“Bugs! I hate bugs”: is the clarion call for most visitors to Africa.
Creepy-crawlies, as they are often called, are considered more an irritation than an interest for visitors to Africa who have come to expect the sterilised version of the wilderness experience that most safari operators have fallen to providing.
Insects are fascinating creatures, with the most diverse range of colours, patterning and behaviour types in the animal kingdom. I have spent hours in study and photography of the colour patterns of butterflies and other insects, and in trying to capture the flight patterns of dragonflies - resulting in some of my most memorable wilderness experiences ever.
I recall a particularly 'interesting' incident where I was closely following a butterfly in a rather futile attempt at photographing it. Each time I got within range the butterfly would fly off a meter or so and land again. So entranced was I in my task I barely noticed anything else around me.
After twenty minutes or so I found myself in a small field of flowers - with the butterfly seeming to linger in one spot. The colours of the flowers caught my eye and I looked up from my crouched position - straight into the bulky shapes of two male buffalo not five meters from me.
I was in an open patch of ground, with the closest tree to me standing mockingly behind the buffalo. Time stood still, as did the butterfly, a mere two foot from me. I was crouching in an uncomfortable position, with one of the most dangerous animals in Africa watching me.
I tried to adjust my stance in as unobtrusive a way possible but in the move I overbalanced and fell backwards, legs in the air. As I was trying to right myself in a panic I heard loud crashing through the bushes and braced for the impact .... but then the sound of hooves disappeared into the distance. The buffalo had run off.
With my heart still pounding, I stood up and collected my camera - it was then I noticed the butterfly sitting a meter away. With a silent curse I headed back to my vehicle.
It is true that insects are responsible for some of the deadliest viruses known to man, but these same insects have ensured the preservation of much of the wilderness areas that are taken for granted today.
The sleeping sickness carrying Tsetse Fly, which is also deadly to cattle, has ensured that many African wilderness areas remain free from cattle ranching and the malaria-carrying mosquito has kept big businesses from moving in to claim land for development.
Insects are the most successful creatures on earth, adapting to most environments. In fact it is said that the only two living animal groups that will survive a nuclear holocaust are termites and cockroaches, two insect groups that play a major role in the environment and in human affairs.
by Leigh Kemp