually, nearly all standing water sources in the bush were assumed to be) and/or to take all the water we needed with us, not using any from the bush at all. That nearly cost us on one patrol when we ran out of water and were just a few hundred yards from what was known as one of the "sweetest" fresh water sources in the area. We could smell it from where we were, and were gradually becoming heat exhausted and/or dehydrated. We were so tempted, yet knew that this particular source had been fairly well confirmed as being quite contaminated. We were rescued by a ranch party who'd heard us shooting earlier during a contact.

For months and even years after returning to the US from Rhodesia/Zimbabwe (the name was changing even as I was there, as was the government), I worried about bilharzia and the fact that doctors in the US likely wouldn't recognize such an unknown African disease at first, even though I didn't knowingly drink from standing water in the bush. Sometimes we didn't know where the water came from, although we were provided it at the ranches or lodges where we 'rested'.

To be continued.


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