It was one of those stressful tours, we had two generally unhappy clients, a French family convinced that their way was the right way, a Polish couple who had their own expectations, and an American duo that didn’t say much.
To make things worse, I was assigned a cook who did not know his way around the pots and he thought he was the tour leader – which would have been fantastic if he knew what he was talking about. I caught the job of leading the tour and was the driver, and this was my first driving trip.
The Kruger National Park
Day two of the tour found us inside the Numbi Gate of the Kruger National Park. I noticed that as I spoke to the guests, they seemed distracted – their heads were turned and their eyes locked on something outside the left-hand window. When I looked too, I saw an adolescent bull elephant moseying around outside the boundary fence. “Focus on me peeps there is a lot more of that where we are going,” I told them.
First Sighting of the Elephant
“Get out, stretch your legs and use the bathroom,” I advised. “I am going to pay for the permits and then we’ll be off.” I climbed out of the rig and on my way to the admin office, I bumped into a colleague I hadn’t seen in months. “Eyyy Moses,” I sang out, and we continued to catch up chatting at warp speed while we walked.
“Who are you working with now?” he asked. “With them,” looking back at my rig – noticing how the clients bunched in a tight group outside the vehicle’s door but making no move to enter or disperse. “Strange behavior,” I thought. We guides spent months and years learning the ways of wild animals, insects, birds, and plants, but for the love of all things holy, we could not get the hang of tourists in large groups.
Moses and I drew further from the truck as we made our way to the admin office on the opposite side of the parking lot, exchanging industry gossip about everywhere from Namibia to Kenya as we went. When we exited the office with our permits, we noticed a surge of people heading in our direction and realized that something was amiss – it was seldom that camera toting-tourists moved that quickly.
The First Sign of Trouble
We stopped talking stopped talking at this point and became fully alert, we made our way towards the parking lot, and that’s when Moses said: “Ja, I saw an elephant coming here earlier” pointing to our left as we cleared the outside wall of the admin building. His words were barely out of his mouth when we saw it. It was a musth bull, an adolescent in the peak of mating season complete with a bad attitude, flapping ears, and waving trunk. No matter how ignorant the observer was, it was obvious that this beast was pissed – and he was barely two meters from us.
I do not recall running, leaping, or flying, but the part my memory picks up is of myself and Moses being in the office again. The sliding glass door was closed bar a small gap, and the two of us yelled at the guests outside to come inside.
“Get inside,” I scolded an elderly fellow I did not know from a bar of blue soap. I shot a glance at my truck and saw that the group had halved and those still outside were staring in my direction – fortunately, the unhappy elephant seemed oblivious to their existence. The elephant tried to corner but saw that he would have to step down into a depression in front of the door, so instead, it carried on up to the road and then turned right. In retrospect, I think the step was there for precisely that reason – an angry elephant deterrent.
Myself and Moses did not know this and to add to our frenzies, one of the visitors had fallen into the depression and was laying in a fetal position with his eyes shut. Next to him was another camera-toting individual, who though seemingly incapable of movement, kept shooting glances between us and the guy at his feet, but not at the large grey mass causing the chaos. “Hey,” I called to him “are you trying to get stomped?”
No Casualties (Bar a few Egos)
The moment passed quickly: The elephant skirted the step, eyeballing us as he went before disappearing down the road towards the boom gate. Moses and I were upset, perhaps Moses more than me, because the client who had fallen was one of his. He had probably frozen in his panic. “What is your excuse?” I asked the one who was standing next to him. “My wife is in the washrooms [probably oblivious to the fracas outside],” he replied. “I was waiting for her.”
Fortunately, there were no casualties but for a few egos and perhaps Moses’s gratuity at the end of his tour. I turned my attention back to my group. The silent watchers union had doubled to its original size once more, and they tracked me with their eyes as I approached, as I did them, thinking: “It had been a close one for me and Moses.” While we knew there was an elephant and he and must have derived from my group’s behavior that it breached the boundary fence, there was no way we could have known how close it was.
Silent … Watching … Waiting
They, however, had a full view of the beast and just saw us on what could have been a collision course with the brute, and not a word of warning came from their lips. They stood there all throughout the debacle as they were now, silent … Watching … Waiting.
In retrospect, maybe it was better because had they called out, they might have drawn its attention to themselves … I do not feel comfortable finishing this thought.