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Graham Mercer releases book about safari adventures in Africa

GRAHAM Mercer’s love of nature took him on a journey from Sankey Canal to East Africa.

His interest in wildlife came from his dad Samuel who took him on bike rides along the canal to Winwick where he would point out species of birds and wildflowers along the way. His dad also served in India during the war and when he returned he told Graham, then five, bedtime stories about his encounters with everything from peacocks to tigers.

That sense of duty and taste of adventure clearly stayed with Graham because in 1961 he joined the Royal Navy, aged 20.

Within two years – as a young Royal Navy sailor in Mombasa – he had gone on his first safari and it changed his life.

Collins Green resident Graham said: “I took a two-day trip to Kilimanjaro, through Tsavo East National Park which cost about £12 including a stay at a hotel. I think my first wild animal sighting was of a red elephant, covered in laterite soil. I was thrilled and still remember that safari clearly. In fact in 2018 my wife Anjum and I went back to retrace much of that same route, 56 years on.”

After his nine years in the navy, Graham had fallen in love with East Africa and so he stayed there by becoming a teacher.

He spent most of his career at the International School of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and over 34 years he went on countless safaris.

Graham is recounting his adventures because he has just published his 16th book about some of the most famous national parks in the world called Into The Eyes of Lions. Covering thousands of miles in a two-wheel drive Renault 4, Graham saw more than 50 species up close, including the ‘big five’ – African elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo, and rhinoceros – many times over the years.

An approaching lion in Mikumi

The 79-year-old added: “I had a sheer love of the way of life. Not just because of the wild animals and wild places but because of the independence and the camaraderie among friends and, of course, because of the adventure and excitement.

“One of the highlights was the Serengeti migration – always spectacular but at its most astonishing when the long rains start in around April or May, when the migration leaves the short-grass plains to head north towards Kenya.

“My wife and I were once leaving the Serengeti when we encountered the migration heading up the main track. Two million or so wildebeests and zebras in a huge, slowly passing congregation. Beyond them, stretching for 32km, was another line of animals. We got out and walked among them. Quite unforgettable.”

In his book, Graham also writes about his close encounters with tribespeople such as the Maasai, the Datoga and the hunter-gathering Hadzabe.

He said: “My friend and I once stayed with the Maasai who really looked after us. We slept in one of the traditional huts, with two goats sharing the bed at one point.

“During the night our host, a senior warrior called Yakob, woke us up and asked us to come outside, where a full Moon was shining.

“Pointing at it with his spear, he asked: ‘Is it true that Americans have walked upon this Moon?”

“We said: ‘It is’ and he said: ‘That was a long safari!’

A Datoga tribesman

While tribespeople were largely welcoming, it was not always that way with wild animals.

Graham, a fellow of the Royal Geographic Society, added: “I was once driving in Mikumi National Park when we were charged by a bull cape buffalo. I had switched off the engine. As the buffalo ran at us at speed I reached out for the ignition key but before I could restart the car it was upon us.

“I remember looking and seeing this huge head with massive horns about to hit my door. In less than a second I resigned myself to being killed and hoped my wife would survive. As I braced for the tremendous impact I suddenly saw the buffalo’s head and horns pass over the bonnet as it swerved at the last moment. I still remember looking at my hands – my knuckles were white.”

They say travel broadens the mind and it may have given Graham a different outlook when he was diagnosed with incurable lung cancer in 2016.

He added: “When I was first diagnosed I gave up almost everything I enjoyed, including writing. After a week or two of this nonsense I said: ‘To hell with this, there’s a life out there that ne living’.

“I realised that if the book was to be finished I’d better get on with it. And I did. I am recovering from radiotherapy but when I’m feeling up to it I hope to do a few talks in Burtonwood and maybe elsewhere and if Waterstones are interested I would be interested in book signings.

“I hope some people find the book interesting and maybe inspiring. Most of all I would like anyone with cancer or other serious ailments to realise that it shouldn’t necessarily stop them from enjoying life or doing what they wish to do.”