A Switzerland-based computer programmer and amateur cyclist had the ride of his life Friday, when he was joined on the road by a sprinting wild ostrich.
In the GoPro video he made of the encounter, “you can hear me laughing from my bike,” says Oleksiy Mishchenko, who lives in Zurich and works for Google. “I thought I was going to fall off.”
Mishchenko was spending a week’s vacation in South Africa to cycle in the Cape Argus Tour. On Friday, he and some friends rode out to the Cape of Good Hope, at the southern tip of Africa. The road was deserted.
Out of the corner of his eye, Mishchenko saw a pair of ostriches at the side of the road, one male (with darker colored feathers) and one female (with lighter feathers). Suddenly, the male jumped onto the road. He ran after Mishchenko’s friends, while the cyclist filmed the “race” from behind.
Mishchenko says the cyclists were pedaling downhill and were going about 30 miles (50 kilometers) an hour. The big bird had no trouble keeping up, since they have been clocked over 40 miles (70 kilometers) an hour.
“It didn’t cross my mind that it could be a threat,” says Mishchenko. “The guy seemed totally cool. I don’t think he was scared, because he didn’t try to change directions or escape.”
The cyclists finished their trip to the cape. On the way back, they saw the ostrich standing near the side of the road. Mishchenko adds that there is an ostrich farm in the area, although he says the footage was made inside the boundaries of the Table Mountain National Park.
“I have never seen anything like this before,” says biologist Craig Packer, a National Geographic explorer and professor at the University of Minnesota who studies African wildlife.
“I’ve never seen people on bicycles near ostriches before,” adds Packer, who has made close-up pictures of the birds through his “Serengeti Selfie” project. “We don’t know what was going on in that bird’s mind.”
Since the animal’s face isn’t very visible in the video, it’s especially difficult to try to guess its thoughts. It doesn’t look like it was acting aggressively, since it wasn’t lunging at the bikers, Packer says. It’s possible it was confusing the cyclists with female ostriches, or perhaps it was simply “caught in traffic” along the road. Sometimes animals do end up going along with the flow of vehicles or people for a while, unsure of a safe place to make an exit, a bit like a teenage driver.
“Maybe he was trying to show off to his girlfriend,” suggests Mishchenko.
That’s possible, says Packer, although the birds normally try to impress mates by intermittently flapping their wings and making a booming noise, neither of which is seen in the video.
“It’s so puzzling what is going on,” says Packer.
Ostriches remain relatively plentiful across much of Africa, although they are usually wary of people.