Henry’s Buffalo

Probably most of our readers don’t have personal experience with old-fashioned, Pleistocene-style big game hunting.  The only place in which it is still possible – not for much longer, at that – is Africa, where the big game had a chance to adapt as mankind gradually became formidable hunters and thus managed to survive until today. Without that experience, it’s hard to realize how remarkable Neanderthals were, how difficult hunting bison and elk with thrusting spears must have been.  It’s not easy to appreciate the risks stone-age hunters had to take when they went after mammoths, rhinos, or Cape buffalo: it’s not exactly safe today, even with modern weapons.  One of us, however (Henry Harpending) does have that experience, and the following note gives a flavor of what it’s like – particularly when you don’t have the faintest idea what you’re doing.

Encounter with a Buffalo

When I (HCH) was a graduate student in the 1960’s I spent a year and a half in the northern Kalahari desert doing fieldwork with !Kung Bushmen, foragers who lived by foraging wild foodstuffs and hunting game animals.  With several other graduate students we had a base camp near the border with Southwest Africa (now Namibia) about 100 miles south of the Caprivi Strip on the northern border of Botswana.  The nearest source of supplies was a two-day trip from their camp by four wheel drive truck.

Several weeks after the rainy season ended there were reports in the neighborhood of a cape buffalo that was harassing people and animals.  Often older males lose rank and leave herd to wander by themselves, angry and uncomfortable.  They are a threat to people and stock, especially horses. 

We were out of meat in our camp, and so with the confidence and foolishness of youth we decided to hunt down the buffalo.  We had visions of steaks and chops as well as many pounds of dried meat for travel rations and dog food.  At that time permits for Buffalo were only a few dollars from the Botswana game department, and we had several.  Although there were stories of Buffalo being aggressive and dangerous to hunt, to my eye they were simply large cattle. Bushmen never hunted them with their poison arrow and spear technology, but they too were naïve and had great faith in our high-powered rifle. 

One morning we set off to where the animal had last been reported.  The party was a colleague, several young Bushman males, and myself.  We soon picked up its tracks and for several hours followed its wanderings through the low thorny scrub.  To me the tracks looked exactly like those of a cow but the Bushmen never hesitated.  When it was apparent at one point that there were no tracks at all in view I asked, and the Bushmen told me that there was no point in following the tracks since they knew exactly where it was going.  We often saw this hunting with Bushmen­–they used actual tracks as a guide but knew the habits of animals so well that they often proceeded on their own to pick up actual tracks later on. 

This went on for hours until, suddenly, a young man grabbed my shoulder and said “there it is.”  I looked long and hard until I saw it, well camouflaged behind several yards of thick brush, sideways, staring hard at us with its bright pig eyes.  It was about forty yards away. 

As I brought the rifle up I was dismayed to realize that it still had a powerful telescopic sight.  I should have removed it and use open iron sights in thick bush but I had forgotten.  With the magnification of the scope I saw a black mass surrounded by brush.  It took a moment to locate the front legs, then the chest.  Oriented, I aimed and fired.  “Bang-whump”, the bang from the rifle and the whump as the bullet struck the buffalo.  He jerked a little, then simply stood there staring at me.  “Bang-whump, bang-whump” as I fired two more rounds.

Now he tossed his head and snorted, then started running toward us.  Buffalo charge with their nose high, only lowering their head to use their horns on contact.  I fired one more round at the charging animal, head on, simply pointing at him because he was so close, then turned and ran.  We discovered later that the bullet had struck his shoulder, ricocheted off his scapula, and exited through the skin on his side.  It certainly didn’t slow him down at all: I might as well have been shooting at a railroad locomotive.

There were three of us running away now from the charging animal: my colleague, our camp dog, and myself.  Perhaps fortunately for us the buffalo went after the dog, which handily outran it.  After its charge the buffalo wandered off several dozen yards and collapsed in a thicket. 

My colleague and I got together after the charge, brushed each other off, then noticed that none of the Bushmen with us was near.  We looked around and called but got no response.  Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a fellow about fifteen feet up a tree frantically signaling me to be quiet, then pointing at the (apparently) dead buffalo.  I laughed and told him to come down, the animal was dead, it was getting dark and we needed to get started butchering it.  He shook his head, silent, and frantically waved us back in the direction opposite the carcass.  All the Bushmen were up in trees, all waving at us to get away, no one making any noise.

My rifle was empty, slung over my shoulder, as I honed a belt knife for the job ahead.  I urged everyone to get out of the trees and get to work but everyone refused.  I said “all right, we will just make sure”, then loaded my rifle and sat in a stable shooting position.  The buffalo’s carcass was about forty yards away with its back to us.  I took careful aim at the center of the neck, exhaled, and fired.  “Bang-thump”.

Immediately the “dead” buffalo got to its feet, glared at us, and walked away.  I told my Bushman friends that I was sorry that I had mocked them and that I was grateful they had not let me start to skin a live buffalo.  They looked at me in disgust and told me that they understood that Europeans were very bright about certain things but that they could see that we could also be capable of heroic stupidity.

Evening was close by this time, and we had a mile or so walk to our truck, so we left off the chase and returned to our camp for the night.  Fortunately the area where our encounter had occurred was far away from any settlement or any route between settlements so we were not concerned about the animal assaulting any humans that night.

We didn’t sleep very well that night.  We were up late around the fire as all the participants took turns telling the story of the day.  Of course everyone told the same story, since there was only one, but somehow we were all attentive to each new version.

The next morning we were up very early.  Some trace of sanity came to us as we decided to drive down to the local headman’s hamlet and borrow his dog, renowned for his hunting and tracking abilities.  We also wanted to borrow another rifle from him, a Martini-Henry rolling block antique left over from the Boer war.  When we arrived he came out and gave us a warm welcome and a windy speech congratulating us for doing something for the community, ridding it of the dangerous buffalo.

Several months before I was sitting in camp reading a science fiction novel on a Sunday afternoon when a large group of armed men on horseback came storming into our camp in a scene straight out of a 1950’s western movie.  They had one saddled horse with no rider which, it turned out, was to be mine.  There was a lion or lions in the area that had been killing cattle, it was time to go out and hunt them down, and they were sure I would want to participate.

These were Herero, the local Bantu-speaking tribe.  They are pastoralists living off herds of cattle, sheep, and goats.  Lions are a major threat to their herds, and these group hunts are in part simply farmers protecting their stock but they are also macho male rituals demonstrating bravery.  I pointed out that I had never been on a horse in my life and that I was as scared of horses as I was of lions.  Galloping around in a mass of heavily armed men waving a high powered rifle in one hand was not my idea of how to learn to ride a horse, I said.  I also cheerfully admitted to my cowardice.

I was hardly reassured when my Herero interpreter explained that it was great fun, not really very dangerous, and that it was the duty of all men.  As he said this he gestured with a hand missing three fingers that had been bitten off by a lion in the course of one of the hunts years before.  They were all polite and cheerful and did their best to hide their disgust with me.

The headman made reference to this incident in his speech that morning. He said he was delighted to see that I was finally overcoming my unmanly cowardice.  He would be happy for us to use his dog, his rifle, and he also sent one of his sons to help out.  We then drove to the place where the charge that ended the hunt the day before had happened, looked around for the tracks of the departed buffalo, and set off to hunt it down.

We followed it for hours through nasty low thorn brush.  We saw where it had circled onto high ground and watched our approach.  Everyone was on high alert, men at the rear of our party constantly looking backward, expecting an ambush at any time.  My colleague and I had started the day thinking that we each were some combination of John Wayne and Ernest Hemingway but after hours of high tension slogging through Kalahari sand we were hot, thirsty, tired, and feeling quite burned out.

Suddenly, in early afternoon, we heard the dogs baying, then loud snorting and crashing noises about fifty yards in front of us.  The dogs had come upon the wounded buffalo.  My colleague and I turned, looked at each other, and without a word being spoken simultaneously dropped our guns on the ground and frantically scrambled up the nearest tree.  We were no more than five or six feet off the ground, but all the trees here were small and covered with thorns as our cut up hands and legs showed.  Wayne and Hemingway indeed!

Soon several Bushmen came strolling up to our tree chatting casually even while the awful chorus of snarls, barks, and snorts was going on nearby.  They saw us, stopped, looked at us, looked at our guns in the dirt, and burst out laughing. One said “would you please come down, clean up your guns, and shoot the buffalo?” 

Our shame at this point overcame our abject terror.  We climbed down, cleaned our guns, and moved up to try to get a (safe) shot at the buffalo.  It was in thick cover and we were very reluctant to plunge in after it.  Finally my colleague realized that there was a large Cape Fig tree that he could climb.  He could shoot from a high vantage point and we would not need to go into the thick stuff.  He climbed the tree, found a comfortable position on a limb, took careful aim, and shot.

Unfortunately there was a sapling in the path of the bullet.  The round ricocheted off the sapling and eviscerated the headman’s dog.  Meanwhile my colleague was clinging to his branch with the rifle swinging by it sling and hitting him in the leg.  He had forgotten about the effect of the recoil on him and his springy branch.  He then got back into position, shot several times, and the buffalo dropped.

This time our approach to the body was not as cavalier as it had been the day before.  We spend many minutes hitting it with thrown sticks and rocks to assure ourselves that it really was dead.

Several of us walked back to fetch the truck while the rest of us worked for hours skinning and dismembering the animal.  It took four of us to life a hindquarter into our truck.  We ever took the head back to be given to old people who would cook it and patiently get as much meat off it as could be gotten.

Finally we had some meat in camp.  Unfortunately it turned out to be completely inedible.  There was hardly a trace of fat anywhere in the animal, and like everyone in the Kalahari we craved and dreamed about fat.  We boiled the tongue all the next afternoon, hours and hours, and at the end we could hardly cut it with a knife.

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61 Responses to Henry’s Buffalo

  1. teageegeepea says:

    I could have sworn this was a repost of an earlier blog entry, but a search doesn’t turn up anything earlier. And I know you also had this on another site, but I was sure it had already been cross-posted here.

  2. Dan_Kurt says:

    I also recalled the story and its end.

    Great story. My only disagreement is that in the far north there are the great brown bears and polar bears who are quite dangerous game. An acquaintance of mine from the 1970s told me stories of Alaskan brown bears that chilled the blood. Lumbermen carried 10 gage doubles with slugs and felt to be under-gunned.

    Dan Kurt

    • NobodyExpectsThe... says:

      No one is under-gunned against anything that walks this earth, with a good 12 gauge slug. Much less with a 10 gauge.

      Is what Safari guides in Africa usually use as “safety” guns, in case the rich guy misses, and things get “interesting”.

      • phageghost says:

        Shotgun slugs are nothing to sneeze at, and are death-rays to whitetails all over the midwest, but they aren’t in the same league as serious dangerous game cartridges. The problem is that they tend to be (in traditional Foster type slugs) too soft, too wide, too shallow and too slow. They tend to expand very rapidly and cause a ton of damage but not penetrate very deeply. The softness can be cured by going to a Brenneke or hard-cast slug but the massive 0.729 in bore of a 12 gauge means that a slug scaled to the same sectional density as a rifle bullet would be unmanageable. Even a super-heavy 600 grain 12 ga slug only has a sectional density of about 0.045 when > 0.300 is considered desirable for dangerous game. Shotgun slugs are also typically going under 2000 fps and produce about 2600 ft-lbs of muzzle energy. Consider that a 300 grain bullet out of an .375 H&H, generally the legal minimum for dangerous game, has a muzzle energy of ~4500 ft-lbs and a sectional density nearly 10 times greater, which is what gives you penetration, and that’s what dangerous game hunters care about above all else, even to the point of using non-expanding bullets to ensure it at least makes it to vital organs — the standard formula is a high sectional density bullet of caliber > 0.35 driven to about 2200-2400 fps.

        Most surveys of African professional hunters I’ve seen indicate a big bolt action rifle in .458 Lott or a .500 are preferred for the “stopping guns” they use to back up clients, with most of the remainder going for double rifles in .600 or .700 NE if they can afford them. It doesn’t sound like many use shotgun slugs for this task nor would advise it, although apparently the 12 gauge loaded with buckshot is sometimes used when going after wounded leopard (thin-skinned, approximately man-sized) in serious brush.

        Hope to make it there myself someday while there’s still megafauna to be challenged.

        • NobodyExpectsThe... says:

          Regular Brenneke slugs: +70 TKOF. On the same ballpark as a .458WM or a .470NE.

          Magnum Crush (A good slug): +100 TKOF…

          • phageghost says:

            Slugs are fat and heavy, so there’s plenty of momentum and diameter (the components of the Taylor formula) sure. But, being slow, they lack kinetic energy, so are illegal for dangerous game in places with a ME minimum like Namibia and Zimbabwe. Can you kill a buff with a slug at close range? Sure, plenty have. The Motor City Madman famously killed a Dugga boy with a 10 mm Glock and the true crazies go archery hunting for them. But you won’t find dangerous game guides using shotguns in either Africa or Alaska — when it’s your ass on the menu you want the most effective tool for the job and that means a medium to large bore high intensity rifle cartridge.

            • ghazisiz says:

              I’m completely ignorant on this topic, but I had a friend who lived in backwoods Alaska, and his old lady would willingly go outside the cabin with a sawed-off shotgun, since that seemed sufficient protection against bears. Was she wrong?

              • phageghost says:

                Not according to folks who’ve lived and guided in Alaska (n.b. not me). Grizz are 1/4 to 1/2 the mass of a Cape Buffalo, are considered “thin-skinned” and for self-defense you don’t need long range. For grizzly hunting a .300 or .338 win mag tends to be the ticket but for close-in bear defense Brenneke slugs are popular and effective. Alaska state troopers use them to put down problem bears so they will certainly do the job at short range. People also carry high-powered revolvers for the task, even though they’re much less effective than slugs or rifles, but a revolver strapped to your chest is better than a shotgun or rifle you left back at camp.

                But the problem with evaluating the performance of bear-defense weapons is that actual incidents are pretty rare so not much sample size to work with. Lots of speculation. One of the easiest ways to start an endless, acrimonious debate is to go bring up the topic on a gun or hunting forum.

  3. James Anthony Thompson says:

    Reminds me of try to save a rabbit from being strangled by a snake, armed with nothing but a BB gun. Eventually managed it, though the best approach to a snake is to chop it in half with a spade.

    • dearieme says:

      “the best approach to a snake is to chop it in half with a spade.” I did that when we lived in Queensland. My cousin was not persuaded of its effectiveness, seized the spade, and walloped the snake flat.

      Moral of the story: don’t let your cats bring snakes to your kitchen door.

      Moral of the buffalo story: does nobody carry elephant guns any more?

      • NumberOneCustomer says:

        Learned pretty quickly that a shovel/spade is way easier than trying to shoot a snake, even with a shotgun the spread is too tight at a range w/in which you can shoot it and hit it easily. But beware! The head of a snake can live on and be dangerous for some time.

        • another fred says:

          Last rattler I killed was with 2-iron. I couldn’t hit a golf ball worth a damn with one, but it was quite effective on the snake.

        • Jacob says:

          I’m great at making decisions, so I’ve put my fingers in front of a snake’s disembodied head just to see what would happen. It seriously will try to kill you five minutes after you’ve cut its head off — it bites with intention, as if it could actually hit you. Nature is insane.

          • Woof says:

            My big hunting experience consists of trying to dispatch a mouse with a very under powered BB gun I got for the kids. I heard the trap go off in the basement, followed by thrashing, and not wanting it to suffer I figured the BB gun at point blank range would finish the job. It took 5 bloody BBs to kill it due to under penetration. Should have used a piece of firewood instead.

            • Jacob says:

              “not wanting it to suffer… it took 5 bloody BBs”

              That’s just unfortunate. I can’t help but have empathy for anything furry, personally.

    • Jacob says:

      One of the top five most dramatic snake kills in my family’s history was my dad decapitating a Pacific rattler with… a sliding door. Thankfully, I was there when this happened. It was a bad day to be a snake.

  4. AlanL says:

    Much of rural former East Germany has a significant problem with depopulation and the remaining farmland being overrun with wild boars. They are hunted but (a) not enough hunters and (b) they hunt with rifles.

    I’d be in favour of a return to the mediaeval method with spears. I’m sure there would be plenty of testosterone-soaked young men willing to give it a try; I think the more likely obstacle would be people protesting about the suffering of wounded boars.

    • reziac says:

      Neighbor (somewhat lacking in sense) had a problem boar (about 800 pounds) that got loose once too often. So he decided to shoot it. With a .22 ….38 shots later it finally succumbed, but until that point it mostly didn’t notice, and therefore did nothing but wander around breaking stuff (which it did all the time anyway).

    • Henry Scrope says:

      I used to work with a Polish bloke who hunted wild boar back home on his time off, he said he always carried an ex-Warsaw Pact pistol while hunting in case the boar got past the rifle, as it had a good chance then of killing or maiming the hunter.

      • AlanL says:

        I think German hunters mostly use tree stands. Partly for concealment from roe deer, but probably also partly for that reason

    • JMcG says:

      There are feral hogs all over the American south. I have friends who hunt them pretty seriously. One way it’s done is to hunt them with dogs, and when they are bought to bay, dispatch them with a long knife down into the heart.

  5. Esso says:

    I imagine spear hunting is easy in the late winter / early spring, provided there is deep crusty snow and skis. Perfect weather for drying the lean parts too.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Even domestic cattle can be dangerous. Usually, a well placed 9mm between and slightly above the eyes will drop a cow like a leather bound bag of steaks. But when they don’t die with the first shot they can turn into supercows. I have seen formerly tame steers jump a five foot fence and smash down cedar fence posts. I had a steer 2 years ago that jumped the fence and took 9 head shots before he dropped.

    Big animals are dangerous. Even when you have a gun.

    • phageghost says:

      Here’s to hoping they never get organized . . . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQMbXvn2RNI

    • NumberOneCustomer says:

      For some reason this reminded me of the ending of George Dickson’s “In the Bone”, the short story, not the collection of…

      “He messaged ahead before he landed; and everyone who could be there … When his gaunt figure in a spare coverall now too big for it, with shoulder-length hair and burning eyes, stepped into their midst, not one hand finished its gesture. No one in the his right senses slaps an unchained wolf on the back and no one, after one look, wished to risk slapping the man who seemed to have taken the place of Harry.

      Of course, he was still the man they had sent out — of course he was. But at the same time he was also the man who had returned from a world numbered 1242 and from a duel to the death there with a representative of a race a hundred times more advanced than his own. And in the process he had been pared down to something very basic in his human blood and bone, something dating back to before the first crude wheel or chipped flint knife.

      And what was that? Go down into the valley of the shades and demand your answer of a dead alien with his head crushed in, who once treated the utmost powers of modern human science as a man treats the annoyance of a buzzing mosquito.

      Or, if that once-mightly traveler in spacegoing pyramids is disinclined to talk, turn and inquire of other ghosts you will find there — those of the auroch, the great cave bear and the woolly mammoth.

      They, too, can testify to the effectiveness of naked men.”

      • gcochran9 says:

        Gordon Dickson. Sounds like me, in grad school, just after finishing a problem set from Jackson.

        • NumberOneCustomer says:

          Sorry. Gordon. I’m not really (as far as i know) familiar with his work. However, I had a memory of this ending from my relatively early childhood (voracious reader, used to fake illness in elementary school to stay home and read a good scifi/fantasy book) and I recently tracked down the compilation (Body Armour 2000) in which i had originally read it, in order to see if my memory of it was correct. It was. Did the same for the scene in The Thirty-Nine Steps, which my dad read to me as a small child. I had this vivid memory of the scene in the hallway where the bad guy, not yet recognized by the protagonist, is revealed when the latter sees a look of recognizion in the eyes of the former, as they pass each other in a hall. It was cool to know that my memory of that was pretty much perfect. i had remembered almost nothing else about the book other than a vague mental image of 39 steps leading from a beach to a house.

          My dad was widely considered the most well-read professor at his large public university. Other people from all kinds of departments (english, history, etc) would say things like “i’m not sure about that subject; you could go ask professor X in the Y department about it”. I’ve run into more than one graduate of the school who only knew of him in that way; which is pretty cool. I could shared some other anecdotes but they would start to overlap with things that might actually be searchable on the internet. And i wouldn’t want the interwebs to know that his son is known as the Number One Customer at the local licquor store; not to mention whatever else i’ve said around here.

          Anyway, he was pretty well-read, and he read me a bunch of cool stories when i was real young … Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Kim, Ivanhoe, The Thirty Nine Steps, etc, and who knows what else. Not in a position for him to make a list, but i sure wish i could. For posterity if nothing else.

          Holy shit … i’m not sure i’ve ever consciously made the connection … seemingly encyclopedic knowledge. Did this just get weird??

  7. Smithie says:

    Didn’t Homo erectus hunt giraffes? I wonder if that means that they had stone-tipped spears.

  8. dearieme says:

    Wouldn’t early men tend to hunt calves rather than the full grown beastie? How would they distract their mothers from defending them?

    • *Ḱwṓ says:

      This is a bit of an aside, but since you mentioned distracting mothers from defending young, it brought to mind this paper:
      https://www.karger.com/Article/Pdf/156259
      https://drive.google.com/file/d/16u4RKlI9t5uSGDz59p2c65G2ay3bwRE7/view?usp=sharing

      Essentially, a group of chimpanzees encountered a leopard mother in her den with a cub, and immediately surrounded it and set up making aggressive calls. (A couple of other papers have showed chimp groups chasing leopards when they found them, or attacking a leopard doll, so this tracks.) Anyway, this treatment stressed her out, and eventually, one of the chimps was able to dart in and retrieve a cub – which the chimps killed after using as a toy for a while, in typical chimp fashion.

      What is fascinating about this for me – apart from revealing that this group of chimps is entirely unafraid to confront a leopard mother and take her cub away from her – is the insight it probably gives us into early hominid groups. In groups, hooting and hollering and throwing things, potentially armed with hand axes, a group of even quite early hominids is a pretty scary proposition for a predator. I can imagine that a group of Australopithecines might have acted just the same way, if not even more aggressively and proactively, just as leopards would attack and kill hominid infants or lone individuals.

      If you look at examples today, this is actually kind of the norm for how a lot of large predators in competition behave, so perhaps it should not be surprising. Lions try to kill young hyenas or leopard cubs whenever they can (and vice versa), bears and tigers in Siberia go after one another’s young, and we also have records of many Native American groups engaging in regular wolf culling which would involve tracking down dens and killing all the pups.

      So yeah, to return from this digression to your comment, I would expect that with especially dangerous species, going after young would definitely be an integral part of a population control strategy. In fact, with your bigger megafauna, they generally reproduce more slowly, so taking out the base of the demographic pyramid in this way is that much more devastating. Of course, there’s a lot that can go into it, and taking out adults might have had its place too – for prestige if nothing else.

      (In the case of mammoths, actually, I have an archaeologist friend who said that a high proportion of the carcasses with signs of human butchery they find are neither calves, nor fully grown adults, but essentially teenagers. Possibly this formed a good midpoint in terms of a lot of meat, hide and tusks you can work with, but not as dangerous a quarry as a fully grown and experienced adult. Probably also sub-adults would not also not be protected as closely by the other adults in the herd as the babies, and so might be easier to isolate.)

      • Frau Katze says:

        There is something wrong with the comment system. using an iPad, You can only see the very top of the text you’re entering. Pretty much unusable. I would even know who to complain to. Isn’t WordPress open that belongs to no one.

      • dearieme says:

        So that’s why mankind developed yodelling? All is clear.

  9. John says:

    If they wanted fat, they could have extracted the bone marrow and cook it down.

  10. Ilya says:

    I remember reading that recollection of his, a few years back. I wished you two could write another book together, but it was not to be. Rest in peace, Henry Harpending.

  11. CharlesK says:

    I watched four lions eat a Cape Buffalo in four days.

    Well, I saw days two, three, and four.

    A Motswana guide told me it took two days for the lions to bring down the buffalo. Three adult males (brothers) and an adult female.

    Four lions, two days, one buffalo.

    There wasn’t much left on day four. Three males panting in the heat with massively distended bellies, noble faces stinking* with blood and flies, and the contented female getting up occasionally to pick daintily at the spine and skull.

    (Incidentally, if you are used to house cats it is easy to read the mood of a big cat).

    Despite all the true talk about sectional density and muzzle energy my buddy in the Cape once stalked and killed a Cape Bufffalo with a .357 Smith & Wesson pistol. But he is a 3-2 battalion veteran of the bush war in Angola.

    *I was close enough to smell the lions. Seven steps away in an open Toyota Landcruiser. There has been no hunting with firearms for a long time in the Okavango Delta, so elephants, lions, etc. mostly treat a vehicle as a large non-dangerous animal. The elephants appear to regard vehicle headlights as eyes. A bull elephant crossing the road (dirt track actually) did see the LandCruiser as a threat, and turned ponderously to face us. After a staredown we backed up a couple of meters and the local driver turned so the headlights pointed into the bush. The elephant resumed his journey.

  12. hvlee says:

    Some great buffalo incidents in H.Rider Haggard novels. ‘course, they are not for the tender hearted being from the racist African colonial days. Though his attitude is of the times, he has great respect for the Zulu.

  13. daft ol' Joe says:

    Maybe they should have tasered the buffalo or shot it in the leg.

  14. Chris Carson says:

    LOL I have wandered my mountains for almost 40 years now. Now I am on Vancouver Island so our bears are Black. I have been a Buddhist for over 50 years and will not harm a living thing. Well I might smack one to get its full attention. 😉

    I have been charged by a massive male I had named Thomas, never run. 😉 I have stood beside Elk that are so huge it almost boggles the mind, and I have never ever felt the need to carry a weapon. I will go up into my local mountain a little later on and get some cardio, after you hit 75 it needs to be refreshed more often. 😉

  15. Antoine says:

    Greg,

    I discovered you on Twitter over the past year and have appreciated your on-going battles against COVID denial quackery. I apologise for the off-topic question, but I was wondering, do you have any possible concerns about any long-term effects of these mRNA vaccines? I haven’t been able to find any comments from you on here or Twitter discussing the vaccines specifically much.

    From what I’ve been able to gather, most of the “gene-editing” claims seem to be nonsense, but given that these are genuinely new technologies I don’t think it’s totally asinine to have some reservations. Can you think of a valid reason why someone under the age of 35 shouldn’t get a Pfizer or Moderna shot?

  16. marc verhaegen says:

    “old-fashioned, Pleistocene-style big game hunting”? This lifestyle is a romantic fantasy, that never existed. Our remarkably poor sense of smell, our anatomy & physiology are ill-adapted to dry open milieus: “We have a water- and sodium-wasting cooling system of abundant sweat glands, unfit for a dry environment. Our maximal urine concentration is too low for a savanna-dwelling mammal. We need more water than other primates, and have to drink more often than savanna inhabitants, yet we cannot drink large quantities at a time” (Nature 325:305-6,1987). Pleistocene fossils of Homo erectus show that our Pleistocene ancestors got their food from the waterside, not from hunting, google e.g. “coastal dispersal Pleistocene Homo PPT”.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Probably ancient aliens left those handaxes all over Africa just to troll you.

      https://westhunt.files.wordpress.com/2021/05/handaxe-map.jpg?resize=219%2C219

      • marc verhaegen says:

        No, no, geochran9, not “all over Africa”, where do you get that? Please inform.
        At coasts, rivers & lakes from Africa to Java & Flores. You have a very romantic but unscientific view of human evolution.

      • *Ḱwṓ says:

        You have to admit the sheer dedication of the aquatic hypothesis stans is kind of charming, if also a little unnerving. Bit like flat earthers in that respect, I suppose.

        • marc verhaegen says:

          Within a few years, no sensible anthropologist will still follow the savanna ideas: “The nowadays popular ideas about Pleistocene human ancestors running in open plains (‘endurance running’, ‘dogged pursuit of swifter animals’, ‘born to run’, ‘le singe coureur’, ‘Savannahstan’) are among the worst scientific hypotheses ever proposed. The surprising frequency and diversity of foot problems (e.g. hammertoes, hallux valgus and bunions, ingrown nails, heelspurs, athlete’s feet, corns and calluses—some of these due to wearing shoes) and the need to protect our feet with shoes prove that human feet are not made in the first place for running” (2013 Human Evolution 28:237-266).
          Humans are fat & slow, lack protective fur, have poor olfaction, sweat lots of water & sodium scarce in savannas), are frugi-omnivores… IOW, totally maladapted to hunting on open plains.
          For hominoid evolution, google “ape human evolution made easy PPT”.

    • Harold says:

      According to, Evolution of Water Conservation in Humans https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2021.02.045 “Humans have evolved to use less water per day than other ape species”

  17. dearieme says:

    I dare say that the waterside is a good spot to catch the calves of big beasties. They too must drink.

  18. Coagulopath says:

    This would have prepared Harpending well for a career as an academic. When you’ve survived cape buffalo, the likes of Brian Ferguson hold few terrors.

  19. Rob says:

    This is totally off topic, but I’m curious,

    If if an 80 IQ couple and and a 120 IQ one both have children with Downs Syndrome, is the child with smarter parents likely to be smarter? I know Downs can range from kids who are nonverbal and have no contrrol of their bowels to the actor who played Corky on TV. Is the former sort from the first couple, and the Corky type from the smart couple?

    I know that in the G Factor, Jensen said that the IQ of kids with organic, as opposed to familial, retardation had IQ uncorrelated with their siblings, that is not quite the same thing. It would be interesting if Downs swamped all the heritable variation in intelligence. Maybe would have some implications for the origin of human intelligence? Even if it does not, still be really interesting and might help women decide whether or not to abort.

  20. mbradley85 says:

    You may also like George Orwell’s essay “Shooting and Elephant.”

  21. Harold says:

    I appreciate the return of a Harpending story to this blog. It was very interesting.

    “Although there were stories of Buffalo being aggressive and dangerous to hunt, to my eye they were simply large cattle.”

    I have seen other people say things akin to this, and, similarly, Canadians remark on how people don’t realise the size of bull moose. It seems people don’t realise the size of domestic cattle.

    Around here Herefords and Angus are probably the most popular breeds, both of which weigh as much as cape buffalo, let alone larger breeds like Belgian blues. Moose are tall at the withers, but not particularly heavy compared to domestic cattle.

    • phageghost says:

      Moose are tall at the withers, but not particularly heavy compared to domestic cattle.

      I’m sure you know this but I’ve always found it interesting that the height of Meese amplifies their danger to motorists — their center of mass will tend to impact the passenger compartment rather than the engine compartment, with disastrous results for both occupants and animal. Saabs and volvos have reinforced roofs for this reason. Luckily, not something I encounter in my neck of the woods.

  22. Rob says:

    You know how there is National (iPad capitalizes that) database of vaccine reactions for doctors, and maybe patients, to report vaccine side effects. Would it be worthwhile to have a database, does not even have to be public, for doctors and patients to submit diseases that were cured after the patient got antibiotics? Or the clinical course was significantly altered.

    Like, if that had existed, would people have seen (and remembered) the link between h. pylori and ulcers? I guess it wouldn’t help for chronic diseases with infectious causes.

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