Tuesday, June 28, 2011


A few years ago my wife and I were staying at a small tented safari camp just outside of the famous Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. The camp was situated high on a cliff overlooking a dry river bed, where a small water hole was floodlit at night so that guests could sit in comfy chairs at the cliff edge with a glass of Amarula Cream and watch the nocturnal comings and goings below. It was late afternoon when we arrived and having had a quick snack we were whisked out on a game drive into the National Park itself. As the sun was setting we arrived at a large waterhole surrounded by mopane trees.

Two elephants were drinking at one end and a small herd (or dazzle) of zebra were at the other end. The scene was idyllically peaceful, with a red, swollen sun resting on top of the trees, reflecting in the rippling water. It was the perfect place and time for sunset drinks. Then as we watch, clutching our glasses of wine, more elephants started to arrive. In ones and twos to begin with, then in family groups and then in entire herds. It was an awe inspiring site. Soon there were more than three hundred elephants crowded around the waterhole. they came through the bush behind us, ignoring our vehicle as they strode purposefully towards the water. We were surrounded by pachyderms of every size, enormous bulls, matriarchs, juveniles, babies.

Then a hundred metres away a zebra coughed, startling one of the elephant calves, who ran to it's nearby mother. This startled other elephants and soon the panic had spread to the entire herd. Suddenly we were in the midst of a stampede. Across the other side of the waterhole elephants were charging off into the trees, while on our side they were rushing past our vehicle, literally brushing the sides of the open landcruiser. Trumpeting and dust filled the twilight and we held on tight, expecting a devastating collision at any moment. None came, even in their panic the ellies were careful not to run into us, even though their already poor eyesight would have been further restricted by the clouds of thick orange dust. Then they had gone. It's simply amazing how three hundred elephants can disappear- just like that. All that was left was a pall of dust, the zebras had long since fled and the water now reflected a solitary scarlet cloud painted by the dying sun, now invisible behind the mopane trees. We sat quietly in the vehicle for a while, then someone suggested another drink. Everybody thought that a splendid idea, though it was hard to keep the glasses still in our trembling hands. Finally we drove in through the darkness back to the camp, our headlights picking out glittering eyes along the roadside. Back at the camp a member of staff greeted us with. "How was the game drive? Did you see anything?"
  "Yes." I said. "One or two elephants." Then my wife and I made our way to the bar.

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