Some short Ellie stories*

Tell us about your interesting Wildlife Experiences
iNdlovu
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Joined: Sat May 19, 2012 11:58 am
Country: South Africa
Location: Lowveld, South Africa

Some short Ellie stories*

Post by iNdlovu » Mon May 21, 2012 11:28 pm

As a way of introduction........In my very inexperienced youth, long, long ago I signed on with the then Natal Parks Board as a budding Ranger working first of all in Ndumu then Mkuzi and Hluhluwe game reserves. The reserves were very rustic in those days Hluhluwe being the 5 star venue, but huts were one roomed buildings with central ablutions made with reed walls and thatch. It was a marvelous time in my life and I had an absolute ball. One of my heroes was a guy called Prof. Rupert who employed me to carry out some elephant behavioral and interaction studies on a few herds up in Botswana and Rhodesia an opportunity at which I jumped, elephant being my passion. I spent about 4 years living in the bush, moving my 'camp' with these herds as they migrated along their various routes
If you guys would like, I will delve back into my distant memory and try to capture and describe some of the more memorable interactions I witnessed during that time. I will not pass judgement or comment on the why's and wherefores of these behaviors, but will merely tell the stories for you to draw your own conclusions as to how intelligent and amazing these gentle (mostly) giants are.
We are often warned about applying human thought processes on animals, but with elephant it is extremely difficult not to, hell... I even do it with my horses.

iNdlovu
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Re: Some short Ellie stories

Post by iNdlovu » Mon May 21, 2012 11:30 pm

Hmmmmm, no comment except to tell you a little story told by Tony Bruce who was a Ranger involved in Operation Noah which happened in 1959 and early 60's. Kariba dam had recently been completed and the rising waters were endangering thousands upon thousands of animals who ended up stranded on islands soon to be submerged. The modus operandi was for the rangers to head out to these islands in 2 aluminium boats with outboard motors armed with nets made out of nylon stockings. These nets would be strung accross the islands and beaters would chase the animals into the nets where other rangers hidden behind bushes would pounce and entangle the animals. Nylon stockings would then be bound around the animals legs and they would be loaded on the boats and taken to within 50 yards of the mainland and released into the water. On seeing the land, they would swim assure and the boats would turn around and repeat the process, day after tireing day.
Below is a little excerpt from his experience in Operation Noah.

One evening, after a long day, we were sitting in a circle around the campfire. That day on one of the afternoon clearings we'd snagged too many antelope to transport as quickly as desired, and by the time we got to the last batch one female bushbuck (on release from the boat) simply sank beneath the water and had to be rescued. We brought her back into the boat, wrapped her in blankets and, as the light was fading, returned to camp. We laid the bushbuck under a tree and forgot it was there. Now as we sat drinking our coffee getting ready to turn in for the night the bushbuck staggered to her feet. In the guttering light of the campfire and pressure lamps hung on trees, we watched in silence as she walked, unsteadily at first then more surely, around the ring of sitting game rangers and volunteers. She made three turns around the circle, moving slowly and without fear with the grace only great ballet dancers or beautiful animals have. Finally she turned into the darkness and disappeared from view. Tad Edelman, the chief game ranger and an unsentimental man, let out a long breath, making us all realise that we too had been holding ours. "She was thanking us -- my God -- she was thanking us," he said unbelievingly.

iNdlovu
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Re: Some short Ellie stories

Post by iNdlovu » Mon May 21, 2012 11:33 pm

Ok, here come the stories.....

Locating our herd

Africa’s heat radiates up as much from the parched earth as it does beating down from the bright burning sun. The air is thick with dust as we squint into the distance and the glare skips off the shimmering waters of Lake Kariba drilling into our eyes, the surrounding muscles pulling eyelids tight allowing as little light in as possible without closing them completely. 100 metres below our vantage point amongst the rocks of a Matusadona koppie, we catch our first site of the herd we have been following for two days winding their monotonous way through the Zambezi valley’s thick bush and out into the open plains that slope gently to the water’s edge. A vast heard of buffalo graze on the sweet grass moving slowly ahead of the grey dust covered cows and calves as they make their thirsty way down to the water’s edge.

This is the herd that Gibson and I have come to study, to work at being accepted by them so that our presence changes nothing in their normal behavior. The matriarch has been aware of us for the past few hours, she has sent one of the younger cows to take the point in their march whilst she brings up the rear, stopping every once in a while, tasting the air with her raised trunk and flapping enormous ears to show some agitation. As agile as a ballerina she pirouettes on her hind legs and follows the herd only to follow the same procedure again and again. As they move further away from us, Gibson hands me the binoculars and I take mental note of her identifying rips and snags in her great ears and notice that her left tusk has a peculiar bend towards the tip, the underneath flattened by years of scraping furrows in the ground and pealing bark from trees in search of tasty morsels.

Out on the plains we will not lose sight of them so we quietly withdraw back to our Land Rover parked on the back slope of the koppie. We bounce and grind our way across the plain in the direction of a thicket where we will make our camp for as long as the herd stay in the area, but we must be prepared to pack up and move on, we are led by their will. Over the coming months we get to know each individual member, their characters, behaviors, quirks and levels of patience, we are accepted by them and they tolerate our close presence daily.

After we have pitched our tents, Gibson, my Ndebele tracker and friend of a few years, gets a small fire going to heat water so that we can wash the dust which has turned into a sweaty paste from our bodies. We are surrounded by the wild and become an integral part of it in mind body and soul. Our herd is out there on the plain and we’ll start our work in earnest tomorrow.

iNdlovu
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Re: Some short Ellie stories

Post by iNdlovu » Mon May 21, 2012 11:36 pm

Two strangers accepted into their world at last

The haunting cry of an African Fish Eagle signals that the sun has cleared the horizon, we have been up and out there for 2 hours already, locating the herd again, but they haven’t moved far and seem content to spend some time in the area between the Ume and Sanyati rivers. For the first few days we use the Land Rover to shadow them from a relative distance, unobtrusively and giving us the ability to rapidly give them space when any of them become agitated. Winding our way along game trails in this beast is shear torture and the canvas roof soon becomes unbearable to touch from the heat beating down on us.

The herd forages amongst trees in the morning and seeks shade during the heat of the day, dozing and flapping those enormous ears, cooling their blood in the myriad of capillaries as it flows through these massive radiators. Once in a while the cows reach up into the trees and feed on seed pods, but with a decided lack of energy. I start to notice a young ‘teenager bull’ who shows aggression, all be it in a very energy wasting way, at anything and everything around him. He charges at antelope, kicking up dust and sand and seems even more frustrated when he is ignored.

Our particular interest in this herd is to identify a few adolescents and monitor their behavior within the herd and the effects these “heroes” have on the stability of the herd. This guy is a prime target for our studies, every member of the herd is aware of his antics, the older cows simply ignore him, the younger cows seem to want to control him and the youngest members of the herd give him a lot of space.

Soon we are able to leave the Land Rover in camp and follow the herd on foot, gaining their confidence daily, but ‘Bad Attitude’ never lets up, every morning he greets us with his usual temper tantrums whilst the other animals seem to scoff at him. Towards the end of each day he is either tired out or realizes the futility in his actions as we won’t give him the satisfaction of scaring us off, although we do take shelter behind trees from time to time. The next morning brings the same battle of wills. Over the months that we are with them he gives us so much to laugh at, it’s a very happy time.

Lying on my stretcher one night, I listen to the night sounds. Lion roaring and coughing in the distance, hippo bellowing whilst they forage near the shores of the lake, a pack of hyena whooping and cackling in the mid distance and the odd bark of antelope just outside of our camp as they go about their nocturnal business. I close my eyes and picture the scene; it’s like a grand finale on stage with all the players lined up from front to back. A noise out of character, my eyes flash open. Rustling leaves and rumbling bellies, low conversations that can be felt but barely heard, Chinga has brought her herd to our camp. Both Gibson and I lie very still for a while and then I hear soothing words from his tent as he quietly talks to our elephant. Their conversation stills as they listen to him, even the gregarious babies quieten down. I peep out from behind a canvas flap and they are all standing facing our tents, trunks loosely swaying, completely relaxed. The visit lasts until about an hour before sunrise when they turn, almost in unison and slowly dissolve into the bush, the musty odour of their presence hanging in the air. They are our herd, we are finally accepted.

iNdlovu
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Re: Some short Ellie stories

Post by iNdlovu » Mon May 21, 2012 11:39 pm

On the path to our reward

Last night’s experience just seems too good to be true, it has taken us 2 months of reasonably close contact with Chinga’s herd and finally they are more inquisitive about us than agitated and wary. Sitting around the early morning fire, a cup of coffee in our hands, Gibson and I can’t stop talking about the many days that have led us to this point, our excitement bubbles over. Gibson jumps up and performs a flawless celebratory dance around the fire. Caught up in the moment I join him until a few minutes later, he falls into the grey sand holding his stomach in pain, tears streaming from his eyes. I cease my poor rendition and indignantly return to my canvas chair, “iStulele(quiet one)” he chokes out between guffaws, “You remind me of a 3 legged ostrich trying to attract mBafazi.”
“At least I have a chance of attracting mBafazi you round bellied goat... unlike you! I’ve seen them running away screaming when they see you.” I get a hurt look in response but only for a few seconds, when he again burst into fits of laughter which gradually subside and we sit in silence staring at the smoking coals, lost in our own thoughts about our triumph.

The dawn sky is tinged with pink and there is a slight chill in the air. The seasons are changing and soon the herd will turn and slowly, methodically, move east back to its haunts amongst the sausage and knob thorn trees of Mana Pools. Gibson and I will leave them for a few months, but not for good. We want to attach ourselves to this herd once again and by then Bad Attitude should be closer to leaving the herd, something we want to experience and be a part of when this finally happens. But we have a few weeks left to cement our relationship.

During the time we have spent with them we have seen a particularly large bull arrive on various occasions. We notice that at these times Chinga will suddenly slow the herd down during their daily wanderings for no apparent reason. Young teenagers become more animated and the cows become more vigilant over the very young. There is a marked increase in the rumblings between individuals in the herd and there is an air of expectation. It takes a bit of time spent with with the herd to notice these slight differences and on the first occasion we were taken totally by surprise. It seemed to us that they had slowed down because of the heat and were merely enjoying the shade of the acacia’s in the area, we hadn’t noticed their other different behaviours, so we took the opportunity to relax, lying in the shade swatting at the millions of Tsetse flies that plagued us daily.

I had focused my attentions on Bad Attitude (B.A.) when I heard a hiss of warning from Gibson. A quick glance over my shoulder revealed this massive bull towering over us not 20 feet away, the dappled shadows forming a pattern of camouflage over his massive bulk. My heart leapt into my throat and it took all my will power not to jump up and run wildly in the other direction. We were clearly sitting in his intended path and only a fool or a very brave man would not give way. Not being a brave man, I slithered quietly backwards and to the side on my backside, Gibson following suit. The giant flapped his sail like ears with a crack of lightening and I kept a close eye on the movements of his trunk and tail, giving ground all the while. I was holding my breath, feeling my heart pounding in my ears, certain that the charge would come at any second. The trees around us were as worthless as toothpicks for protection, he would come straight through them. Slowly, painstakingly we inched backwards attempting for silence, but small branches and twigs seemed to crack like cannons. He just stood there glaring at us in our discomfort, watching our pathetic antics with huge disdain. After putting some distance between us I got up into a crouching position and continued to back up until we were no longer in his path nor an irritation to him, at which time he nonchalantly strode forward plucking leaves and pods as he went, completely shunning us as he passed by, way too close for comfort.

We had learned our lesson; from here on we would be warned by Chinga and her herd of any strangers in the area, all we had to do was pay closer attention to their behavior.

We sat silently watching for the next hour or two as the bull approached the herd, moving from adult to adult, gently touching each one with his trunk, often just resting it over their shoulders or necks in a tender embrace, soft rumbles emanating in greetings. He sniffed at the younger calves with what seemed like interest more than affection, but the cows did their utmost to keep the young at bay, controlled and respectful.
Even BA was very careful not to encroach on the bull’s space or his intended path as he moved amongst the herd, but typically wrenched small branches from trees, throwing them to the ground behind the big one's back.

Greetings over with, he swished the air with those mighty ears and silently moved off, soon to disappear back into the bush where he came from. The herd watched him go, but not once did he honour them with a backward glance and after 15 minutes or so Chinga led them off on their never ending wanderings.

iNdlovu
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Re: Some short Ellie stories

Post by iNdlovu » Mon May 21, 2012 11:41 pm

We are honoured

The days roll into weeks and into months finding us out of our tents as the first glow tints the horizon in a warm purple palette. The surrounding hills which we know so well take on their familiar outlines, silhouettes against the dawn. We place a few twigs over last night’s smoking coals and fan them into a small flame adding just enough larger dry branches to provide sufficient heat to boil the kettle for coffee. Our early morning routine never changes, a small day pack slung over one shoulder concealing a portable tape recorder, note pads, pencils, spare batteries and water bottles, we stride out into the gathering light to rendezvous with Chinga and her family.

Gibson, the best tracker I have ever worked with, keeps his eyes glued to the ground whilst I scan the bush and grass ahead in a 90 degree arc, fully expecting to stumble across a pride of lion that may be on the lookout for easy pickings or an old daga boy in a bad mood. We carry no rifle, our protection is our awareness. A Francolin splits the air with its raucous call and the haunting base whistle of a Fish eagle adds to the authenticity of this place as it lazily floats on outspread wings, bound for another day’s fishing on the lake, 2 kilometres distant. We stop often, Gibson to read sign and I, just to stand and marvel at God’s Creation as the curtain rises on another day. This is Africa at her finest.

As the days pass, it seems that our morning hikes to meet up with the herd are getting shorter and shorter, often a mere 500 yards. Chinga seems to feel easy about bringing her herd close to our camp during the night, maybe she finds comfort in our proximity, could this be too much to ask for?

On one such morning, we find the herd close. We confidently stroll to within 20 yards of the closest females and stop to locate the whereabouts of BA. The cows pay absolutely no attention to us, they have accepted us fully and Gibson has commented on numerous occasions that he was sure that there would be no reaction if we walked amongst them. I am still not confident enough to pull off this crazy stunt and tell Gibson to put this thought on hold for a while longer and then I will watch as he proves his point. No fool me!

Where is BA, we need to know where he is before we can settle down with the herd, but we can find him nowhere. We are not alarmed as young bulls frequently move off from the herd for a few hours at a time. These absences grow into a day or two after a while and BA is at the stage in his development where this is normal. Peace at last, we settle down on a fallen log and enjoy the company of the herd.

One of the younger cows is showing some signs of anxiety, lifting her rear feet off the ground from time to time as if marching on the spot. I glance at Gibson to find a huge smile spread across his face. “iStulele, we are highly honoured,” he whispers “now we will sit still and see the arrival of a another member of this herd”. I look around nervously, expecting the big bull to make another appearance, but cannot see him through the surrounding bush. I listen with all my senses, nothing out of the ordinary.

The cow moves into a little clearing away from the herd, followed by Chinga and 3 or 4 of her sisters, we crawl closer. She turns her back on us, continuing with the rear leg high steps, and Gibson points out the swelling of her birth canal from between her hind legs all the way to her tale. “iStulele, it is time” Gibson whispers.
No sooner said when a grey/white membrane protrudes; the mother to be raises her head and waves her trunk high in the air, her mouth open. Her high steps become sporadic as she bends her hind knees very slightly and arches her back. With a gush, gallons of embryonic fluid flow from her. The calf emerges and with a thud lands in the golden grass, all 80kg still enveloped in the sack. My heart is racing, sweat runs down my temples, the mother steps backwards and I take in a sharp breath, will she step on her new born? She is certain of his exact whereabouts and deftly avoids him. The long fall has burst the sack and forced air into the infant’s lungs. Immediately there is movement from one small hind leg and the tip of a miniature trunk. The mother nudges him with her front foot and pushes her trunk gently under him, prodding him to his knees. He manages to collect his front legs and staggers onto all fours, wobbling crazily, so much so that I fear he will topple, but his mother steadies him for a moment. More by loss of balance than anything else he staggers forward taking his very first step as Mom continues to steady him with her trunk. From the first showing to his first step a mere 90 seconds has elapsed.

Suddenly the air is split by a wild trumpet from Chinga to be followed by squeals from the other sisters. Rumblings and growls fill the air as the herd celebrates the new arrival. Chinga walks over and gently touches the calf with her trunk as Mom looks on. She turns to face the sisters, emits a series of rumbles and then moves back to the main herd. The little one has her approval and she has appointed the four sisters as nursemaids.

In awe, Gibson and I withdraw quietly, we have been honoured indeed.

iNdlovu
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Re: Some short Ellie stories

Post by iNdlovu » Mon May 21, 2012 11:46 pm

News travels fast, even in Africa

We really feel as one with our herd, both Gibson and I are as excited about the new arrival as they are. Each day we eagerly join the herd to watch his progress and today he is 10 days old. From a staggering infant until today there has been amazing progress, he is sure footed and strong but his trunk is totally uncontrollable. We are continuously amused by his efforts to control this appendage in front of his eyes, Gibson’s description is a good one, “pluck an earthworm from the soft mud of Kariba, hold it lightly in the middle and see its movements”. We watch as his eyes squint at the tip as he uses all his powers of concentration into controlling this thing, but alas, it is all to no avail. He has no need for it yet, food is supplied at the milk bar almost on demand and he has no need to use it as a sensory organ, the nursemaids and his Mom take care of all that.

The ceaseless movements of the herd have slowed down to accommodate the calf’s half running gate, the nursemaids ever present and busy supervising the youngster whilst Mom is afforded as much time as possible to increase her already massive food intake to provide milk for him. They do not let him out of their sight with at least 2 young cows around him constantly, their vigilance heightened, it has been known for lion to single out an infant like ours for the kill. Ahead is a large stand of bush promising respite from the searing heat of the open grassland and we are grateful when Chinga moves the herd slowly in that direction. The dappled shade makes this an ideal place for Gibson and I to rest, our backs up against a tree.

Suddenly Chinga raises her trunk and sniffs the air, but evidently there is nothing to worry about as she lazily returns to munching leaves and twigs. Without realising it we are in amongst the herd, elephant all around us and they don’t even bat an eyelid. I have a silent chuckle that Gibson’s theory has become a reality without any choice. One of the older cows is feeding only 10 feet from our sitting position. Chinga has called a halt to our march so who knows when we will be able to extricate ourselves, but for the moment we are in total awe at the size of these beautiful animals when in such close proximity. Chinga is close on our left when she lays her trunk flat on the ground and emits a series of rumbles, some of the other cows follow suit. She stops to listen, lifting an enormous front foot off the ground, one at a time. She is communicating over a long distance. Perhaps she is talking to the big bull, or BA who has taken off on one of his short excursions, we’d better keep our eyes open and try to move to the fringes of the herd.

Gibson signals the direction to take and then nonchalantly stands up and strolls in that direction without a care in the world. I swallow hard, but remain seated, is he trying to rub in the fact that he was correct regarding his theory that we could walk amongst the herd? I watch the reactions of the closest animals; nothing, they continue feeding, the odd large soft eye following his progress. Heart hammering, I slowly get up and as silently as possible follow him, this crazy man will get me killed one day, but again no one shows any emotion or reacts to our movements. Safely on the fringe of the herd I punch Gibson on the shoulder and tell him what I think of his mad behaviour, all I get in return his a broad grin as he singles out a new tree to lean against, breaks off a thorn and starts picking his teeth.

Something is about to happen, judging by Chinga’s behaviour so we are not in any rush to move , content to sit and relax in the relative cool of the bush, the only annoyance being the ever present Tsetse flies. The herd is not moving on so we spend the next two hours in a very one sided conversation, my contribution... the odd nod or shake of the head.

Suddenly an elephant trumpets, not one of ours, it seems to have come from the direction we have already travelled. Chinga rumbles loudly and slowly, calmly walks out of the shadows into the grassland. We move to the edge of the bush and watch as a small herd of 6 elephant walk in our direction, stopping now and then to hold rumbling conversation with our animals. A few of the young teenagers from both herds rush into the dividing ground and joyfully greet each other, young males intertwining trunks and females caressing backs and shoulders. Chinga greets her counterpart and both herds are happily intermingling. Our infant gets a lot of attention from the mature cows of the other herd, but the nursemaids won’t allow him too close to the other youngsters. We cannot say for sure, but it seems evident that the small herd is an offshoot from Chinga’s. The matriarch could well be one of her daughters. Both herds group together and move back into the shadows of the bush, but do not stop there, we find ourselves being drawn along with them, but keep our distance, to a waterhole which our herd frequents often. The two herds spend an hour at the waterhole, youngsters playing, mature animals drinking and showering and suddenly they split up and the small herd simply walks off in the direction of the lake.

The lowering sun is a golden orb sinking toward the horizon over the lake and we take our leave for the walk back to camp, another wonderful day spent with our herd.

iNdlovu
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Re: Some short Ellie stories

Post by iNdlovu » Mon May 21, 2012 11:49 pm

A day in the life

Today is a housekeeping day. We are close to running out of supplies and will spend another 3 weeks here before returning to that place called civilization, I ponder over the term for a while, I think we got it wrong...this is civilized, man at home in his natural surroundings. We have become dependent on man made things and so there is a need for store bought goods, how I wish it were otherwise.

Sitting around the early morning fire, the coffee pot steaming, all manner of birds flitting from branch to branch in our grove, their joyous song fills the air. Gibson and I have a quiet discussion almost at a whisper as to what needs to be done. The one chore we are both trying to avoid is the long rough drive to the nearest general dealer/ trading store for those things we have become dependent upon. We draw straws, Gibson loses, I grin like a Cheshire cat, Gibson sulks.

We load our three empty 44 gallon drums on the back of the Landy and head down to the lake for a refill, a small 12 volt pump does the work whilst we sit on the Landy’s bonnet and gaze at the lake. A pod of hippo are partly submerged in front of us taking it in turns to break the surface with their shovel like snouts, blasting plumes of spray into the air, accompanied by deep grunts. Two large crocodiles are basking in the sun, meters from the water’s edge. Waterbirds fly overhead in large formations and a herd of waterbuck are grazing on the golden grasses a mere 100 yards away. Long dead trees, their bases deep under water, point their black fingers at the sky giving notice that this was once a place where land animals roamed before man built his lake and thousands of creatures perished with the rising flood, they stand as monuments in the shimmering waters. Swirls in the water indicate spots where the Kariba Vundu have herded smaller fish into the shallows which they devour in great gulps. A silver flash as a Tiger fish jumps and splashes back into lake. I pity Gibson with his drive today, but not enough to volunteer to take the chore off his hands; sadly it’s time to move.

We tie waterproof canvas over the drums to minimise spillage, without it we will arrive back at camp with empty drums, the short drive is rough, bumpy and slow as we grind our way back to camp. We manhandle the drums off the back of the Landy, bouncing them onto two old tyres to cushion their landing, the covers come off and we grin with the knowledge that we’ve only lost a little water. Armed with a very short grocery list, Gibson waves his goodbye as he pulls out of camp in a cloud of dust, I pity the Landy, he will probably take his bad mood out on the machine, his is a round trip of 480 kilometres to Karoi and back.

I sit in my camp chair for a few minutes reveling in the peace, if I delay long enough, maybe the chores will miraculously get done. Laundry is a simple process, a few buckets of lake water in a galvanized tub, dump the clothes in with some Surf washing powder and trample the clothes for about ten minutes. Remove the clothes, chuck out the red muddy water and add two buckets of clean water. Chuck the clothes back in and let them soak. Hang them over a rope washline. In the heat and with the breeze off the lake they dry in no time, Laundry done!

My next chore is one that I don’t find pleasure in. I sling the .375 Holland & Holland magnum rifle over my shoulder and walk in the opposite direction to where our elephant would be meandering, passing herds of Impala, Giraffe and Buffalo. The steep climb up a koppie breaks out the sweat under the brim of my bush hat which attracts the hundreds of Tsetse fly. I rest on a rock at the top and on the downward slope is a herd of magnificent Sable, their curved horns like scimitars as their heads rise and fall whilst they graze, black bodies glistening in the sun with now and then a flash of white as the light catches their blaze.

I give them a wide birth so as not to disturb them and later come across a bachelor herd of Imapala. A small one will do nicely for our meat supply. The shot echoes out amongst the hills and valleys, but I am far enough away from our elephant not to upset them. The shot is true and the unfortunate animal is dead before he hits the ground. Reverently I make an incision in his throat to drain the blood and lift him over my shoulders and start off on the long trek back to camp. With no refrigeration we must make biltong, keeping just two small cuts for pot roasts, a few steaks and chops to braai. Our bush fridge is a piece of hessian hanging around two willow hoops with the hessian’s top end soaking in a dish of water, the meat on a board within the curtain of damp hessian. The evaporation brought about by the gentle lake breeze cools the air enough to save the meat from putrefying for only a day or two.

The laundry, the hunt, cutting of the meat and preparation of the biltong in addition to the tidying of camp takes the better part of the day. I sit quietly at the small fire as the day turns into night, a zillion stars overhead twinkling through the canopy of leaves, I read by the light of an oil lamp. It will be a few hours yet before I hear the growl of the Landy signalling Gibson’s return. In the meantime - nothing but peace.

iNdlovu
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Re: Some short Ellie stories

Post by iNdlovu » Mon May 21, 2012 11:53 pm

Pandemonium in the night

The reading by lamplight puts a bit of strain on my eyes and it’s time to build up the fire, we will need good hot coals to cook our chops and steak. No sign of Gibson yet, but I estimate his arrival for about 8 ‘clock. There is no moon tonight, but the stars fill the heavens with a shimmering glow. Night creatures rustle around in the grass and the myriad insect noises keep me company, everything else is so still. Far out in the darkness I hear the usual grunts and squeals of hippo and the odd whoop of Hyena in the distance. The lion seem to have taken the night off, tonight they are silent.

Suddenly the haunting hoot of an owl can be heard not too far away and the rustling stops, there’s even a temporary silence from the insects. As I stand up to tend to the fire, my eyes start playing tricks. What is that dark form behind some trees, I keep dead still....nothing. I turn the wick down on the oil lamp to try and gain some night vision, a few more logs on the fire and I move my chair back to allow my eyes to normalise with the darkness. I have this eerie feeling that I’m being watched.

A faint unidentifiable noise out there in the darkness, I hold my breath...still nothing. I reach into my tent and feel the comforting coldness of the .375. Returning to my chair, I hold it across my knees. The noise again, with a sigh of relief I recognise it as the drone of the Landy far in the distance. Standing on the edge of camp, I keep a lookout for the headlights weaving through the darkness, aah, there he is.

Gibson pulls into camp and I can’t resist giving him a friendly slap on the back. Delight of delights, he has managed to get everything on the list, including a dozen beers, warm but wet! He opens two with his teeth and hands one to me before he flops down in his camping chair, I’m grateful for his company again as I listen to his news of the trip and the outside world. The fire is perfect, hot coals glowing. As Gibson continues to spin his tale I get the fresh meat on the coals and settle back with another beer, content to stare into the flickering flames, listening to Gibson droning on, the enticing aroma of braaing meat filling the air. I realise how hungry I am.

Suddenly Gibson stops in mid-sentence, reaches for a burning branch and holds it high, eyes reflect back at us from the darkness. With a bellow Gibson lunges towards the intruders. Shrieks and cackles rent the air as the Hyena pack scatters before his charge; he hurls the flaming torch after them and follows to retrieve it before it sets the dry grass alight. Clearly they have followed the scent of the dripping Impala carcass to our campsite.

We gather the drying biltong and pot roasts and close it all in the cab of the Land Rover; neither of us prepared to share a morsel with these drooling carnivores. The Hyena have left us for the time being but have not gone far, tonight we will sleep lightly.

Content after a meal fit for kings followed by a mug of strong coffee and newly purchased condensed milk, we call it a day. Gibson banks the fire for the night as I crawl into my tent to stretch out on the welcoming camp cot. The air is stuffy and hot as I listen for the return of the Hyena, but all I hear is the maddening wine of mosquitoes flying outside my net, looking for a way in. All is quiet. After a while I fall into a fitful sleep, it has been a long day.

Shortly after midnight I am awakened by something, in my deep sleep I have not recognised the sound. Gibson whispers from his tent, “iStulele, stay in your tent”, all is silent. Suddenly, like the horns of a dozen locomotives bearing down on us, the stillness of the night is shredded, wild pandemonium breaks loose. Sand is flung against the side of my tent as the coffee pot goes flying through the air to land with a loud clanging. I sit bolt upright, more squeals and trumpeting add to the chaos. I jump to peer out of the mosquito netting of the tent as a lioness hurtles passed to disappear into the darkness, dust fills the air. I catch a glimpse of other fleeing lions, the trumpeting continues amongst the sound of thudding feet.

As suddenly as it all began it is over except for the shuffling of giant padded feet, air being expelled by huge lungs and the flapping of mighty ears, it is quiet once again. Chinga stands swaying from side to side in the middle of our camp, 5 other cows and BA alongside her. I quietly call out to Gibson, and relax when I get an answer. Chinga gently emits a series of rumbles and the remainder of the herd cautiously move into camp. This time they stay until well after sunrise and then simply stroll off onto the open grassland on the lake side of our camp.

iNdlovu
Posts: 4780
Joined: Sat May 19, 2012 11:58 am
Country: South Africa
Location: Lowveld, South Africa

Re: Some short Ellie stories

Post by iNdlovu » Mon May 21, 2012 11:57 pm

Goodbye for now

The days seem to roll into one now that our time for this stint is short.
We spend as much time with them as possible, strolling out to meet up with them wherever they are. When they’re out in the open we give them space, if anyone is in a bad mood we have no trees to duck behind, but when they are in the bush or groves we are able to walk quietly and slowly amongst them always keeping a sharp eye on BA although even he doesn’t seem to worry about us too much anymore.

There are so many different characters within the herd; Chinga for example is very business-like. She takes her job of herd Matriarch very seriously, always aware of what is going on around her. It’s almost as if she has a 24 hour map in her head as to where every single member is at any given second. She often scolds unruly behaviour with a loud trumpet and the placing of her considerable threatening bulk within close proximity of an offending member, but in the next instant shows signs of much affection by touching the other animals with her trunk and emitting calming rumbles. If something were to happen to her I cannot imagine who would be able to step into her shoes. There is a big gap between her and the next cow we assume to be number 2 in the pecking order.

BA is BA. An unruly bull almost ready to leave the herd and continue his development as an adult. Gibson and I shake our heads often thinking about the forthcoming occasions when a mature bull will put him in his place, he’s in for a few surprises. At the moment he does as he pleases amongst the other members, but does show quite a bit of respect for Chinga. He is a bully with the youngsters, often scaring them into making dashes for safety amongst the big cows. He does leave the herd from time to time, but never for more than 2 days, which just shows his dependence although if you could ask him he would act the big brave tough guy.

One of the senior cows who I would imagine to be number 3 in order of rank is my favourite; she is so constant in her behaviour. Molly is calm, very affectionate and always backs down from any form of confrontation. She seems to have the job of supervising all the groups of nursemaids in the herd and spends a lot of time in rumbling conversations with them. She seems to have taken a liking to me and on visits to the camp she can be found standing along-side my tent or sniffing in the entrance. Maybe it’s the many old socks piled in the corner. She has a habit which at first scared the wits out of me, but it is so common place now and I would miss it terribly if it didn’t happen.

A few weeks ago the herd paid us a visit during the hottest part of the day, quietly and calmly strolling into camp as if it was their home. I was resting on my stretcher, boots, socks and shirt off watching them through the side window of my tent. Molly moved so close that all I could see was her front knees and big yellow toenails. She stood there quietly swinging her trunk from side to side as I gently talked to her mostly about absolutely nothing, my voice almost putting her to sleep. After a few minutes of this, she took a half step forward, anymore and she would have stepped on the tent, and I saw the unzipped tent flap move inwards. It was being pushed aside by her enquiring trunk. I had nowhere to go so held my breath and lay still. My eyes were focused on the prehensile tip of her trunk with all the wiry hairs bristling outward when she reached a little further and gently touched my foot. Even today I cannot remember when I started breathing again. Since then this scene plays itself out on almost every occasion that she comes into camp if I happen to be lying in my tent, Gibson and I refer to it as my foot massage.

We have nicknamed our baby calf Hercules. His physical development has been almost miraculous, running around, mingling with the other calves, he is very outgoing and is totally unafraid when approached or approaching any of the adults, Chinga included. I was a little concerned about his ability to keep up with the herd when they make their march down to Mana Pools, but he is able to keep up with that peculiar running gait for hours at a time. Under Chinga’s leadership we are confident that he will be just fine. But oh that trunk, when will he ever master it?

Just the opposite of Hercules is a young female calf. Gibson has named her Amasahba (frightened one). She will only go near her nursemaids and if any of the other calves come close she heads immediately for shelter beneath a nursemaid’s stomach or amongst their legs. She emits a mournful bleat when scared and this is heard often. The big world seems to bewilder her and there is absolutely no eagerness in exploring things although she has developed the ability to hang onto a small branch which the nursemaids often rip off trees for her to carry around. Her mother fusses over her and provides milk on demand and even strict Chinga shows compassion by calling the herd to a halt on these many occasions.

Our herd consists of 23 elephant and although we have documented each one along with identifying markers and recorded specific behaviours, I will not attempt to go through each one here, suffice to say everyone is different in their own special way. We have achieved something spectacular living with our herd and both of us are firmly attached to every member.

These last few days see me wake up with a feeling of dread gnawing at my stomach, knowing we will be leaving them for a while. I am sure I would not feel as bad if they made the first move by starting their march to Mana before we pack up. Unfortunately we can’t continue spending time with them at Mana Pools simply because they will be interacting with many other herds there and our presence would interfere and cause them stress. We will join them again once they start their march back to Matusadona, hopefully they will not forget us.

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