One of the striking features of researching individuals who participated in the East Africa campaign is their interest in nature. This is particularly so amongst the doctors and vets although some like Frederick Selous and Richard Meinertzhagen, as well as Jan Smuts, had interests in butterflies, birds, and grasses respectively. Dr Carpenter who served in Uganda during the war recorded in his memoirs that he spent the war years collecting bugs hardly seeing any military action at all. One or two were natural scientists. So it was with some interest that I discovered, thanks to Simon Loader, this publication on amphibians in Tanzania.
While the war of 1914-1918 is not mentioned in the publication, it has some incredible photos of places the forces found themselves in, particularly forests. Most travellers today through East Africa seldom see forests, the area around Tsavo is better known for its dust than forests, yet talk to the older generation on Kilimanjaro and they’ll tell you the area below used to be forest. The trees were removed for firewood – no doubt to service the railways and camps in the vicinity. Not too far away in the TPC sugar plantations, there is a spot or two which has been left to nature – I wasn’t able to get a photograph of it which clearly shows its density. But having seen it, I fully understood the diary accounts of men trying to find a way through thick forest. It’s hard to believe the whole area from Moshi to Voi could have been covered like that.
Back to the frogs. Encountering lions and hippo, having giraffe pull down the telegraph wires and shooting the odd buck for the pot are regular diary features from the war years. Few write about smaller creatures, unless they’re talking of the jigger and the soldier ant, or are a collector. But could you imagine coming across one of the little (or even larger) creatures caught on camera in this publication? The frogs in my garden and I take turns at frightening each other – and that’s on a calm day. Just think how much worse it must be if one is already tense from not knowing what is in the thick bush ahead only to have a little critter jump away in disgust at having their rest disturbed. Oh, and don’t forget the earthworm like creatures at the end of the book. Some look to be as big as small snakes…
Apart from the scenery and the amphibians, this publication is written in both English and Kiswahili – enabling a wider range of people to engage. It’s the second I’ve encountered of this kind and I look forward to more in the future.
And I just can’t resist adding my discovery of Paddafontein (literally frog fountain) in KwaZulu-Natal which I came across when reading about the Bambata/Zulu/1906 rebellion. There is another Paddafontein in the Karoo (well at least in ebook novel form: It never rains in Paddafontein by Clive Cooke; and a farm in Limpopo Province). The earliest online mention of the KZN Paddafontein is page 48 of the 1890 Natal Departmental Record.