No mercy for parabuthus granulatus

By Tony Weaver Time of article published Jan 27, 2012

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THIS is an official thank you to Jonathan Leeming, author of Scorpions of Southern Africa, and the man who supplied us with two ultra-violet torches for our trip through Namibia this December and January.

For some strange reason, scorpions emit a spooky luminous green light at night when you shine a UV torch on them.

To backtrack slightly: after travelling west along the banks of the Orange River to Lüderitz, via Rosh Pinah and Aus, and camping a night amid the spectacular granite koppies on the farm, Koiimasis, in the Tiras Mountains (where we found six scorpions during one night walk around our camp – they really do glow in the dark like radioactive thingys in the movies) we wound up camping on the Tsauchab River for New Year.

The Tsauchab is one of those wonderful Namib Desert rivers that suddenly start flowing in the middle of nowhere, with springs gushing out of the rock river beds. There’s a similar phenomenon nearby, in the Naukluft, where strong underground springs feed deep, crystal clear and icy cold pools in the gorge the locals call “Wonderkloof”. That stream, like the Tsauchab, runs on and off for a couple of kilometres, and then dries up completely – although the Tsauchab, in flood years, is one of the biggest of the so-called “ephemeral” rivers in the Namib Desert, and eventually feeds the canyon at Sesriem, and the pans at Sossus Vlei.

Our camp was in a remote gorge reached along five or six kilometres of rough, four wheel drive track, crossing the river bed several times through thick sand. On the way in, we saw herds of kudu, Hartmann’s zebra, a flash of European bee eaters, and a troop of baboons greeted our arrival at the camp.

Next morning, there was fresh leopard spoor in our tyre tracks.

Under a shady grove of acacia tortilus (umbrella trees) we pitched our most basic tent, a large dome of mosquito netting, on the floor of the circular stone boma. Down the path lay one of the largest wild ficus (fig) tree forests in Namibia shading a series of crystal clear, cold rock pools deep enough to lie in fully submerged, a blessing when the temperature soared to 44ºC in the shade on New Year’s Day. The warthogs that live in the forest had to move downstream to bathe.

On our third night there, my daughter, Shannon – who has exceptional eyesight – was getting ready for bed when she spotted something on my wife, Liz’s pillow. She grabbed the UV torch, and there was a small, but evil enough, granulated thick-tailed scorpion, parabuthus granulatus, the most poisonous of all the southern African scorpions, nestling comfortably.

We’re normally very conservation-minded when it comes to these things, and never kill anything (except mosquitoes) but that little parabuthus never stood a chance. After flattening it, we stripped our bedding and every inch of the surrounding area in search of little p. granulatus’s buddies. There’s a note in my moleskin notebook that reads “thank God for Jonathan Leeming’s scorpion torches.”

And that – rather than the malaria-bearing anopheles mosquitoes that attacked us in squadrons in our camp on the banks of the dry Aba Huab River – was about as life-threatening as it got.

Granted, two prides of lion tried to our-roar each other within metres of our Land Rover, actually setting our vehicle vibrating, at 2am on a full moon night in Okaukuejo, in Etosha, but they were on the other side of the fence (we think).

And a night later, also in Okaukuejo, a very excited Italian camper came to warn us about “the little white dogs” that had stolen her shoe. We then discovered that the little buggers – black backed jackals – had also stolen one of my son Zac’s running shoes.

Later in Etosha, in Halali, we spent a long time watching a veld monitor lizard – the land-based version of a leguan – steadily munch his way through an ant infestation in the bark of the mopani tree under which we were camped. And later that night, we were woken by a loud crash when a honey badger misjudged himself and landed headfirst in our bin.

There is something extraordinarily special about Namibia. Perhaps it is the huge, empty skies, the vast distances, the almost theatrically dramatic landscapes, the fact that there are only around two million people in a land three quarters the size of South Africa. It’s an uncomplicated place, a place where you can lose yourself.

And then find yourself.

I fell in love all over again.

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