To the east, mile upon mile of white beaches and coral islands are washed by the waves of the Indian Ocean, and here, in the south, the paths of sand rivers cut through tropical woodland. From the vantage point of the Cessna it is possible to make out the lumbering bulk of elephants breaking their way through dense bush and palm tree forests, and sandy coloured shapes in the clearing, probably antelope or gazelle.
Below is Ruaha National Park, 12,950 square km of high plains and forests, where deep terracotta and flame colours of the earth reflect the heat of the African sun. Massive rock kopjes sweep majestically upwards to form a fine line against the sky, poised above wide expanses of rolling land where distances dissolve in a wash of turning colours, marked with gigantic silhouettes of thousand year old baobab trees.
His barefoot passion for the place is contagious. His charm may be lost on the huge herds of elephants that roam at large, (although at least one many-ton female that he calls Constantine will eat palm seeds from his hands), but those who conquer the distances to come here cannot help but fall in love.
It is six am. and the camp is alive with excited cries. The cook has spotted a pack of African Hunting Dog in the bush. They are on the move, and he has trailed them through the gathering light of dawn. Guests are roused, forsaking their trays of morning tea and biscuits to scramble into vehicles, and in moments we are lurching through the bush, testing the speed of these specially modified machines against the drivers’ knowledge of the bumps.
Now the atmosphere changes. The vehicles slow to a grumbling crawl, the passengers are silent, and alert. They wend through the trees following hushed radio instructions from Chris, and, finally are faced by the pack. Twelve barrel-bellied panting bodies are arrayed in a circle on the sandy earth, each marked with fine khaki camouflage. It is breakfast time. The dogs begin to stand, each moving a few yards forward, then settling back in the dust. Chris is ahead of them, predicting their direction into an open clearing, and sure enough they began to assemble in that sunlit arena, watching for possible prey.
The dogs were running lazily, teasingly, seemingly just stretching their legs, before wheeling back to torment the fatter warthog mate who stayed. Surrounded by dogs, the piggy in the middle puffed up his shoulders, feigning formidable bravado. He tottered to and fro, the dogs edged forward, until one made the run and the warthog floundered, he darted a yard, and, in a puff of dust, vanished down a hole. Occasionally his snout would poke skywards, only to be sharply withdrawn. But the watchers didn’t wait to witness the end. It was breakfast time in the cool shade of camp and the hunting dogs, so rarely outwitted, sank back into a heat-sodden torpor.