Gary. From the Old English, meaning spear of battle. I didn’t know that when we picked it. The name just, fit.
He was standing a hundred feet off and scanning the horizon. He’d come in search of water. A daily pilgrimage to one of a handful of spots where it either bubbles up from the ground or arrives via man-made plumbing, a necessity during the dry season. It seems straightforward enough, but for the African artiodactyl, the only species characterized by a long neck, stubby antlers and a distinctive coat pattern, getting close enough for a sip is serious business.
You see, Gary is a giraffe. He wasn’t the first I’d seen. Giraffes are common across Namibia. I’d probably taken photos of a couple dozen by the time we rolled up to this location. But Gary, well, he was one of a kind.
During the dry season, animals must travel to a water hole every day. Stay at one long enough, and you’ll catch zebras, wildebeest, oryx, ostrich, etc, making their way in. They’re usually pretty quick about it because there’s one visitor that doesn’t like to share. And on this day, at this exact minute, there was an entire family of them lounging around the water’s edge.
Gary’s arrival had been preceded by a sizeable pride of lions. The patriarch, of which, was currently sunning his balls while the cubs rolled around in the dust. I counted at least nine, but the hill fell away to the back, making it hard to tell if any were hidden below. Gary could see them too.
Where others of his kind would have disappeared into the trees, he inched closer. The cubs kept an eye on him, but for every moment they hesitated, Gary took a few more bold steps forward. We watched it like a tennis match. Back and forth. Lions to giraffe. I was beginning to think he’d walk right between their furry, beige bodies and lean down to get his drink.
He’d covered a lot of ground. It was looking possible, probable even. But then, three heads began to stir. Ears swivelling to locate the sound. Their heads popped up in unison, all eyes trained on this reckless giraffe. The largest of the cubs stretched, rising to his feet and padding towards Gary. He stood his ground for a few seconds before taking several loping strides, legs splaying out in odd directions as he beat a hasty retreat.
The cub gave up the chase and walked back to rejoin his family. Gary stopped running. He turned and immediately took a few big steps back towards the water. I think I actually gasped. I’d only ever seen a giraffe run. They’d wait for hours, inching closer, and then turn tail at the whiff of danger. But not Gary.
It happened over and over. He’d saunter in and they’d chase him away. It was like watching the nature channel play out live. He tried different avenues of approach, from the right, up the middle, and as his track swung wide to the left, we caught sight of his tail end. The part of it that was left, at least.
Gary only had half a tail. Proof he’d played this game before. High up on his rump were the long healed claw marks of a close encounter. He’d obviously fought back. Standing more than twenty feet high, it’s hard for a lion to take down a full-size giraffe. But they do. We’d seen one that hadn’t been so lucky, reduced to just a rib cage under a tree.
We stayed and watched for almost an hour. Gary made several attempts. Chased back every time. He never gave up. It’s the reason we named him. It made watching him try a little easier. It wasn’t a giraffe, so thirsty he was willing to go up against a dozen lions just to get a drink. It was Fucking Gary, that twit who would surely end up with another smack on the backside…or worse.
I kept an eye on him as we drove away. I imagined him successful. Challenging the lions. Besting them at battle. Watching them leave. And slurping up all the water he wanted. Good for you Gary. You really were the spear. Now wag that tiny tail of your in victory.
It’s taken me months to pull this first, simple little story together. I’ve struggled to find the time to sit down and write, but it’s more than that. Returning to Africa was something we’d always planned to do and I honestly expected to find it unchanged. What we saw was a land transformed by drought. The realities of our altered climate. I needed some time to let it sink in before I could share it. Here’s hoping the next one doesn’t take so long! Thanks for reading.