THE ZOG GENE- LONDON LETTER, THE ZULULAND OBSERVER
Once when Zululand conservationist Lawrence Anthony and I were discussing his adventures in war-torn Africa while trying to prevent the annihilation of rhinos, I asked what his scariest moment was. He said it was when he was in a rebel army’s bush camp – the first outsider to be invited – and a guerilla general, one of the world’s most wanted war criminals, asked him out of the blue, where was ‘all the money’. Lawrence had no idea what he was talking about. There was no money involved. He was saving rhinos. But as an old Africa hand, he sensed a trap. He batted the question straight back – ‘your people handle the money’. If he had replied nervously, or hesitatingly ‘what money?’ or ‘what are you talking about?’ he would not be
alive today. It was that close. I then asked how scary was it when drunken soldiers came banging down hotel doors in Juba, a war-ravaged dump, looking for anyone ‘connected’ to the rebels (Lawrence wasn’t, but he was the sole mhlungu around) and he had to flee his room at midnight with armed soldiers on one side, and the crocodile-infested Nile his only escape on the other. Yes, he conceded that was pretty scary. Or what about the time when ragtag militias at some town you and I have never heard of up in Africa were threatening to lynch him and some of his friends they didn’t like? Lawrence nodded. That was a bit hairy. Especially when his friends told him that Plan A was to kill the closest soldiers, grab their AKs and shoot their way out. There was no Plan B. We’re writing a book about these incredible exploits.
I decided the latter scenario was the scariest – five people including a 57- year-old whitey saving to contemplate shooting their way out of a hostile army base in deepest Africa. Lawrence pondered for a moment, then decided the first scenario was the worst; thinking on his feet for the ultimate trick question. We both agreed that swimming a roc-infested river as the wussiest scenario. Some wuss. This got me thinking. I once wrote a hopefully to be published one day) adventure yarn where I spoke of the Zog gene. I didn’t make it up; I read about it in an outdoor magazine as a theory why some people preferred to hike or fish rather than hit golf balls or spill metaphorical blood on boardroom floors. The Zog gene is a genetic throwback to our caveman days. Zog is stoneage argot for a Jurassic Indiana Jones. To me it symbolised perfectly why some prefer to be cold, wet, and excited rather than dry, warm and bored. That’s why I fish. I have long given up explaining what I like about fishing; the electric jerk of the line; the screaming ratchet; the cry of a gull … if someone doesn’t get that, I’m wasting my time. (Although in my lengthening years, I would now rather be in a dry warm bed with my wife than bouncing on the ocean, but it was not always thus). For Lawrence it always was thus. He has the alpha Zog gene. He is the ultimate adventurer. Lawrence will fight to conserve any species. He fervently believes none survive alone. At his Thula Thula game lodge, conversations are routinely halted as he fishes out an insect floundering in the swimming pool. But he does that reflexively. Anyone can save their local pond, and so they should. But who will negotiate with the hardest men in the world? Men to whom a human life is worth a pinch of dirt, let alone an animal? Lawrence will. Whether it’s the heirs to Saddam Hussein, or people who fight wars with child soldiers, he will be there, saying … hey, don’t do that. I’ve got a better idea. Lawrence loves animals. He loves people; he loves a party. But even more, he loves adventure. He may dispute this, and may never talk to me again for saying it. But if you combine an endangered species with the roughest neighbourhood in the world, well … Lawrence gets very Zog-like. So ladies and gentlemen, let’s raise a glass to the Zog gene.