Thursday, May 17, 2018


Michael - Thursday

Some animals have vanished from the planet. Others survive but their populations and dynamics have changed dramatically. For example, the American bison ranged in their millions over the prairies in the nineteenth century. They survive, but they number around 150,000 in total and their earlier migratory habits are gone.

The same is true of South Africa's iconic springbok. They are highly adapted for semiarid conditions and love the Karoo area of the center of the country. They, too, ranged in their tens of millions over the drier areas on southern Africa in the nineteenth century.

But at some times, drought condition would drive them to look for water and better food supplies. And they would migrate. Then they became 'trekbokke'. Literally 'travel buck'. Some never migrated but stayed on their home range. They were the houbokke (stay buck).

The last great migration was in 1896. Huge numbers died as a result of predation - by humans and other predators - and many animals died in the crush. Where they passed it was as if a huge flock of locusts had moved through. Not a leaf or blade of grass remained. Farmers unfortunate enough to have the trekbokke move through, gave up and left the land. The animals poured through the streets of Beaufort West - unofficial capital of the Karoo - and people were forced to take shelter to avoid being trampled. Hunters would go out in ox wagons, form a lager, and then shoot the passing buck as they moved around it - those that could.

Here is an eyewitness account of the great trek of 1896:

“At first there was a faint drumming coming from an enormous cloud of dust and only the front rank of the springbok, running faster than galloping horses, could be seen. This front line was at least three miles long. Hare and jackal and other small animals were racing past the hill and taking no notice of the humans. Snakes were out in the open, too, moving fast and seeking cover under the rocks on the hill.

“The first solid groups of buck swept past on both sides of the hill. After that the streams of springbok were continuous, making for the river and the open country beyond. Then the buck became more crowded. No longer was it possible for them to swerve aside when they reached the fires and the wagon. Some crashed into the wagon and were jammed in the wheels, injured and trampled upon. The wagon became the centre of a mass of dead and dying buck. At the height of the rush, the noise was overwhelming. Countless hooves powdered the surface to fine dust, and everyone found it hard to breathe. Within an hour the main body of springbok had passed, but that was not the end of the spectacle. Until long after sunset, hundreds upon hundreds of stragglers followed the great herd. Some were exhausted, some crippled, some bleeding.

The trees were reduced to gaunt stumps and bare branches. The buck had brushed off all herbage in their passing. Every donga leading into the river was filled with buck. It seemed that the first buck had paused on the brink, considering the prospects of leaping across. Before they could decide, the ruthless mass was upon them. Buck after buck was pushed into the donga, until the hollow was filled and the irresistible horde went on over the bodies.

“Small animals were lying dead everywhere – tortoises crushed almost to a pulp, fragments of fur that had been hares. A tree, pointing in the direction of the advancing buck, had become a deadly spike on which two springbok were impaled.”

Fortunately, unlike the bison, the springbok was never reduced to the verge of extinction. But the numbers were reduced to the point where they were below the natural carrying capacity of these areas. The bokke no longer trekked.



As you read this, we will be at the tenth Crimefest in Bristol, UK, moderating panels and appearing on one with Charles and Caroline Todd. We’re greatly looking forward to that one in particular!

Crimefest is celebrating its ten year stretch with a special anthology of the same name. It has short stories by a selection of great authors. Also one by Michael Stanley! It's the brainchild of Adrian Muller and Martin Edwards. Not to be missed.


14:40 – 15.30 Panel: Climate Change: Cold Crimes and Hot Homicides
  Quentin Bates, Kjell Ola Dahl, Lilja Sigurðardóttir, Robert Wilson
  Participating Moderator: Stanley Trollip


16:00 – 16:50 Panel: Writing Pairs: Is Two a Crowd?
  Michael Stanley (Michael Sears & Stanley Trollip)
  Charles Todd (Charles & Caroline Todd)
  Moderator: Karen Robinson


14:50 – 15:40 Panel: Getting Personal – Private Lives of Characters
  Kjell Ola Dahl, Mari Hannah, Priscilla Masters, Jeffrey Siger
  Participating Moderator: Michael Sears


  1. What a spectacle, Michael.
    The eyewitness account so gripping!
    I have a photo I took on an airstrip in Botswana that I call Springbok with windsock.” I’ll never look at in the same way again.

  2. There's actually the idea of a plan to try to open up a large area of the Karoo to Trekbokke again. But we'll never see those sorts of numbers again.

  3. I am keen to use these images in a conservation presentation. where do I get permission