Cementing relations
Issue 5 (November 2009) Hu Berry was chief biologist at Etosha – a job that had included some utterly bizarre moments.

 

“As South West Africa proceeded along the path to independence, Etosha hosted many visiting dignitaries who were invited to relax during their busy schedules and enjoy the wildlife. One morning the delegation landing at Okaukuejo was particularly high-powered. Several of the names echoed in the halls of power at international level.


‘Mopanie’ and ‘Tambotie’, the luxury bungalows, were allocated to the top VIPs and long trestle tables were arranged on the lawns, where a barbeque was to be held that evening. An impressive amount of meat was draped along the grills, and there was an imposing choice of South African wines and spirits for the guests to quench their thirst at sunset. According to witnesses, the evening’s proceedings were memorable, with a mass of empty plates and bottles left on the tables late that night.


A sharp, authoritative knock sounded at my door early the following morning. Two burly men, one in uniform, stood waiting for me. They introduced themselves stiffly, and asked if they could come inside. I invited them into the lounge and sat, somewhat uncomfortably, as I waited for them to speak. The military attaché produced a small container, saying, “I’ve been told to give this to you. There’s a message inside”. I read the handwritten note first. It said: “His Excellency unfortunately fractured his dentures last night and has requested that you do your best to repair them. Please regard this as the highest priority.” I opened the packet. A set of lower dentures lay smiling, rather crookedly, up at us.


My research at that time included taking dental impressions of immobilised lions and wildebeest, and estimating the animals’ age by looking at the wear and tear on their teeth. It meant I had an array of dental aids at my disposal. Over at the laboratory I aligned the cracked dentures, applied quick-setting cement and clamped the broken halves together. We waited for the adhesive to set before the aides, with their expressions suitably serious, strode towards the bungalows to present the precious consignment to its owner.


Later, I received a thank you note from the wearer of my restorative efforts. Not only had the dental plate held together during the critical period when he made a key speech the next day, they were still intact a few weeks later. He told me that the dentures had broken when he took an overzealous bite from a juicy, but bony steak.


Not surprising – even Etosha lions display broken canines after gnawing on a tasty bone.”

 

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