Extract from The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony
Original full-length version published by Sidgewick & Jackson, an imprint of Pan Macmillan UK
Condensed version © Reader’s Digest Pty Ltd 2010
At high risk, Lawrence Anthony accepted a herd of rebellious elephants onto his 5,000 acres of pristine wilderness in South Africa. At once they broke out, and he and his team had to erect an electric fence in the hope of keeping them safe in a reserve, the boma. If they escaped again, they would be shot. Anthony was offering them their only refuge—but how could he help them to understand?
Just before nightfall I took a drive down to the boma, parked some distance away and with great caution walked towards the fence. Nana, the matriarch was standing in thick cover with her family behind her, watching my every move. There was absolutely no doubt that sooner or later they were going to make another break for it.
Then in a ﬂash came the answer. I decided there and then that contrary to all advice, I would go and live with the herd. I knew the experts would throw up their hands in horror as we had been repeatedly instructed that to keep them feral, human contact in the boma must be kept to the barest minimum. But this herd had already had too much human contact of the very worst kind, and their rehabilitation, if such a thing was even possible at all, called for uncommon measures. If I was to be responsible for this last-ditch effort to save their lives, I should do things my way. If I failed, at least I would have done my best.
I would remain outside the boma, of course, but I would stay with them, feed them, talk to them, and, most importantly, be with them day and night. There was no doubt that unless we tried something different, they would continue trying to break out and would die in the attempt.
I discussed it with my wife, Françoise, and she agreed that the conventional approach to settling in the animals didn’t seem to be working. I asked my manager, David, if he wanted to come along and was answered by his broad smile. The boma was about three miles away from our house, so we packed the Land Rover with basic supplies. The vehicle would be our home for as long as it took.
I also brought along Max, who was always great company outdoors. He’d matured into a true bush dog. A hushed command from me would see him crouched by my side or on the Land Rover seat, fully alert but as silent as a gecko whenever an animal approached. I knew he would behave around the elephants.
The first day we spent watching from a distance of about thirty yards. Each day we would get closer, but it would be a gradual exercise. Nana and Frankie watched us continuously, rushing up to the fence if they thought we were getting too close.
Night came, swiftly and silently as it does in Africa. There is perhaps half an hour of gloaming and then it is dark. But darkness can be your friend. The wilderness seethes with life as the nocturnal creatures scurry out from holes and trees and crevices, brave in the knowledge that most predators are resting. The sky switches on its full power, untainted by urban electrical static. I never tire of watching the megawatt heavens, picking out the zodiac signs and revelling in the glory of the odd shooting star.
David’s whisper woke me. ‘Quick. Something’s happening at the fence.’
I threw off my blanket and blinked to adjust my eyes to night vision. We crept up to the boma through the bush. I could see nothing. Then an enormous shape morphed in front of me.
It was Nana, about ten yards from the fence. Next to her was Mandla, her baby son.
I strained my eyes, searching for the others. Despite their bulk, elephants are difﬁcult to see in dense bush during the day, let alone at night. Then I saw them; they were all standing motionless a little way behind her.
I quickly glanced at my watch: 4:45am. Zulus have a word for this time of the morning—uvivi—which means the darkness before the dawn. And it’s true. In the Zululand bush, the darkness is most intense just before the ﬁrst shreds of haze crack the horizon.
Suddenly Nana tensed her enormous frame and ﬂared her ears. She took a step forward.
‘Oh shit! Here she goes,’ said David, no longer whispering. ‘That bloody electric wire had better hold.’
Without thinking I stood and walked towards the fence. Nana was directly ahead, a colossus just a few yards in front.
‘Don’t do it, Nana,’ I said, as calmly as I could. ‘Please don’t do it, girl.’
She stood motionless but tense like an athlete straining for the starter’s gun. Behind her the rest of the herd froze.
‘This is your home now,’ I continued. ‘Please don’t do it.’
I felt her eyes boring into me, even though I could barely make out her face in the murk.
‘They will kill you all if you break out. This is your home now. You don’t have to run any more.’
Still she didn’t move, and suddenly the absurdity of the situation struck me. Here I was in thick darkness talking to a wild female elephant with a baby, the most dangerous combination possible, as if we were having a friendly chat.
Absurd or not, I decided to continue. I meant every word and intended for her to get what I was saying. ‘You will all die if you go. Stay here. I will be here with you and it’s a good place.’
She took another step forward. I could see her tense up again, preparing to go all the way. I was directly in their path, something I was well aware of. The fence cables would hold them for a short while but I would still have only seconds to scramble out of their way and climb a tree, or else be stomped ﬂatter than an envelope.
The nearest tree, a big Acacia robusta with wicked thorns, was perhaps ten yards to my left. I wondered if I would be fast enough. Possibly not ... and when had I last climbed a thorn tree?
Then something happened between Nana and me, some inﬁnitesimal spark of recognition, ﬂaring for the briefest of moments.
Then it was gone. Nana nudged Mandla with her trunk, turned and melted into the bush. The rest followed.
David exhaled like a ruptured balloon. ‘Bloody hell! I thought she was going to go for it.’
We lit a small ﬁre and brewed coffee. There was not much to say. I was not going to tell David that I thought I had connected for an instant with the matriarch. It would have sounded too crazy. But something had happened. It gave me a sliver of hope.
|Peter Paul Alcazaren on 17 August 2012 ,11:40 |
i felt the intense rush in my heart but had a relief at the end. it was so touching and heartwarming. good read. i liked it! more articles like this.
|mredzuanbkamal on 20 July 2012 ,09:36 |
i like see elephant
Post A Comment