As I have had so many people say I should write about my experiences in the wild, I decided to continue with my book I started a few years ago. I am posting my opening to the book which I wrote nearly two years ago. Here goes, and don’t be shy to give honest critique…
It was an early morning and we had walked to below the Chilojo cliffs. Sitting on the river bank up above the Lundi River (now Runde River) we watched a herd of Elephant crossing to drink at the water, which was on our side of the river. Hoping the wind was right and not blowing from us towards them, we shifted to a huge Marula tree where we could sit with our backs against it. This should add to our camouflage and by sitting still we would experience these beasts from close proximity.
The river was almost dry and hardly flowing, but it was at least twenty metres wide where they were heading and that was not more than ten metres from where we sat. The bank being steep, we felt fairly safe, yet I still had a good look at the tree just in case a hasty retreat was necessary.
It was fascinating to watch how the Matriarch and her youngster were the first to approach, allowed by the others with due respect. As she neared the water she stopped, not a sound was heard and immediately the younger bulls and cows raised their trunks, spread their ears and looked more or less in our direction. I was ready to climb the tree, but as we had not made a sound and the breeze, although light, was from them to us, I could not believe that they had detected us.
There followed a bit of trumpeting by the younger elephant and even some mock charging towards the water. A closer look below we saw the crocodile slip off quickly into the water. Would this have frightened the Matriarch? I strongly doubted that fact, yet there seemed to still be a little consternation amid the herd. More noise and milling about and the elephants moved in to drink. I found it strange that the Matriarch held back, was she concerned for the safety of her young? There were too many elephant now drinking and some even moving into the deeper water to roll and play, for her to be concerned about the crocodile.
As some of the more senior cows stepped back from drinking and were now looking around, the Matriarch moved up and drank, she splashed water over her back and side also her underside as though she was washing the breasts that fed her young. It was such a privilege to be so close and witness these goings on, yet our excitement was controlled not wanting to disturb the herd.
It was interesting to watch the interaction between individuals within this herd, some that would just back away from a mere look from another and others that would quietly communicate. The communication taking the form of sniffing each other’s ears or just a gentle head rub with a trunk.
The herd stood around quietly having all slaked their thirst, then suddenly there was a general shuffle to get young back beside the mothers, or to within the herd. They had all again turned in our direction, trunks up and testing the air. We had heard nothing, in fact we hadn’t moved, yet there was something that was disturbing to them.
The Matriarch turned away from us and in some way communicated with the herd it was time to go. They almost took up a single file and trundled off towards the other side of the river, the younger bulls and cows being last to leave after making sure there was nothing to be afraid of. Trunks were raised and ears flapped listening for whatever it was that had disturbed them.
When they had moved far enough away for us to feel safe to move we stood, the adrenalin still pumping and now chatting away excitedly, we started to move back towards the Land Rover. We had hardly gone ten metres when we noticed an Impala carcass hanging in another tree. This is what the Elephant had smelt. This could only mean one thing, Leopard.
Not known as the best cat to walk into, being so aggressive and fearless, our adrenalin now went up ten notches, standing still and looking around we hoped to see it before it saw us. Of course that was a stupid wish, ‘cause if it was nearby it would have known we were there long before we even got there.
You don’t run from a Leopard, most of the time you don’t have a clue where it is, and running into one would be a certain death. So we stood our ground not knowing which way to move off, all I was happy about, was the fact I knew I could out run my friend and hopefully the cat would be satisfied just taking him down. But, if I started to run in the wrong direction and he was behind me, then I would be the one to go.
It only took a couple of minutes to spot the leopard higher up the tree, legs apart as it lay along a thick branch, head resting on the one front paw and eyes wide open and looking directly at us. The bigger head told me it was a male, yet he seemed completely unconcerned about our presence. The carcass was still fresh and with the stomach opened and eaten as well as the one rear leg, the cat was obviously sated.
Now was the time to act nonchalant and saunter on down the animal path we had come along, with one eye still kept on him to make sure his interest had not been tweaked. We must have walked, at a fair pace I might add, for two hundred metres before we stopped and turn to check if he was still in the tree. Which damn tree was it? We could not see the carcass or the leopard, we couldn’t even decide which tree it was, for all we knew he was right behind us.
I decided it was now the time for exercise and said “let’s go”, it could just as well have been the starting gun for the Olympic 100 metre dash, my friend, that I could easily outrun, was gone, down that path like a flash, leaving me to eat his dust.
This happened in Gonarezhou National Park, before there were dirt roads to drive on. We had been sent down to do a Land Survey of the final Primary triangulation points the year before and had cut the roads ourselves. We had camped for four months on the banks of the Lundi River, and a further two and a half in the middle of the reserve, an experience I cover later in the book.
What do you think… please be honest with you comments….