This month’s newsletter comes to you from a very hot and very dry Luangwa Valley. But the clouds are slowly building up and the Luanwga Valley will soon be transformed into a sea of green. I do not know if it was the October heat, but this month some really strange sentences came out of my mouth…
They chew with their mouths open.
During October I caught myself uttering three sentences that I never thought I would ever hear out of my own mouth. “Put away the dog, there are lions outside the house” was a definite highlight and “It’s not going to be very hot today – only about 38 degrees…” was another mind-boggler. But one that got me really pondering our lives in the Zambian bush was “Elephants are pretty much a part of our daily lives.”
The thing about elephants, is that they do not really care for our human ways. They arrive unannounced and chew with their mouths open. They like hiding quietly behind bushes and jump out just as you get close. They love breaking trees by your window as you fall asleep and they especially like smashing garden furnishings like pot-plants. They poop all over the place, and even if we re-use their dung as fertilizer, it’s just not good manners to leave your plop on the pathway.
But in all fairness, we live in their world, and I can only image that in a parallel
Somebody forgot a pumpkin on the shelf.
Here in camp, elephants impact the way we live and manage the place in more ways than 5.
They’ll decide for you when it’s a good time to walk home and when not. They determine what species of tree you plant in your garden and how far away from the windows you keep your oranges. Every now and then they’ll bump into something causing that something to be out of order for a while. Not too long ago, on one of the hottest days in the whole of October, an elephant pushed over an electrical line, leaving the whole of Mfuwe without electricity for 12 hours! I also remember a few weeks back waking up to pots and pans being flung around the camp kitchen. We realized the next morning that somebody forgot a pumpkin on the shelf and that the naughty elephant pushed his tusks and trunk through the gauze-wire window to retrieve it. It might have been for halloween…
But with that being said, and with all jokes aside, the elephants around Wildlife Camp are quite well behaved and generally we enjoy each other’s company. During October we had fantastic elephant sightings from the campsite and from the restaurant. They have been crossing the river in front of camp regularly and once or twice guests counted herds of up to 50 congregating in front of camp. But one sighting was more special than the others…
The secrets of the Luangwa Valley.
One afternoon we watched an old female elephant drink at the new waterhole in front of the restaurant. She was a remarkable cow, with two pieces of ivory to die for, and large dimples on the side of her head. Ever since she first appeared in camp at the end of September we saw that she was an old lady of at least 55. A lone cow is not a common occurrence, and as hard as she tried to join up with the other herds that made their way through and past camp, she failed. They continually pushed her away and I saw “teenage” elephants act very aggressively towards her. When there were bachelor herds around, they seemed to be more sympathetic, nudging her with their tusks in a playful manner, but she never managed to keep up with them. She would wait close to the drinking-holes around camp and join in when the herds came, but they always left her behind when they disappeared back into the bush.
On this particular afternoon, she was looking worn out and moved gingerly from the waterhole down onto the beach and then to the river where she stood for a long time in the scorching sun. She eventually made her way across the Luangwa but then paused. Again she stood still for a few minutes before she slowly sank to the ground and died… Decades of memories gone. In her lifetime she would have covered at least 250 000km of the Luangwa Valley’s floor and probably knew exactly where to find which type of fruiting tree at which time of the year. She would have known this valley like the tip of her trunk. I do understand that it’s the circle of life and believe me, the hyenas and vultures have been drawing the final lines of her large circle, but this one was special. This was not just any old elephant… And let me tell you why.
At around-about the time our elephant cow was born, in the early 1960’s, Norman Carr described the Luangwa Valley as having more than 90 000 elephants. Back then, Zambian tourism was still in its infancy and Mother Nature had no need to share her bush with humans with cameras and binoculars, as she is doing today. Unfortunately, between then and now, the Luangwa Valley has seen the worst of us Homo sapiens. At the end of the 1960’s a culling programme was put in place, and soon Zambia’s elephants became a free-for-all for poachers from all over this part of the world. In 1966 the South African Border War erupted and soon spilled over into Angola, the Congo and Zambia. The Mozambican Civil War’s first shot was fired a decade later and soon the eastern side of Zambia, and its natural resources, was caught in the middle of it all. Long story short, at the end of it all only an estimated 5000 elephants were left in the Luangwa Valley, and all the rhinos were wiped out. More than 85 000 ellies were slaughtered for their meat and ivory… And this is what makes our old cow so incredibly special. With her beautiful tusks she lived through all that. She probably saw whole herds of elephants shot down. In all probability her own calves were killed in front of her eyes. Byt she was too clever for the humans.
But let’s not end the story on such a sad note. Today the Luangwa Valley elephant population is between 18 000 and 25 000, and I am sure that our old lady had a big role to play in the past two decades. She was one of the last cows still able to breed and raise calves. But more importantly, she was one of the only elephants remaining that still knew the secrets of the Luangwa Valley.
So, to her we dedicate this newsletter – may she rest in peace.
ps: The last photo shows the Zambian Wildlife Authority removing her tusks. We did not want them to fall into the wrong hands.
Moment of the month.
20 lions on one heap, no matter how you look at it, will always qualify as a best moment of the month. 3 males, 7 females and 10 cubs and sub-adults lounging by the side of the road. But don’t worry – this months moment of the month is not really about lions – it’s about elephants.
On a late afternoon safari Wildlife Camp guests were lucky enough to see what is now called “big pride” having a relaxing afternoon. The two days prior to this sighting they had brought down a buffalo and a young hippo in quick succession, so they were not really keen on anything else except sleeping. The cubs were hunting each other to one side and every now-and-then a female would get up and move back into the ever shifting shade.
When one of the cubs kept glancing at the nearby thickets we noticed a herd of elephants approaching. The lions were right next to the elephants’ favourite dust bath spot and not in mood to pack their bags and leave. The elephants, on the other hand, were not going to turn and run either. Suddenly we found ourselves next to a lion vs elephant standoff…
The lions growled at the elephants, the elephants pointed their tusks towards the lions, and for good 20minutes we had the privilege to see the kings and queens of Africa interact. In the end, the elephants very casually turned around and walked off – dusting done and time to continue their afternoon stroll.
To see the full album of October’s Moment of the Month, visit our facebook page at www.facebook.com/WildlifeCamp
The peak-season is now officially finished but Wildlife Camp stays open all year round. If you feel like being woken up by an elephant, send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kind Regards from Herman, Dora, Retha and the rest of the Wildlife Camp team.