19 Sep 2011 Looking for elephants
Years ago, long before Camp Jabulani and its herd of elephants even existed, I was a ranger and manager at another lodge on the Kapama Nature Reserve. On his arrival, Mr Holland – a guest from the USA – informed me that the three days he was spending with us were the sum total his African safari, and that all he wanted to see were elephants.
Now I don’t know if you believe in Murphy’s Law, but in my experience, whenever a guest a desperately wants to see one specific animal the outcome isn’t favourable. Although in this instance I wasn’t all that concerned, because honestly, how difficult could it be to find a herd of these great hulking herbivores?
Let’s just say that my good pal Murphy didn’t let me down. For three days and three nights I drove Mr Holland up and down the reserve. We saw lions mating, a leopard with cubs, rhino fighting, there was even a hippo giving birth for heaven’s sake! But no elephants, not even one! By this point poor Mr Holland pretty depressed, and understandably so, as his sole mission was to witness an elephant in the flesh.
As we set off on our very last drive I felt the pressure mount. Why, oh why, didn’t I pursue a career in dentistry or engineering instead? After about an hour of tracking…eureka…we heard them! They were quite deep in the bush though, so we couldn’t actually see them. I circled the block a couple of times in the hope that they’d eventually move closer to the road. Half an hour later we eventually realised that the herd had no intention of going anywhere.
Desperate, I asked Mr Holland if he would be open to venturing closer on foot. He agreed (phew!). I grabbed my rifle and, after the standard safety talk, we headed off. We did have one minor problem to deal with however. Mr Holland was an acute arachnophobe. And since it was summer, it was likely that there’d be Golden Orb spiders everywhere. Their gigantic golden webs can be found on just about every tree during the hot months. These spiders are non-venomous, but the fact that they grow to the size of a man’s hand didn’t help matters. So what should have been an easy 15 minute jaunt, quickly became a 45 minute obstacle course as we tried to avoid every web en route.
At long last we spotted the elephants. I don’t know who was more excited, me or Mr Holland! We came to a stop some 60 metres off, and stared in disbelief at the 25 or so feeding elephants. They were completely unaware of our presence, that is until the wind suddenly changed direction. The elephants stopped feeding immediately, and in unison stuck their trunks up in the air like periscopes. Having picked up on our scent, the herd went stampeding off. Fortunately not towards us!
The next minute I heard bushes crashing behind me. Mr Holland was sprinting back towards the vehicle like a man possessed. As it happened the matriarch hadn’t left with the rest of the herd, and was instead charging directly at us. I had a split second in which to decide what to do. Run like hell or stay put? I was the ranger, and I had the rifle, and I knew I was supposed to stand still…but in the end all that ‘knowing’ went right out the window as I watched this enormous animal bare down on me.
I turned and ran like never before (even faster than the day that Manya chased me), and as I sprinted past Mr Holland I shouted to him, “FASTER, FASTER”!
Luckily it turned out to be a mock charge! I beat Mr Holland to the vehicle by at least 20 seconds, even though he had a head start on me!
Three things were achieved that day. We saw elephants, Mr Holland was cured of his arachnophobia, and I came to the conclusion that I’m a better manager than I am a ranger!
Until next time,