With a chubby little finger pointing at the computer screen my youngest little angel asks with a lisp in her voice what I am doing. I explain that I am putting a calendar together to sell to make some money for Chengeta Wildlife to enable Rory Young to train the rangers and save the elephants. She nods vigorously as I take a deep breath, waiting for the next question but a comfortable silence ensues and she goes back to her drawing, which is of course an elephant…all be it a rather strange looking one.
Our little wildlife warriors
The following day, they both burst through our front door desperate to get to me first shouting, ‘Hold out your hand Gog, and close your eyes.’ I am always a little suspicious as I don’t want any unwelcome visitors plopping into my palm. However this time, I look down and I have a shiny 50p coin and 4 copper 1p’s sitting snugly in the creases of my palm. ‘That is for Chengeta Wildlife, so Rory can save the elephants, and if you need more we will find you some.’ They sound like to two excited chipmunks and I am immensely proud of them.
I bring up an image of an elephant that our daughter (their Mum) Mikaela drew many years ago and show it to them both.
‘Wow’ their mouths form perfect 0’s, ‘when did mummy draw this?’
I look down at the beautiful pencil drawing and a storm of memories flood in. I have not thought about this particular trip for years. It is a gentle reminder on why I am so passionate about being involved with Chengeta Wildlife.
Mikaela’s drawing of the elephant we watched on that magical afternoon many years ago
The huge tattered ears fan out and even from a distance we can see that this is not an elephant enjoying the tranquility of a perfect summer’s moment. Her trumpet of rage bounces off the low hanging clouds as she skids to a halt, a golden cloud of dust haloing around her vast wrinkled body. Her large noble head is lowered in an aggresive stance and her scythe like tusks protrude, battle scarred and menacing. The fresh sweet smell of urine and elephant dung carries on the breeze and I turn to Gary, Mikaela and Ben. ‘She is magnificent’, I mutter quietly, my heart hammering against my ribs. Behind her the acacia trees adorned in leafy splendour tremble as she marches, kicking through the shallow waters edge, an explosion of silver droplets showering down. She is a shimmering gauzy cloud of energy. She claims the bank as her own, her large powerful trunk with it’s deep fissures whipping from side to side and I am sure I can see the fire burning in her eyes.
We sit silently, watching spellbound from the safety of our boat. We have no idea what has upset her. The stillness returns, broken by the gentle gurgle of the river as it caresses the side of the boat. A fish eagle cleaves through the air and the low cloud parts allowing a shaft of sunlight to glint off the white tail feathers as the majestic bird swoops down, large talons outstretched skimming the gleaming surface and plucking out an unsuspecting fish, leaving only a gentle ripple as her powerful wings give her flight. I turn my attention back to the elephant on the bank and to my astonishment, the herd is spilling out from the elongated shadows and ambling down to the snaking river. We watch as they lower their trunks into the river sucking up deep drafts of life giving water, quenching their thirst before throwing warm Zambezi sand over their backs. Small calves rough and tumble, their wrinkled trunks entwined and their shrill calls carry across the undulating river. A swirl of water alerts us to the presence of a large croc: a medevil serpent as it closes in on the shallows, it’s long tail licking the surface laviciously. I pull my gaze away from the menacing croc, shuddering at the thought of those iron jaws. Searching the bank, I am amazed to find that the small herd of elephants have vanished, melting into the deep shadows of the clammy afternoon. Deep rumbles vibrate through the air and although I can no longer see them, I can feel their presence.
In this open air amphitheater, zebra bend in stripey unison, ears pricked and wary eyes watchful as they take a drink in the long shadows of late afternoon. Buffalo swagger with exaggerated arrogance, snorting and formidable in their numbers. Their imposing horns spread outward and downwards from their large heads before curling up and around. Their powerful and muscled bodies are bejeweled with tick birds, their personal ‘bug cleaning service’. Like souls open wide to the breeze, we cherish what the afternoon has offered…a special place where one can lose touch with the material world. The cloud has given way to a clear evening sky and as the horizon is being stitched with a golden thread, we sadly reel in the fishing lines. I fight with the knot that holds the boat to the dry tree stump, pushing away as Gary fires up the engine. Dodging the grunting hippos we race like the wind back to camp where we will welcome a night full of crickets and other wonderful African bush melodies.
A few days later, we heard that a couple of elephants had been poached. The bearer of this bad news, a wizened African man with his iron grey tight curls and toothless grin was pointing towards our fishing spot and we wondered if this could have explained the female elephant’s agitation. We had heard of poachers crossing the mighty Zambezi river from Zambia in their dug out canoes. Maybe our presence had not been welcome to this herd who unbeknownst to us might have been grieving.
This storm of memory has made me feel a little heart sore and homesick for this magical place where the air smells cleaner and sky appears to be as high as it is wide. I remember the gut wrenching feeling of helpless anger at the thought of two of these giants lying bloated and rotting in the African bush. I find it difficult to describe the deep yearning that I have for the African bush and the magical wildlife that we shared our fishing trips with….however, I do know that I have to try and help to preserve it…for the animals.
China has 37 licensed carving factories and calls to shut down these factories are studiously ignored. Zhao Shucong is the man who approves the licensing of these state sanctioned factories…all in the name of ivory trinkets.
I am not there to enjoy it but I am determined that Chengeta Wildlife, with a little help from me…can preserve these magical places that used to be abundant with elephants and other wildlife.