The Why’s and Where’s of Elephants
African safaris are interesting; sometimes for reasons that have little, or nothing to do with the actual hunt. Usually these incidents are not written up in the latest hunting magazine, but are only told around a campfire, or over a cup of gentlemen’s beverage at a hunting convention. Usually these stories don’t cover the participants in glory. Usually they are funny – after a sufficient amount of time has passed, and the idiot-under discussion (participant) has rearranged the story to his benefit.
For reasons shown in living color below, the participant’s names will be changed to protect the idiot hunter. This all took place back in the late 1990s when life was good, and the hunter was much younger. (Not me – I’d never do …)
The African-hunter-to-be saw his fiftieth birthday fast approaching, and not having the wherewithal or the ability to appreciate Italian cars, fast women, or even slow horses, decided to betake himself to darkest Africa and hunt the great Cape buffalo. This was going to require two hunts. The first hunt was for the real hunt. It took place at a Safari Club International convention in Las Vegas. Just inside the door was a booth with a sign advertising a donated hunt for a Cape buffalo and a sitatunga. I knew I wanted a Cape buffalo and a something else type of hunt, and didn’t have the vaguest idea what a sitatunga was, but knew it would qualify as “something else”, so I decided to bid on the hunt. Sometimes life is good, and I won the hunt.
Money was advanced, travel agents were sourced, tickets procured – and then came the day that I walked up the isle of a South African Airways Boeing 747. The flight was relatively uneventful, but did seem to require an inordinate number of hours sitting in a seat obviously designed for young children or certain species of small animals. I seem to recollect the sun chasing itself over the sky at least twice before Johannesburg was sighted.
The next day, was spent flying first to Gabarone in Botswana, where customs was cleared. Then a short flight to Maun, a shorter flight to a dirt strip, and a pleasant ride in a safari truck took me to camp. Boy, was I ever in Africa!
Without repeating one more story about one more buffalo hunt, suffice it to say that I took a good specimen with my .416 Remington. Only three shots were required to put it down. They are as tough as advertised.
The sitatunga was taken from a Mokoro – a dugout canoe – which required standing up in the vessel and holding the shooting pole in one hand, the rifle in the other hand, and the third hand … Suffice it to say there was quite a bit of rock and roll in that shot.
Anyway, that’s not what I wanted to talk about.
During my stay in the tent camp, I became aware of three gentlemen elephants that were encamped about 200 yards from us. We rose in the morning and proceeded to hunt; they rose likewise and did whatever elephants do during the day. They pretty much ignored us, and we did similar. They returned in the early evening and stood under the ivory nut palms (keep these in mind), and we sat in chairs around the fire telling lies.
I was slightly sad to see the last dawn in camp. We had packed everything early that morning. My Remington .416 was riding in its aluminum case buried beneath a young mountain of luggage and what all. My camera, a Nikon F4, was in its case and on top of the rifle.
While drinking the last campfire cooked cup of coffee, my PH mentioned that the three elephants were still in their camp and were showing a great deal of interest in the ivory nut palms. They would wrap their trunks around the tree trunks, then use their head to shake loose the ivory nuts.
One elephant in particular was facing in our direction and slightly apart from his two buddies. He seemed to be looking at something near us. I lay my head back and gazed at the multitude of ivory nuts attached to an ivory palm directly behind me.
Naw! He’s not coming here, is he?
Well, seems like I was in the minority, as the elephant began wandering towards us. My PH stood up, so I followed suit. The elephant looked at us with supreme indifference and proceeded to come a few steps closer. The PH picked up the steel coffee pot, dumped the remaining liquid on the fire, then bent and picked up a piece of wood.
Well, “yes” actually. Evidently the plan was to drive the elephant off by beating the poor coffee pot with a piece of wood.
Discretion being the far better part of valor, I elected to move towards the safari truck with a modicum of speed. I found myself mumbling as I headed towards the rear of the truck. “F4 or .416? F4 or .416? F4 or .416?”
I decided for posterity over punching holes, so grabbed the camera. By the time I returned to the scene of the crime, the PH was violently beating on the coffee pot for all he was worth. The elephant stood at about a 30-yard distance with a bemused look on its face. I took photos.
Now, here’s where it gets really stupid. With my eye locked into the viewfinder, I shouted at the PH, “Throw some ivory nuts at his head.”
Would this professional dare to do such a reckless deed?
Do you have any idea just how hard it is to shoot photos when laughing hysterically? Yeah! Me too.
The elephant evidently got bored with the rain of ivory nuts and slowly backed up until it decided to hide behind a tree - about a 14-inch wide tree. He stood there looking at us from side to side of this monstrous 14-inch wide tree. I guess he felt as though we really couldn’t see him.
Story by Tom Murphy
Port Charlotte, FL
African Safari Writer