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Pragmatic options – what could I eat?

By Cleve Cheney

When thrown into a survival situation one of the first questions that either passes through the minds of the survivors or is verbally expressed is: “What are we going to eat?”

This is a valid question but it is not always the most critical need to be addressed –  the possibility of rescue, water availability, adequate shelter from inclement weather, treating injuries or illness and so on are often far more critical issues which will have to be given priority  - especially in the short to medium term remembering that we can go without any food for quite a long time.

To stay healthy and to remain active we do however need a regular intake of food.
Careful preparation is the first logical step for any field trip or travel to isolated places. Take adequate provisions for each individual in the party to last at least 3-4 days.

Assuming however that you have made the mistake by not taking
any emergency food with you or that your rations have been
depleted then you have to ask and answer the question: “What could
we eat?”

The first principle which must be accepted and implemented, if it comes to life or death decisions, is to put pre-conceived mindsets quickly to rest. If you have ever said “I will never it worms!” – now is the time to change your attitude.

There are times when nature supplies food in abundance and there are times when food is very scarce and scarcer if you choose to be fussy!  Ask people what they would eat if they were lost in the bush and the most common answer will be: “I will eat nuts and fruit and berries and fish and hunt”. This is the voice of the inexperienced and naive speaking. Easy to say but easier said than done.

…….put pre-conceived mindsets quickly to rest!


> Figure 1: Wild fruits – good food but seasonal and sometimes poisonous.

It must be remembered that wild fruits and nuts are:

Seasonal and only available for short periods throughout the year.

There is strong competition for these food resources – birds, vervets, baboons, and many other animals will be competing with you for this natural food supply.

Not all wild fruits, tubers, bulbs are edible – some are highly poisonous you must have the knowledge of what you can eat, when it is available, and where to find it (see Figure 1).

Fruits and nuts are obviously a very valuable source of food but bear in mind the realities of seasonal availability, competition and edibility.

These are all an excellent source of proteins and necessary minerals as well as survival materials – skins to make footwear, clothing, shelter,  – bones to make utensils and weapons – sinews for strong cord, brains for tanning skins, feathers to fletch arrows and so on.

To actually be able to catch, shoot or trap these food sources is also an art and science – especially if you are not equipped with conventional weapons and equipment and have to make your own. These aspects will be dealt with in other departments of this publication

These food sources can also be harvested in various ways:

Look in birds nests for eggs and fledglings. And keep your yes open for snakes (yes you can eat them too!) – see Figure 2.

> Figure 2: Birds eggs – good food.

Keep an eye open for the eggs and young of ground nesting birds.

When pans start drying up one often finds hundreds of barbel (catfish) slithering around in the mud – an excellent   supply of food.

Fish die offs can supply an abundance of food – but make sure the fish is fresh and is thoroughly boiled. Die offs can be caused by a high silt content (which clogs their gills), low oxygen content in the water or by poisoning (see Figure 3).

< Figure 3: Fish die offs can supply an abundance of food.

Dead animals – preferably fresh -  that have been killed by predators or raptors, can be an excellent supply of food and survival materials – where natures hunters have done the work for you. Cook (boil) the meat thoroughly after washing it. If the predators are still eating chase them off the carcass – easy to do if it is a cheetah, jackal, hyaena, serval, leopard – or allow them to eat for awhile if it is an animal like a lion (see Figure 4).

> Figure 4: Chasing predators off a kill can provide the survivor with meat and survival materials.

There are highly nutritious and tasty mushrooms but here the survivor is to exercise extreme caution if he / she is not familiar with and knowledgeable about mushrooms. Some species such as the death cap is appropriately named and is highly toxic – see Figure 5.

< Figure 5: Mushrooms and other fungi can be an excellent food but beware some are deadly poisonous.

This is where people become really squeamish yet these natural foods are in far more ready supply and through most times of the year. Remember that in eastern cultures foods that people might find repulsive in western cultures are considered a delicacy. When your survival hangs in the balance snakes, rats, frogs, mopane worms, termites, spiders, cockroaches and other “unthinkables” will soon be in a completely different perspective.

“Unthinkables” might be your main source of food!

> Figure 6: Eating snakes – an eastern delicacy!   

The availability of food is not only important for our bodies to function at optimum levels but is also critical for morale. Morale drops precipitously when there is no food to eat.

< Figure 7: Suricates eat grasshoppers, reptiles and scorpions – so can you

There is little that can not be eaten in a survival situation and often what we could never have even considered eating turns out to be quite palatable.

Mopane worms, fresh termites, “mabungu larvae” hmmmm…
You might surprise yourself. In this article we have given a broad overview of what we can eat. In future articles we will start going into detail – and put some things to the test.

Updated: Wednesday, October 12, 2005 10:54 AM


About the Author

Cleve Cheney

Cleve Cheney

Cleve Cheney,  hunting and environmental editor of Africa’s Bowhunter is a very well known figure in bow hunting and in conservation circles in South Africa. Cleve Cheney has been in conservation for 27 years, of which 20 years were spent with the National Parks Board – most of it in the Kruger National Park. During the time spent in the Kruger National Park Cleve culled no less than 50 elephants with a rifle and he has hunted most African game during culling operations.

Cleve has also been an avid bow hunter for 22 years and he has an extensive technical knowledge on bows, arrows and broadheads. Cleve is also an accomplished bowyer and has built many recurves over the years. He began offering bowhunting education courses more than 15 years ago. Until recently, Cleve was a lecturer at the South African Wildlife College where was a lecturer and instructor. He has a diploma in Nature Conservations and a MA degree in animal Physiology. Over the years Cleve has written more than a hundred articles on tracking, hunting, survival skills, and bow and rifle hunting. He started an 18 month long professional hunters course at the SA Wildlife College where he trained the first group of professional hunters.

Cleve has trained many bow hunters and his educative articles on how to hunt African game, as well as many other articles on different aspects of archery bow hunting an bush skills has been published in Africa’s Bowhunter, Game and Hunt magazine, Universal Hunter and many other magazines. He has been the lead article writer for Africa’s Bowhunter for more than 14 years.

His book on tracking, The Comprehensive Guide to Tracking: In-depth information on how to track animals and humans alike, is probably the most in-depth study on this subject available. For those who want to learn more than the basics, this book is a treasure trove of tracking information, insights, methods, and knowledge. The book is divided into logical sections: teaching yourself to track; understanding wildlife behavior; identification of tracks and signs; gait patterns and pressure release; blood trailing; tracking specific animals; track, stalk, and approach; bird, reptile, and invertebrate sign; man tracking; and dangers in the bush.


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