The final details for the Queensland Championships 2005 included information about what to do if you encountered snakes on the course. Read on for further details of wildlife encounters from orienteering events around the world. (Reproduced from Pacemaker 96, September 2005)
Australia has nine of the ten most deadly snakes in the world. Still fancy orienteering there? The only snake I've ever seen whilst orienteering was a dead grass snake that I found whilst hanging controls in Grovely Woods near Salisbury. More worryingly, a Southern Navigator required hospital treatment after being bitten by a snake whilst checking controls at an event on Surrey heathland. This may have been an adder, but then again it may have been any of a whole host of pet poisonous snakes that appear to be let loose in this country. Whatever it was, his leg was an interesting black colour for a long time. And a final snake story from America. Competitors found controls with snakes crawling over them. The apparent explanation was that the course went rather close to a large patch of dodgy plants that somebody didn't want anybody to know about, and the snakes were an attempt to keep people away.
Pre-event information for APOC 90 held in the Canadian Rockies included worrying detail about the local inhabitants. Bears come in several colours, and you climb a tree if it's black and run away downhill if it's brown. Or possibly the other way around. And if it's white you give up orienteering for good: nobody should get that lost. Several people reported seeing a bear during the event, but I had to make do with a grizzly that caused a traffic jam as it walked along the road on the Icefields Parkway in the Rockies. Back at home the best chance of a bear sighting is probably around the Pooh Sticks Bridge on the 500 Acre Wood map. Or maybe not.
Kangaroos are too common in Australian forests to even rate a top 10 mention (although the story we were told about the kangaroo that ran down the finish funnel sounded quite entertaining). Koalas are anothr story. Ask any Australian if they have ever seen a koala whilst orienteering and they will laugh. Koalas are lazy, and hide out of the sun during the day time. So I still don't know what the one I saw was thinking about walking slowly down the middle of a path at the Australian 5-Day near Ballarat in 1996. Even if I has been having a good run (which I wasn't) I would still have stopped to watch it, as did the Swede who was next on the scene. My map still shows an X with "koala" written next to it.
Most large events in Sweden and Norway have out of bounds areas as wildlife refuges. They send people out before the first start to clear the forest, and the courses are all planned to go round in the same direction to drive animals into these areas and keep them there. O-Ringen veterans will know about the special wildlife reporting point at the finish. If you have ever seen a moose up close you will understand why you don't really want it mixing with the general orienteering public. The closest I have been was at the Sorlandsgaloppen in Norway when a moose thought long and hard about running through the pre-start before deciding to head back into the forest.
The road out of the car park at Plynlimon on Day 3 of the Welsh 6-Day in 1988 had a large traffic jam. This was caused by everybody stopping to watch the red kite that was flying over the area. That was in the days when red kites were all but extinct and restricted to areas such as mid Wales. Nowadays you can drive down the M40 and see 10 or more red kites nearly every time as you drop off the Chilterns into the Thames Valley. The Chiltern Challenge car park is normally good for a sighting most years. The population is clearly continuing to grow and expand westwards, since the kites are now seen regularly at Egypt Woods, only just outside the M25.
Those of you who know me may expect this to be an excuse to reminisce about orienteering in some distant exotic place (South Africa or Swaziland would fit the bill). But my elephant sighting was in the wilds of Chingford Plain on the Epping South West map. Beat that! The walk to the start passed a circus that had been set up in the grassy field, and the elephants appeared to be out for a morning walk. This of course was in the 80s, back in the days when circuses still had animals.
Deer are a common site across most of Britain, and I've come across roe deer, fallow deer, red deer and muntjac deer when orienteering. Hertfordshire probably has more than its fair share, with huge numbers at Ashridge in particular. It is muntjac that I particularly associate with this part of the world, and it is very common to see a small brown dog-like figure scampering away. You're probably safe to think it's a muntjac unless...
...it's a wild boar. To quote DEFRA "for the first time since becoming extinct in Britain 300 years ago, wild boar have established several small populations in England, which has implications for farming, woodlands and parklands, wildlife, and the wider countryside and rural economy". I am convinced that I saw a wild boar when running at Great Hampden in the Chilterns, and reports on the web confirm that there are regular sightings in this area. Breeding populations are thought to exist in Kent/Sussex, Dorset, Herefordshire and the Forest of Dean.
I have seen foxes on at least three occasions. The first was on a cold clear day at Shotover Woods near Oxford. Probably 15 years later I then saw two in about four months, one on Cannock Chase and one on open moorland in Ireland. The common factor here was that I was first starter on both occasions (the joys of split starts), so I imagine most foxes head for cover as soon as there is any sign of people in the woods.
Those at the Caddihoe at Longleat in 2004 may remember the long slog up the hill with only the giraffes and camels to watch to take your mind off the hill you could see stretching on for ever. The lake on the edge of the map has hippos in it, with chimpanzees on an island in the middle, but I didn't get close enough to see them. Another area to watch out for is Craigbui in Scotland, which overlooks the Highland Wildlife Park. Not quite herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the Scottish hillside, but damn close.