Fireside Stories

Listening to various people talking about wild animal behavior, it is clear that certain jokes and amusing incidents portrayed in some books and films have been accepted as true. These regurgitated 'fables' have been passed on in comments and during 'fireside stories' to a gullible audience who continue to repeat them.

In many genuine attempts to attract interest in wildlife, humor has been used to good effect but because incidents have been based on, sometimes crude, human behavioral traits, an 'untruth' has been created.

There is not space or time to deal with all the various 'myths' that get passed on but I will attempt to correct some of those that are most frequently encountered.

Commonly Heard Myths

One of the most commonly heard 'stories' is that - 'Elephants (and some other animals) 'get drunk' from eating Marulas. - Absolutely untrue ! Try and find one person who has seen a drunk elephant. They have heard the story from others and it is always a bull elephant. You never hear of a cow elephant getting drunk. The story persists from the film ' Beautiful People' which was released many years ago in which certain captive animals were 'manipulated' to perform abnormal activities.

As with modern, photographic technology, where photos and film can be digitally altered to show abnormal occurrences, so films could be 'edited' to show abnormal behavior. That is how elephants were shown as 'drunk' , baboons doing multiple somersaults, ostrich behaving as though drunk, etc. It was all done in good faith as a humorous film, which had a marked effect on audiences, but the incidents have been repeated as truth. Marulas do not build up sufficient alcohol content when lying on the ground.

Even large amounts in an elephant's stomach would not produce the reported effect due to the action of the digestive system. Do you imagine that a human being would 'get drunk' from eating a lot of rotten grapes or other fruit ? NOT TRUE ! Elephant bulls sleep deeply for many hours at a time - flat on their side - looking as though dead - but they aren't drunk. To find water - You bait a BABOON with salt in a gourd. When it puts its hand through a small hole to grab the salt its 'fist' enlarges and it can not extract its hand.

Catch the baboon and after it has eaten the salt it will become thirsty and lead you to water. TOTAL 'MYTH'. Yes, it is conceivable that a monkey or baboon could put its hand into a small hole and get stuck when making a 'fist' - for a moment. Like humans, they soon realize and get their hand out. They don't habitually eat salt, except for an occasional lick - same as humans - and they would not normally 'crave' for salt. They are water reliant animals, like many others, and any 'bushman worth his salt' would simply follow the spoor of a water reliant animal to a source of water, instead of catching an animal to follow. Any frightened animal would run away into the bush instead of leading you to water.

WATERBUCK are not good animals to eat ! This is good news for waterbuck but NOT THE WHOLE TRUTH. During dry periods and due to shortage of other feed, many species of ungulate will feed on herbs and 'weeds'. As with goats, sheep and cattle, certain herbs will taint the meat of an animal quite strongly. The person who started this 'myth' probably shot a tainted animal. It could easily have been an Eland (as I have experienced), or any other species. Waterbuck, in certain habitats, prefer vleis where many herbs tend to grow and may, like goats, tend to eat more herbs at certain times of the year.

Their meat is as good as any other antelope, taking the above into account. All SNAKES should be killed because they are dangerous to humans! ABSOLUTE UNTRUTH ! Much of the bias against snakes has come from the way the devil has been depicted in Genesis. Any thinking person will have read that certain biblical characters handled snakes frequently and in a knowledgeable manner. The forked tongues are not 'poisonous' and are only used for picking up scent.

Snakes are not poisonous but some of them produce venom with which to capture and assist in digesting their prey. They are one of the most useful animals in controlling the numbers of rodents and smaller animals that could become a 'pest' to humans if left unchecked. Of all the many species of snake we have in South Africa, about 80% are harmless to humans. Only about 12 could be dangerous to humans if they are interfered with and have to defend themselves. They will not 'attack' you on any occasion but may have to 'bite their way out'of an attack by humans. Only the most uneducated person will attempt to run them over on the roads. Give them a chance to cross. They have as much right to be here as yourself.

Bats and Lions

BATS fly into your hair and carry rabies! MISINFORMATION ! All mammals can contract rabies, which is normally passed on by infected saliva entering the blood system, usually through a bite. The blood sucking batsof southern America are more prone to infection. Our insectivorous and fruit-eating bats are very unlikely to ever be infected. Rabies normally kills the infected animal in a short space of time. In small mammal populations it can easily go undetected. Only in the larger mammals is it obvious. One should never handle any small mammals found dead from unknown causes.

Apart from rabies, they may be infected by bubonic plague or anthrax, all of which occur periodically in the lowveld. Bats echo-locate with high pitched sounds. They can enter buildings in search of insects attracted to lights. Any person frightened of bats and seeking refuge on some item of furniture while making high pitched screams, will interfere with the bat's 'radar system'. Being thus 'blinded' the bat will temporarily bump into objects and may well come into contact with the head, or highest point, where it will cling in fear of its life.

This is most unlikely to happen but the story has persisted for generations, labeling all bats as 'enemies'. They are the most useful of our small creatures and we would be infested with mosquitoes and other insects if they did not work so efficiently. Leave them alone, open a window or door and they will go out on their own. Male LIONS are lazy and the females do all the killing. RUBBISH ! Numerically speaking, males kill just as often. On occasions they may appear as though they are acting as decoys while the more numerous members of the pride carry out the attack.

It takes the weight and strength of a large male to successfully pull down a large buffalo bull. Males kill often and I have seen a large male 'pole axe' an old buffalo bull, stone dead, with a downward 'clout' from its front paws. They are prone to scavenging when hungry and I have seen them licking up piles of maggots dropping from an elephant carcass. Starving human beings are not that different !! There are numerous 'stories' about wildlife that are tainted by misinformation - too many to attempt to answer here. Before accepting what is passed on check the reasoning and source of the information.


Most of our children and many of the 'gullible public' are being fed evolutionary theories which are completely unsubstantiated - very often intentionally and for political purposes. Darwin, himself, never intended the interpretations and extrapolations that have been made since he made his observations on adaptation. Adaptive evolution is a fact that we can witness in many examples today. The existence of early, and now extinct species is well documented from their remains that litter our museums or lie uncovered in excavations.

That is all very interesting FACT. Deceptions creep in where 'boffins' misinterpret the 'facts' with opinionated theories. On very many occasions they have been proved to be intentionally misleading and downright liars. Carbon dating is a very useful 'tool', as is DNA testing - if used correctly. Everyone tends to believe results backed by 'scientific testing'. The fact that a 'doctored' item placed a few months previously was dated at many thousands of years old - is never given any publicity. DNA testing on chromosomes can be manipulated to prove what one wants. It depends on what section of the chromosome one compares.

Thus humans are boldly announced to be 99% similar to chimpanzees but the fact that FRUIT FLIES have been tested to be 99.8% similar to humans is hidden from the public. The testing procedures need to be much more transparent and published for public information. There has NEVER been any scientific link of humans with apes. They are still looking for the 'missing link'. Meanwhile our children are being taught the connection as Fact. The dinosaurs appear to have been wiped out through climatic change.

Some species, judging by fossil remains, have survived to this day - Crocodiles, Coelacanth, Cockroaches and certain other species - exactly the same as they were originally. How come they haven't 'Evolved' - if evolution is a proven fact ? Why do we still have 'monkeys' ? Don't try and insist that creative evolution is a fact while also insisting that certain species have stayed the same. Adaptive evolution is a fact of life.

We have seen the evolution in technology and industry and even in our agriculture and domestic animals. That is fact - but as for the leaders of humanity (I nearly said politicians)evolving from apes - well -that is pure unsubstantiated theory ! All that can be truthfully proved so far is that modern 'man' evolved from early 'man'. That is what our children should be taught. Just some thoughts to ponder while you are game watching!

By Dave Rushworth

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Kruger National Park - South African Safari