Living in the wild, one might think that Samantha du Toit’s main concern would be predators, but it’s actually snakes and scorpions. When her eight year old daughter gets stung by a large scorpion, what follows is possibly the family’s most challenging night yet in the wild.
People often ask whether I am afraid for my children’s safety when living among wild animals such as lions, leopards and elephants. My reply is no, not from those large animals who, while they live all around us, do not directly share the same living space. My main concern, I explain, is snakes and scorpions. While we rarely see snakes themselves, we see their tracks across our paths daily, and scorpions can be found any time you look at their favourite places at night. However, I also explain that it would be a rare occurrence to get so close to these animals that any harm is done. The children know not to pick up wild creatures and to wear fully covered shoes in the evenings.
Accidents however do happen and a few days ago our eight-year-old daughter was stung by a large scorpion on her leg through no fault of her own. It was dark but she somehow knew what had happened and immediately ran to us for cool water. Then started possibly the most challenging night of our lives yet in the wild and as parents.
Having been stung a few years ago myself, I knew the pain that she was about to endure and therefore did all I could to prepare her. We administered painkillers, more as a placebo than anything else since they are not known to be effective against scorpion venom, made her comfortable in the tent, told her stories and applied ice to the sting site. We packed a bag just in case we started to see unwanted signs of the toxins affecting her neurological functions, at which point we would have rushed her to the Magadi Hospital.
We made the difficult decision to remain in the comfort of our tent and not rush across the dark and bumpy roads to the hospital unless absolutely necessary, feeling that this might cause more stress and panic. The ice worked to some extent, allowing her to get some respite from the pain occasionally, but when it returned it was hard to bear.
Throughout the night we distracted her with various things. We watched little spiders making their way across the roof of the tent with funny shadows following them cast from the light of the bedside lamp. We watched a toad who had somehow made its way into our bathroom hop around.
We listened to the baboons’ warning calls, and hyenas whooping in the distance. We watched the moon make its way across the sky and waited for the sun to come up. She held on to the fact that surely by morning her ordeal would be over.
By dawn, many long hours after the sting, the pain was indeed easing but exhaustion and intense discomfort remained. As her family and for our Maasai neighbours and friends, the relief was tangible. Unknown to me, many of the Maasai colleagues at camp had not slept either out of concern and the night watchman had sat all night quietly near our tent waiting to be of help. Many had similar stories of scorpion stings and were very worried about how a little girl would endure the pain so were greatly relieved to see her up and about.
It is a strange feeling when one of your biggest fears has come true and oddly comforting to have gone through it and come out the other side safely. And to know that despite the ordeal, our love for living among these wild critters remains as strong as ever.
Samantha du Toit is a wildlife conservationist, working with SORALO, a Maasai land trust. She lives with her husband, Johann, and their two children at Shompole Wilderness, a tented camp in the Shompole Conservancy