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The Trouble With Lions – Siafu (safari ants)

From chapter 24 of The Trouble With Lions comes this excerpt about an encounter with a voracious carnivore that students met in the Kibale National Park in Uganda…

There is other dangerous wildlife in the park, and one does not always need to give verbal warnings about them to make the point. During our first trip the students had seen a seemingly never-ending stream of safari ants, siafu, crossing a track. They knew my own story of the effects of these little terrors when clamped to the “family jewels” inside a man’s shorts, and they had been careful to avoid stepping on their moving columns. But in the dark shade of the forest, with precious little direct sunlight, and a carpet of greenery, the odd mistake was bound to occur. Eventually the inevitable very close encounter with these ants came.

As we walked along a narrow trail, several of the students started to squawk and leap about, pulling at various bits of clothing under which lay numerous ants. Charlene, herself a victim, took time to record the impromptu dances on film as Mike, Chantelle and Catherine partially disrobed and removed the attackers. No wonder the footage is a bit wobbly.
As Gil and I, who were walking with the group, pointed out, we had all been lucky. Safari ants will sometimes climb up into the trees and fall like rain upon potential victims. They have been known to consume an entire coop-full of chickens that have been locked up for the night, leaving only bones and feathers. Tethered dogs can be turned into glove puppets in the same way. Those who have been victims will attest that there must be some sort of communication among a group of siafu. When a sufficient number of them have clambered over a person they all seem to bite at once.


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