The car shudders and rattles as we pass over each rut in the road and the trailer behind us bumps out of control despite the fact that we are traveling at the prescribed 40km per hour. The road undulates interminably as we make our way from the picnic spot at Dikbaardskolk to the next one almost 50km's away at Kamqua. As we crest yet another dune we reach Vaalpan a descriptively accurate summation of a sandy clearing with a couple of very "vaal" looking water tanks to one side. Scattered about on the pan is a rather large group of Oryx who turn their heads as we gingerly approach trying to minimize the confounded racket that our rattling vehicle is making.
The clearly delineated black and white facial markings of the Oryx bear a striking resemblance to Japanese kabuki dancers making the subject a cinch for a statement photograph. As I search through the small herd for a suitable subject in the correct position there is a loud clack-clack directly in front of me where two bulls have their heads together and their horns intertwined. There is nothing like a little bit of action to get the adrenaline going. I sit up a little bit straighter in my seat, check my camera settings and start shooting.
One of the combatants has one and a half horns. He appears to be older than his rival and his sinewy smaller body strains against his larger opponent. We quickly nickname him Old Halfhorn as we watch the drama unfold. At first it appears to be a light jousting with both animals treading lightly in a parody of a well executed dance.
Then, quite suddenly, the mood changes. The knocking horns ring out loudly into the empty hot air. Muscles strain and the dust billows out under hooves. There are no females in sight and it is not really rutting time. The only assumption we can make is that the fight is about dominance around the waterhole. As we watch spellbound by the effort being expended it is obvious that Old Halfhorn is the dominant male and this is his turf. He is, however, being seriously challenged by this younger male obviously vying for supremacy.
But, at this stage of the game, Old Halfhorn appears to be fit enough to put up a good fight. He gives no quarter and pushes back with equal brute force. The fight shifts to and fro in front of us until finally both animals stand back exhausted.
All seems peaceful at the waterhole once again. The two fighters move towards the water when suddenly a skirmish breaks out between another two Oryx right at the water tanks. With the same steely determination the two new players crouch down and crash their horns and heads together. This fight looks even more serious than the one we have just witnessed with dust being churned up around the combatants as they get to grips with each other. While some of the Oryx remain inscrutable spectators Old Halfhorn decides this is not to be and he joins in the fray. Within seconds he has broken up the skirmish and he sets to routing one of the participants.
The guilty party is chased right off the pan and into the scrubland around the pan. Old Halfhorn, satisfied that he has cleared the area, ambles on back down to the waterhole. However, standing next to the waterhole is his first rival, ready and waiting.
The whole dance starts over again and with horns interlocked the two shift backwards and forwards across the dusty floor of the pan. Finally, we see that Old Halfhorn has drawn blood. His rival's leg has a bright red trickle starting at the knee. This does not end the fight. The two continue to push and strain relentlessly at each other.
It takes about an hour for Old Halfhorn's rival to back away and he is King for another day.