August 22, 2014

Elephant Armageddon

 A Blog post by Ben Coley

"I fell asleep at a reasonable hour listening to the rhythmical songs of the fiery-necked nightjars and the distant booming call of a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl.  Somewhere far in the distance I heard a branch break as it succumbed to the devastating force of its elephantine assailant; but other than that, the bush’s gentle nocturnal lullaby was more than enough to send me into a deep sleep.

I woke with a start at about 11.30pm.  The moonlit night sky was no longer visible through my tent’s mesh:  cloud-cover I mused?  Perhaps it was a clap of thunder that had disturbed my slumber?  As I strained my sleep filled eyes, the moonlight suddenly started to appear once again… It was only then that I realised that it was the silhouette of an elephant bull that filled my window!  He then set about systematically removing large areas of bush from beside my tent with less than delicate aplomb.  The silent night provided perfect amplification for his activities and the cracks of the protesting branches sounded like gunshots going off next to my head!  More noise filtered through to my now more alert brain and I realised that our friendly behemoths from 2 days ago has decided to pay us another visit! 

My first thought was the water pipe outside my room.  It had recently been fixed and had yet to be buried beneath the soil.  Elephants have a penchant for fresh water and I knew that it was only a matter of time before he would snap the pipe like a matchstick to quench his considerable thirst.  Sure enough, minutes later I heard a pop and the gushing of water, followed by what can only be described as someone guzzling a drink through a massive straw!  Water is Africa’s most precious resource.  It is the life blood that supports the wealth of plant and animal life that we as bush-folk hold so dear and I knew that I had to stem the flow when the opportunity arose.  I clambered out of bed, armed only with my headtorch and watched the carnage through the mesh until the satiated colossus silently strode up my path and away from his destruction.  Thankfully, the mains tap was close to my tent so I was able to tip-toe my way 30m or so through the darkness and conserve our vital elixir.

The chaos continued throughout the night and sleep was hard to come by.  Normally elephants feed in an area and move on but perhaps EcoTraining’s famed hospitality was too enticing and our guests were still in the camp at 5.30am when I, and the somewhat shaken-up and bleary-eyed students emerged from our tents.  Ironically, only a few nights ago I was telling them that camp visitors are common, despite the fact that that they had been scarce of late!

We surveyed the devastation together, keeping a watchful eye on the 2 perpetrators as they continued to feed close-by, oblivious to the disturbance that they had caused.  One tree blocked our path to the fire place, another had narrowly missed the EcoTraining sign and yet another tree had been uprooted right next to tent 7.  Beatriz and Rosie were the unfortunate inhabitants as they told of their sleepless night!  The pathways were littered with foliage and branches where the table manners of our gargantuan visitors seemed to have deserted them.  We stepped carefully through the carnage, avoiding regular calling cards the size of bowling balls as we all recounted our own experiences of the chaotic night.  Finally the bulls moved on, satisfied that they had left their mark on Karongwe camp.  I couldn’t help but spare a thought for the remaining vegetation, wondering of their thoughts for their fallen comrades.

Considering their destructive capabilities, no structural damage had been sustained, and more importantly, with the exception of sleep deprivation, none of the camp guests had been harmed.  The elephants knew we were here; they would have been able to smell us and hear us shifting uncomfortably in our beds as they cut a swathe through our little oasis, but yet they continued about their nocturnal activities regardless.  It was an ultimate example of how man and beast can live together in harmony, and yet another memorable African experience for the Safari Guide course of August 2014!"

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