The whole structure of the tent began shaking strangely. Was anelephant pushing against one of the poles that support the deck onwhich the tent is situated, I wondered? Then birds began alarm callingout on the floodplain and as the shaking continued I recognised thefrequency of the vibration. It was an earthquake!

It was 7.40pm and Dog camp’s various residents experienced this quake in different ways. While I was in my tent reading, my wife Susie was on Skype in the office, a more solid structure with a concrete floor and a thatched roof. Here too however the structure began shaking violently and she also suspected an elephant was rubbing against the walls at first. It was a shock when she realised it was in fact an earthquake. Sitting on top of 1km depth of sand we rarely feel earthquakes in Botswana, even though the region is prone to them,lying not that far from the southern terminus of the rift valley in central Mozambique. This quake, with a magnitude of 6.5 at its epicentre near Moijabana in the central Kalahari, was the second strongest recorded in Botswana and was strong enough to shake us on the surface, even through all the sand.

Tespho, our resident research assistant was in the kitchen when the earthquake struck. Looking out over the waist high fence that borders the kitchen he could see that no elephants were around, so his first thought was that perhaps an itinerant hippo had wandered into camp and was rubbing against the wall. Kasim, our current PhD student, was also fooled. He was in the field, sat observing two male lions – Buzz and Woody. When his vehicle began rocking on its suspension his first thought was that a third lion had snuck up and was tugging on his vehicle somewhere. This can happen (lions and hyenas have a particular fondness for mud flaps) but this time it wasn’t a large carnivore shaking the car. It was something far more powerful and far less predictable.

Written by

Hugh Webster, PHD

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