Have you ever been kicked in your pants by a furious ostrich? Well, may be you have, somewhere in Africa. But sometimes you don’t have to leave your own country (Georgia, in this case), to get a good old kick from a 2+ meter tall strong-legged bird.
A year ago I was working on the illustration photo essay for the story on the ostrich farm somewhere in Southern Georgia’s rural area.
At the place I was met by Viktor, a keeper of a local horse farm, who was also in charge of handling ostriches at the neighbor farm. At the very moment we shook hands Viktor told me: “come, take pictures of my horses.” I was somewhat confused on why I should photograph horses along with ostriches, but thought that the two might be connected somehow, may be occasionally racing each other or something. Plus, a couple of additional photos never hurts.
Viktor’s Arabs were really beautiful, well handled and fast. He brought them for breeding from the US (as he told me) and was really proud of them. After taking several photos of these runners I asked, partly jokingly, if they every race horses and ostriches. Viktor was obviously insulted. “With those stupid birds? Never I’ll waste my horses on such silliness. If you let me I’d twist their (meaning ostriches’) necks off. Oh, it’s such a terrible smell they produce, and they’re so stupid. I really hate them!” Hearing this from a person, who was supposed to look after the ostriches was quite something.
Finally I talked him into going to the ostrich farm (all the way to there Viktor was grumbling on why would anybody take pictures of ugly birds rather than beautiful horses). When we arrived to there birdies were quite relaxed, but getting close to them for a photo turned out to be rather difficult. The would immediately get rather cautious and run away. So I ended up running at my full speed along the fence and shooting.
At some point I decided that fence is too a separator and got over it to take better shots (remembering Robert Capa’s “if your shots are not good enough – you’re not close enough” precept). And it worked! At least at some point. May be ostriches too got tired of running away all the time, and got somewhat used to me, but I managed to get close to them. REALLY close. That was a mistake.
I completely forgot that the universe is mostly divided into two parts: a male part (originating at Mars), and a female one (coming from (you’ve guessed it!) Venus). These two worlds are separated, but at the same time they cannot exist one without the other. Otherwise they annihilate, or something. So to prevent this catastrophe they try to protect each other.
I felt this protection but my very own seat. It was quite painful, I must say, and at the first moment I didn’t realize what was going on. The second stroke of pain followed and made my brain work faster. I turned only to see a big male (as I figured out) ostrich flapping his rudimentary wings and pawing his legs at the ground, just like a soccer player does before taking a run to kick the ball. Turned out that I got too close (damn you, Robert Capa!) to the female ostriches (while they all looked the same to me), so the patriarch decided that it was enough of him and attacked.
Here I have to say that being a photographer has a huge disadvantage in the wild: you’re not mobile and you always have to take a good care of your camera. Climbing even a simple rock becomes long and inconvenient process when you have a camera hanging from your neck/shoulder. And when you eventually fall, you just make sure you fall on the side opposite to the one with camera. So finally you’re scratched, bruised and cut all over, but happy that the camera is intact.
So, when I felt first pain in the behind my reaction was quite predictable: I got really angry. And as soon as I discover the source of the pain Viktor’s words about “twisting their necks off.” Amazingly enough, I remember I really was about to attack back, and even selected a spot at the long neck where I’d grab it. But then I recalled about two cameras hanging from my own neck. Next thing I imagined was the picture of me squeezing ostrich’s neck, and the bird pulverizing my cameras and lenses with strong kicks. This was the argument. I retreated quite as quickly as I could considering two heavy cameras dangling from my neck. The ostrich was catching up, and the only way out of the territory was some 30 cm wide gap between fence planks. Even now I don’t know how I made it through this gap so quickly, but I did, just in time to let male ostrich’s following kick end up at the plank behind me.
When I finally found myself in the safe place and looked around I saw Viktor leaning against the fence nearby and laughing like a drain.
Well, that’s basically it. I got some shots from the farm and a good experience with the ostrich behavior.
This story has the continuation with crocodiles (no blood, don’t worry, I wasn’t bitten by a crocodile, but it’s still interesting), which I’ll tell in some of the posts. This one is too bulky already.