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The United Nations refers to “deep field” as being in those places where relief and development operations take place beyond the outskirts of major towns. In Darfur, deep-field operations are ongoing in refugee camps far from ramshackle mud-walled towns such as El Geneina. During earthquake-relief operations in Pakistan, humanitarian teams lived and worked through the winter with disaster affected populations at high altitude where resupply was only possible by helicopter—the mountain tracks were too steep even for mules. In large swaths of sub-Saharan Africa, it takes hours in a small plane to get to a doctor. These are typical deep-field situations.
In Burundi early in 1995, the daughter of a Russian diplomat was swimming with her family on the north shore of Lake Tanganyika when she was grabbed by an enormous crocodile. This fearsome creature has the most powerful bite of all animals, exerting two tons of pressure. According to witnesses—who were in shock even weeks later—the girl was eaten alive while the family tried to pull her from its jaws. What a way to go. It will be no consolation to the family that there are ways to get a crocodile to open its mouth in such circumstances—though it has to be said, it would be a brave person who tried it.
If someone is grabbed by a hungry crocodile, hit it hard on the end of its snout and/or punch its eyes. For this to work, you will have to immobilize the monster first. According to crocodile hunters in Australia, all you have to do to achieve this is sit on its back, cover its eyes and pull its legs off the ground!
Hippos used to wander the main streets of Bujumbura, Burundi, in the late evening, in search of fresh grazing. As we were under curfew and had to be back in our compounds by nightfall, I rarely saw this. But running late one evening—something one should never do when trigger-happy soldiers are manning checkpoints in the middle of a war zone—we came across a hippo lumbering down the street with its baby. Without hesitation, it charged our car, nearly turning us over and making a large dent in the side. Happily, we could drive on out of its way, so it lost interest. There was some trouble explaining the damage to a skeptical operations manager the next morning, however.
The biggest killer of humans in Africa is not the crocodile, however. Neither is it the lion. It is the hippopotamus. (Mosquitoes are responsible for killing many more people, but, as the vector of the Plasmodium parasite, only indirectly.) Hippos have poor eyesight but large teeth. If you are charged, you have probably inadvertently put yourself between the hippo and its baby or the water. If out in the open, stand your ground and dodge to one side at the last possible moment. Keep doing this until it gets bored. As long as there is only one such animal intent on goring, trampling or tearing you to death, you can do this as many times as it takes until the animal tires and wanders off. And it will. If there is cover, get behind it. If you can, climb a tree but keep in mind that large animals with claws— and this includes bears—are good tree climbers.
Big cats have better eyesight than we do, run faster than we do and are generally more agile than we are, especially on the run. They also have claws, so neither running away nor dodging will work—not unless you run as a group and sacrifice someone who runs slower than you. Nor will climbing a tree. When faced with a snarling, spitting, about-to-pounce big cat (lion, tiger, puma, leopard, etc.), the only thing to do is stand still, making as much noise as you can while making yourself appear as large as you can. Open your clothing and flap it wildly. If that doesn’t frighten the cat off, try throwing it whatever food you have within reach while backing off slowly. Turning your back on an advancing big cat, or even crouching down, is to invite it to close in for the kill.
Otherwise, hope there is someone around with a rifle to shoot it when you turn to run—a handgun will not be much use as the kinetic energy from such a small gun is not enough to stop a large animal. Much the same advice applies to brown grizzly bears in North America as these enormous animals can run faster than a Thoroughbred racehorse over short distances.
When filming Fitzcarraldo in Brazil, Werner Herzog’s senior cameraman was bitten by a poisonous snake. The locals said he had minutes to live. “Luckily for him,” said the famous director, “we sawed off his foot with a chainsaw; otherwise he would not be with us now and the film would not be so good.” Snakes, spiders and scorpions, even relatively small ones, should be considered poisonous and therefore dangerous. In flood situations, every living thing makes for the high ground, including, of course, snakes. In Balochistan, it was almost impossible to walk along a raised embankment above the flood waters without stepping on one. They were everywhere—which is why venom antiserum is such an important component of the emergency medical response. If you see a snake, back slowly away. Avoid being bitten in the first place by wearing heavy climbing boots.
When sleeping, lie under a tucked-in mosquito net. And make sure you shake your clothes and shoes when you get up in the morning before putting them on. If you do get bitten, radical action as in the “reality check” above is unlikely to be necessary. You will need to react fast, though. First, compress the limb that was bitten to reduce blood flow and make it harder for the blood to circulate by elevating the limb. This will slow the circulation of venom. There is nothing to be gained by cutting the site of the bite or using ice. Only then suck the venom out of the wound using a mechanical device (you should have one in your medical kit—see Appendix). If using your mouth, spit out whatever you manage to extract frequently, as the venom can enter the bloodstream orally. Since it is already in your bloodstream, you have little to lose. Friends, however, should not expose themselves to this risk.
From the Trade Paperback edition.