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July 15, 2024

The Technique of Camouflage: The Zebra

By KK Brown

The Zebra is normally regarded -- by those whom have studied African bushveld mammals in any great detail -- to be one of the less fearsome animals to frequent that massive and primal battlefield.

However, they are wild animals, and, as such, should always be afforded that degree of respect deserving of anything that is not 'tame'.

They are also fairly heavy.

These are things that I learned many years ago.

I had, at the time to which I refer, been employed by the British Broadcasting Corporation to capture a short motion picture sequence of an herd of Zebra charging -- before a cloud of flying dust -- set against an enormously rising African moon. I think that there were supposed to be thunderclouds in the distance, but the latter was -- I was assured -- something that could be arranged by the BBC special effects department.

In those days, I took my work fairly seriously; and it was in this manner that I began my detailed preparations.

The Zebra is a timid and flighty animal, and in order to film it effectively, the cameraman must ensure that he remains unobtrusive. This is undisputed fact, and I may call upon no lesser an animal photographer than David Attenborough, to confirm its veracity.

Accordingly, I laid the most careful of plans.

Our game guards knew where the zebra herd would be situate -- in a valley between two steeply sided kopjes -- as dusk fell, so it was not an insurmountable problem to construct a narrowing 'race', using cut thorn bushes, in order to draw them towards a cleverly concealed camera.

Clearly, the person controlling the camera would have to be similarly unobtrusive, and it was in this respect that I felt able to draw upon my own military experience in the art of cunning camouflage.

This observation represents an excellent opportunity to draw attention to the superlative camouflaging skills of the zebra, itself.

For the art of camouflage is not confined simply to smearing mud upon one's face or other exposed extremities, but rather to the breaking up the shape and form of that which is intended to be hidden from prying eyes.

Our poor maligned zebra (in his striped pyjamas) is, possibly, the premier example of the breaking up of shape and form: IF he is in the correct environment.

Place him against either a plain black or white wall anywhere in Manhattan (or Paris, even), and the poor chap will stand out like dog's balls on a canary. But pop the same fellow into dense bush in the Zambezi valley, and you might squat gingerly against his leg -- furtively glancing about you for possible danger -- without ever knowing that you were defiling his hoof.

And this is the art of camouflage that I had studied -- and thought to have perfected -- during my military training, and in the short period of time during which I was employed by the British Broadcasting Corporation.

The camera lens, I knew, might reflect ambient light, so I carefully constructed an hood of straw around it, at the same time disguising the boxed shape of the basic equipment -- which was housed upon a short tripod -- beneath some carefully swathed dassie vines from the overhead tree near the narrow exit to the thorn 'race'.

Next, I dug a shallow trench for myself, and, settling myself into it, instructed my trusty assistant 'Goodwill', to lay strips of moss across my back, in a random pattern, and to smear me with dried elephant dung (the art of advanced camouflage is to confuse all the senses).

I felt a little lonely when the others had left, and hoped there were no lions or hyenas in the immediate vicinity, although I was moderately confident that my (camouflaged) .44 magnum Ruger would, if necessary, stave off any immediate disaster.

I waited, as the sun slid slowly toward the horizon, for the flashing lights and hooting from the Land Cruisers' horns that would drive the zebras down the narrowing neck of our carefully disguised thorn 'race', and towards the eagerly awaiting lens of my camera.

Annoyingly, the mosquitoes seemed unconfused by my personal camouflaged subterfuge, and I swatted regularly but ineffectively at their buzzing with one hand, whilst firmly grasping the .44 magnum with the other.

In times of adversity, I have always found it better to focus not upon one's immediate woes, but rather upon the brighter side of any situation: and so it was that the BBC once again became my point of deliberate attention.

One may forget the immediate certainty of mosquitoes and the distant possibility of lions or hyenas, if one concentrates wholeheartedly upon future gains that might arise from such temporary adversity.

My filming career was still in its budding youth, but, as the instigator and main negotiator, my share of the fee for this newly blossoming bud of idle ingenuity would be worth over 2,000 dollars.

Although -- in the question of camouflage -- I have always placed far greater emphasis upon breaking up basic shapes than in attempting to hide colour, I did begin to smear my face with a little mud, so that the mozzies might think my face was an elephant's arse, and give me a little respite.

I was still busily so engaged when suddenly I heard the hooting and then the close, and terrifyingly fast approaching, thunder of hooves.


My skull was cracked in two places and one cheekbone was broken; I lost three teeth, sustained a greenstick fracture in my right forearm, four broken ribs, a punctured lung, and a .44 bullet wound in my foot; but it had been worth it.

Firstly, the film sequence would have been truly magnificent, had I been able to reach the camera 'record' button in time.

But more importantly, I had proved my point.

My camouflage was better than that of the zebras.

I had seen them coming from at least four yards -- despite their striped camo -- in the gathering gloom.

And none of them had even known that I was there: even after they had all finished trampling over me.

Oh ! And the mozzies had all gone.

-- KK Brown

Article © KK Brown. All rights reserved.
Published on 2007-06-04
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