I joined in as a small group quietly gathered just outside of Varty Camp. We were all hoping to catch a glimpse of a miracle that is commonplace in this amazing wilderness but seldom witnessed. The first breaths of life are an incredibly intimate exchange between mother and newborn and on this day we were lucky enough to be a part of a birth.
The beautiful nyala found around camp have, over the years, become habituated to people. They gorge themselves on the spoils of finely maintained and generously watered gardens as a trade off between their instinct to flee and trust of people. This ‘acceptance’ of people allowed us the gap we needed to see this incredibly rare occurrence. A female had been seen acting strangely with an arched back and a raised tail, which led us to believe the time was near.
We tried to keep our distance as not to pressure the soon to be mother a great deal but stayed close enough to bare witness to the event. She ideally settled in a piece of bush that was open enough to watch the scene unfold.
After the better part of an hour we were getting restless when suddenly her tail shot up and she let out a discrete distress call, then another and promptly lay down. After looking back a few times and what seemed to be an intense contraction she then stood up at 13:35 leaving behind a brand new life, a young wet helpless nyala. Spinning around she sniffed the newborn inspecting it and then very carefully started to lick it. Cleaning it and forming a bond that will help ensure the youngsters safety.
These first few tender moments shared between bewildered lamb and mother were special to bare witness to, the female paid us very little attention and gave us a rare insight into the process that takes place at the start of every new life. By 13:53 the vulnerable nyala attempted to get to its feet. After a few attempts and a few still words of encouragement from the enthralled onlookers the shakey youngster was taking its first steps by 14:00.
The speed at which the newborn became confident on its feet blew us all away. We watched as the first few attempts at suckling were made. There was a slight bit of confusion as both sides of the mother were checked as instinct drove the lamb’s need for milk. It was at this point we decided to give the two animals some space to complete the initial stages of life. Walking away we all realized that what we had just experienced was a privilege and the intimacy of it all left us awestruck.
Written by Simon Smit
Photographed by Simon Smit and Amy Attenborough
Filmed by James Tyrrell