ON THE ELEPHANT FRONTLINE

by Pete Roberts
(Victoria Falls)

Break-in and entry – a late night intruder caught in the act.

Break-in and entry – a late night intruder caught in the act.

I am lucky enough to be currently house-sitting in Victoria Falls, on the edge of town and on the elephant frontline. Most people here spend their time avoiding close encounters elephants – especially after dark. The walk home in the evening has an extra sense of adventure when there is the chance of bumping into an elephant walking down the road to meet you, and as anyone who has been on safari in Africa will testify, despite their size, elephants are quite capable of hiding silently behind a bush, only to emerge right in front of you at the last moment – even in daylight. In darkness often the only give-away sign of their presence is the breaking and crunching of branches – and that’s only if they are busy feeding!

Some years ago I had my first elephant encounter in such circumstances. On a moonless night, as I approached the house where I was then staying, I was suddenly surprised to find a dark shadow blocking almost the entire view. It was not until I made out the shape of the elephant’s rear end, after it passed by in front of me and silhouetted against the stars, that I realised there was an elephant five metres in front of me. The elephant had been feeding by the side of the road, and obviously alerted by my approach, had silently waited until the last minute before deserting its meal and crossing the road to an open area of bush. They are bigger at night, I promise you!

As reported previously (Click here), our local elephants have developed a particular taste for the well-watered gardens of residents. Almost every night some part of the town gains the attention of these gentle giants. To the tourist, the idea of having elephants in your garden is probably quite exciting. To the home-owner, and especially the proud gardener, they are a destructive menace. Not to mention the financial cost in terms of damage to walls, fences and other property. Pressure is building for National Parks to take action and with residents coming into conflict with these animals on a nightly basis, there is risk of an incident and someone getting injured or worse. The typical solution to ‘problem animals’ is to shoot them.

My early morning slumbers are disturbed by the close crashing of vegetation. I crawl from my bed, throw on some warm layers and grab my camera. Sneaking onto the front porch, my pocket torch feebly picks out the rear end of an elephant only a few metres away. Disturbed by my presence, and perhaps the light of the torch, it silently moves off, walking through the wire fence and on to the road. After a brief pause, he moves off up the road, presumably to another favoured feeding spot.

The crashing of more branches nearby alerts me to the presence of a second elephant, this one still in next door’s garden. After a patient wait of about an hour it follows the first, into the garden were I am waiting, through a convenient gap in the wall created by a previous incursion. In the darkness I am ready with my camera, and with hope rather than photographic skill I fire off some shots. The flash temporarily blinds me and I’m left with the image in my minds eye of the elephant facing me, ears extended, only a few metres away and looking straight at me, eyes glowing with the reflection of the flash. As my eyes re-adjust to the darkness, he turns away with typical elephant distain and heads off through the fence.

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