In January 2014 the cold wet winter was beginning to gnaw at my bones and my feet seemed to be in a constant state of numbness.
‘I am panicking, Gary. My feet are so numb that I can no longer feel the throb of Africa beneath them. I have got to get out and see some wildlife.’ I smile pathetically. ‘I suppose Zimbabwe is not an option?’
We settle on a day trip to Whipsnade Zoo. Our two little girls bob along excited to be out to see the elephants which their ‘Gog’ (me) goes on and on about. Dark brooding clouds tower high and accompanied by an angry growl of thunder, the heavens open and rain like a thick drape has us sprinting for cover. We stand with our noses pressed against the glassed doors of a restaurant waiting patiently for the sun to struggle through the thick blanket of clouds. Once the heavens stopped scowling down on us and veiled in a gauzy haze we venture out to see the animals.
I have nothing negative to say about Whipsnade Zoo. They do have outside fields to meander through.
However..a lump the size of a green apple is lodged firmly in my throat as I watch the elephants: ‘Prisoners of the times we are living in’ and I feel sad for them.
Our two little angels are full of starlight, fizzing over with excitment. They have been so close to real live elephants. Real live elephants..I drift off.. a funny little smile shaping my lips and my butt muscles twitch and tighten. Real live elephants in the bush..and a little too close for comfort. I think back to one of our fishing trips in the Zambezi Valley.
Our small green canvas tent sits like a blot under the large acacia tree. The guy ropes are strung taut keeping us upright in this wild paradise. The dry parched earth rolls down to the vast Zambezi river and small puffs of dust hang motionless in the still afternoon before freckling lightly over the tinder dry vegetation. The expansive river glistens: undulating in the mellow warmth of the late afternoon. A lone vervet monkey stares down from the low hanging branch. With the stealth and speed of a professional thief he shinnies down, grabbing a couple of bananas not a foot away from my chair and disappears into the high branches…raising his eyebrows..and grinning at my dumbfounded expression.
Warmth spreads like sunshine on my soul. Life does not get much better than this. Squadrons of midges and flies hover with summer laziness, irritating but also a part of evolution’s slow magic.
On the edge of earth and heaven, the large golden sun breaks free from the brooding clouds bathing the bush in a warm coppery glow. A solitary bull elephant ambles along the rich banks of the Zambezi river,tearing up grass and hyacinth with his large and rather formidable trunk. His weather worn tusks sweep out in front and although he is close, I focus in on him through the binoculars and can see the deeply incised grass-notch an inch or two from the tip of his right tusk. Bronzed by the afternoon glare and scolded by the fork tailed drongo he is surely one of the most noble and dignified animals in the animal kingdom. He continues to sway as light as a dancer and I feel my heart sink as he disappears out of sight. The air continues to pulse with a subliminal rumble you feel rather than hear. African Jacanas trot lightly over a rich carpet of water hyacinth boasting beautiful blue flowers and I am certain I can hear fish slapping the water. Evening stitches the horizon with the last of its golden thread. The liquid murmur of the river and the evocative call of the fish eagle brings the perfect afternoon to a close. The day has slipped through my fingers.
The smoke from the mopani fire helps to keep the mosquitoes at bay and we sit relaxed and happy listening to the hippo grunting and a cacophony of frogs and crickets. Africa’s nights are never lonely. Too soon we are lying in our minute tent, fingers entwined listening to the wind flirting with the trees and a distant echo of a throaty roar. There is peace in the solitude and I close my eyes drifting in that wondrous space between wakefulness and sleep.
As tender beams from the African half moon peek gently through the gauze window, the tree above us explodes and acacia pods come raining down. I sit bolt upright as Gary puts his hand firmly over my mouth whispering to me to be quiet. Peeping out the small gauze window of the tent, the most enormous wrinkled and abrasive looking back legs are blocking my view. The bull is leaning his full weight against the tree and rocking it back and forth, his large holed ears folded back onto his massive shoulders. The three foot of thick wiry hair on the end of his four foot tail, all 8 to 10 kgs of it thrashes the gauze window not an inch from my face. The metallic taste of blood clogs my throat and I realize I am biting down on my lip. Time has stood still. The pungent smell of urine invades the tent as he lets forth with a warm stream that surges onto the parched earth . I am mesmerized as he turns side on rasping back and forth along the tree, his gigantic backside firmly on the guy rope. Our small tent whirs back and forth..feeble in its stance. Rumbling with pleasure, his large trunk swings freely as the finger like nobes on the end fold over the juicy pods and they start the epic journey from tent top to his mouth. This ambassador of the wild appears to cross the moonlight disappearing quietly and with dignity into the dark shadows. Silence returns to the valley and the liquid murmur of the river flows merrily as it carves its way to the sea.
The silence of emptiness hangs..and I turn to Gary with a relieved yet sad grin. ‘WOW’.
This is Africa’s bush life in all its beauty.
My day at the zoo has been an eye opener for me and I cannot help but compare this day with my experiences in the valley. It reafirms my commitment to do all I can to help preserve our heritage. These enormous animals belong on the land and I cannot imagine a trip to our magical place in the Zambezi valley to find it empty of elephants.
These inconic animals are the essence of the African bush and at present they are being poached at a rate of 100 a day. To those fueling the demand which in turn fuels the destruction, do you have any idea of the chaos and death left behind, rotting in the vast wilderness of sun kissed grass and sturdy trees of Africa. Please say no to ivory and help to save these magnificent and sentient animals from extinction. ‘The True Cost of IvoryTrinkets is an infographic in Chinese and English to help raise awareness on the rampant poaching of elephants. This infographic was created for Chengeta Wildlife.
Chengeta Wildlife is a group of people from around the world who formed a nonprofit organization to support Rory Young and the work he does. He has skills and knowledge that the teams protecting wildlife badly need to protect themselves and wildlife. If enough funding is generated we would like to purchase tactical equipment needed by the teams. Things like night vision goggles, thermal sensing equipment and motion sensing cameras. Chengeta Wildlife is run by volunteers. So far 100% of funds raised have gone directly to the field where it is desperately needed. WE HAVE ZERO OVERHEAD COSTS!
Rory Young and Yakov Alekseyev have written ‘A Field Manual For Anti-Poaching Activities.’
A manual well worth reading..and full of information. This manual provides intense and detailed evaluation of how to decipher even the smallest and at times what might appear to be unimportant detail and encompass it all into the strategy. In the preface they talk about the fact that our existence clings to the fragile towers that are made up of innumerable life forms that we share this beautiful world with. When individual species are destroyed, we change their impact on the ecosystems and eventually the towers will begin to crumble and fall…causing a domino effect. We have to be incredibly egotistical to believe that we can survive without these ecosystems.
Let us ensure that these animals continue to wear their tusks with pride. ( My Poem)