Mombo Memories – Cheese by Moonlight

Aug 29, 2017 Mombo Memories
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You might think a place as remote as Mombo would be crime-free, and you’d be right – at least when it comes to human perpetrators. Little Mombo, however, has been the scene of repeated acts of theft down the years and despite having been present when several of them took place, I have to confess that we never managed to apprehend the culprit.

These were brazen episodes of pilfering, carried out regardless of the presence of witnesses. Some were even caught on camera, the light-fingered one looking almost as surprised as we were, as though to say, “Me, a thief? Quite preposterous, dear boy”.

Our thieves were cunning and confident. They always adopted the same tactics, and seemed to sense the opportune moment to strike: when backs were turned, glasses filled, and concentration focused on the camp fire or the tale being told around it.

Tails, of course, play an important part in this story. Let’s pause for a second and consider the facts. Like all the best criminals (or should that be cat burglars), this one was stealthy, agile and almost silent – apart from the occasions when a serpentine striped tail overturned a milk jug or bowl of homemade chocolates. Our thief was dedicated, and focused: only the finest of the ‘gems’ on display were targeted.

But the true secret of the success of this long spate of larceny was not that the crook was silent or lithe, or that he (or she) only operated under cover of darkness. No, his or her ace was being so irresistibly pretty. You can imagine the interrogation collapsing under the weight of infatuation – our thief was so beautiful that charming his or her way out of trouble would be no hassle at all.

We even received unconfirmed reports of staff members facilitating the thefts – not actively, but maybe just standing a little further away, or being slower to clear the tea and coffee station away. Surely not an inside job?

There was plenty of evidence: petite, almost feline pawprints in the butter; a suspicion of spots and stripes flowing by; a golden nugget seized and a daring rooftop escape. Who would be so bold as to commit a crime like this in broad moonlight?

Our super sleuths did at least come up with an identification, although organising a line-up would be rather like herding cats, so it was never attempted. Ladies and gentleman of the jury, may we introduce you to the prettiest little thieves you’ll ever meet: Little Mombo’s resident genets.

Photograph from the Wilderness Safaris archives. Photographed by Dana Allen

In their defence, the fault, was ours m’lud. We left the cheese out, night after night, on its little pewter platter, in exactly the same place. To compound our error, we left it in the shadows under a spreading African ebony tree, adding camouflage to temptation. And if there’s one thing no self-respecting genet can resist…

In time of course, the fromage-filching genets of Little Mombo achieved a certain notoriety. Okay, they weren’t quite the man-eaters of Tsavo, but they were the Roquefort robbers of Little Mombo. Word spread, like, well, cream cheese, but having an audience only encouraged them.

The real mystery, of course, was why cheese? Perhaps it was the high fat content – something missing from their typical diet? Or maybe they were just crackers about fermented dairy products?

Their criminal behaviour led to much speculation as to the dangers of cholesterol for the (surely tiny) genet cardiac apparatus, and their penchant for the pricier varieties. Cheddar? Never. And they certainly weren’t sentimental about Emmental. Brie or camembert, however, and they were right in there. Gorgonzola didn’t have a hope.

Eventually an irate chef with one eye on budgets achieved what generations of managers and waiters had failed to, nipped this in the bud and made Little Mombo a better ‘hood by ordaining that cheese be kept in the kitchen and only served on demand. The genets, no longer able to get a-whey with it, resorted to eating birds and frogs instead. I sometimes wonder if they ever reminisce about a nice piece of Wensleydale…

Written by Nick Galpine

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By Nick Galpine

The call of the wild – and too many BBC wildlife documentaries – persuaded Nick to abandon the smoky steelworks of his childhood for the clear waters and immense skies of the Okavango Delta. Arriving at Mombo on the same truck as the first reintroduced white rhinos in late 2001, Nick soon realised (as did the rhinos) that this truly was heaven and earth. With the ashes of his return ticket to the UK cooling in a campfire somewhere on Chief’s Island, Nick spent the next several years helping monitor the first wild rhinos in Botswana in a decade. Several years of camp management across the Wilderness portfolio subsequently ensued but by early 2014 it was time to check out a different kind of jungle and Nick relocated to Johannesburg to focus on marketing, and pursue his interest in the manoeuvres of the world’s finest taxi drivers.

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