When he was 15, Ditshebo “Dicks” Tsima took his spear into the bush. Hunting was still legal in Botswana’s Okavango Delta then, so he could follow an ancient coming-of-age tradition, practiced for around 200,000 years by his people: the Bushmen.
Most young men ran down giraffes, their lean muscles churning to pace the world’s tallest animals, which can cruise comfortably at 10 mph. Hour after hour, they pursued the lolloping giants through the mosaic landscape where Africa’s last wetland wilderness drains into the Kalahari Desert. Islands, scrub, and grasslands all flashed by: a fractal terrain of riverine lushness and heat-seared dust. “You chase them until they get exhausted and stand their ground,” Dicks explains. “Then you spear them.
“That’s the best way for a family to judge your worth. If you can chase down a giraffe, then your in-laws know you will take good care of your bride.”
Dicks wanted nothing more than to impress Lehutsana Mosweu and her parents. So he chose a riskier path: taking down a mother leopard guarding her cubs. “I could have considered less dangerous animals like steenboks and impalas,” he says. “But a brave warrior takes the spotted cat.”
Leopards often sit in the sausage trees, hiding among the fragrant flowers, so they can drop down on antelopes. But Dicks found one in the open, stalking a hare across the semi-arid savanna. He hid behind a termite mound and threw his spear. It missed … soaring right over her head. His second spear didn’t deter her either.
“Then the spotted cat was on me!” he says. “She jumped on my chest, with all of her claws hooked in. She was about to go for the throat and suffocate me.”
The leopard paused to adjust her grip and Dicks’ hunting dogs bit her. “I grabbed a spear and was running away. I thought I was sweating, but when I stopped I realized it was blood.”
His bravery and strength still impressed Lehutsana. They have been married for 16 years now.
“You had to get through these challenges before you could be a man,” Dicks says. “But it’s not a practice anymore because of the law and western culture.”
I find his survival story oddly comforting, as we sit stranded beside a pride of lions.
...and that is the uncomfortable reality of nature: that it is indescribable beauty and arbitrary destruction.