Baboons, Blood and Mad Bull Elephants

24 09 2013

elephants full 006

I know it’s not a National Geographic shot but hey, I don’t have a long range lens.  This took work.  And here is how the story goes.

Many of you may remember if you follow my blog that I have really wanted to get a shot of our local elephants.  Their signs are everywhere but really only come out into our shambas, (little farms) at night.  In November a group of elephants came on a man’s shamba and he tried to shoo them off and was trampled.  They don’t like humans and are afraid of nothing,

If you go back to my post in the past in the March archives you will find my original adventure Sunday Safari.  I found nothing but a huge number of signs.  That means elephant tracks and poop.  In April I returned and found the elephants, but was literally chased and ran for my life.  I have learned much in my little forays onto Mt. Meru.  And finally, success.

Now on my past journey I announced that I was going elephant hunting on Facebook before I went.   I was ambushed on that trip and could only surmise that the elephants had been tipped off by a Facebook spy, posing as a fan.  Or, the alternative, they are actually ON Facebook and watching for just my kind of behavior.  So this time.  NO warning.  Just up and go!

Like the last trip I left to head towards the mountain three hours before dark.  I knew where the elephants would be.  All three of my dogs went with me.  They think we are now inseparable.  Now don’t get me wrong, I like dogs.  But frankly can do without them, personally.  I merely fed one starving dog out of pity and now I have her two grown puppies to tend to and they think we are a pack.  They jog with me every day and on this day went out hunting for elephants.

Right away I knew I was low on calories.  I had already run today and lifted s little bit of weights with a new brother.  So I was not exactly fresh.  I asked Mama James for some bananas and we were out.  I stopped by the crude shop in our area and they had nothing but cookies. I decided to just stay hydrated and hungry.

I entered the forest near where I live.  I realized right away that not only did I not have food this time but I also left my compass at home.  No worries, I will just try to pay attention.  Just a note, this is yet to work.  I need my compass.  I hiked up steep hills and right away there were elephant signs everywhere.  The dogs were panting and probably wondering where we were going.  UP and down hills we followed the trails.  There were an incredible amount of elephant sign.  Much more than I remember.  And among them were now, baby elephant sign.  The large elephants leave waste behind that could fill a bushel basket every time they go.  Large pellets, as big as cantaloupes.  But now there were little ones, like little square oranges.  I really was excited at the prospects of seeing a mama and baby and fearful of being seen by the elephants with a young one in tow.  They are aggressive and dangerous alone.  With a baby they are deadly.

We walked for over an hour.  Every now and then the dogs would venture far in front of me.  I was regretting their coming.  They were loud and I could tell becoming very thirsty.  Then I started hearing monkeys.  Monkeys hate dogs.  And dogs love to run and try to catch the baby monkeys.  Fortunately, they are never really successful.  But it has been close a few times.  First, they chase some Vervet Monkeys and then the beautiful Columbus Monkeys.   But then a strange thing happened.    It sounded like a dog was barking from just a few meters away.  By now we were two kilometers into the woods and I could not imagine a dog here.  I was right, no dog.

The puppy of the group I call Happa, went boldly running straight at the barking sound.  The other two dogs followed.  And then I heard yelping and all three came running back with their tails between their legs.  Howling.  The older dogs hid behind me and Happa, stopped and then boldly went right back at the barking sound.  This time he returned in a dead sprint and unfortunately for me there was a huge baboon on his trial.  Did you know that baboons hair stand on end when they are angry and bare their fangs in a most fearsome manner.  A baboon can quickly kill a dog and as I said, all primates hate dogs.  The baboon was startled to see me standing there.  He broke off the chase and returned into the forest.  I could see him sitting on a log 30 meters into the trees watching me and then I noticed the dozens of other primates all around him.  He was the protector of quite a clan of baboons of all ages.  We quickly left the area.

It was then I began to think of an exit strategy.  I did not want to, necessarily, have to come running FROM an elephant TO a pack of large baboons.  I knew it was time for a strategy.  The droppings from the elephants were now a mixture of old droppings with some much fresher.  I looked down and realized Is was bleeding.  A lot.  Evidently, my adrenaline as so high that as the baboon attacked I have moved back into some thorns and had cut my fingers and arms.  Blood was running off me and onto the ground.  I guess my heart was really pumping.  I took my pulse and realized I needed to calm down.  I opened my backpack and bandaged myself while standing surveying the forest.  No time to let my guard down.  Do elephants smell blood like sharks?  Nah!

 Finally, I started by back down the trail and found droppings left   in the last hour.  The elephants  were very near.  But where?  Paths cross this trail from many directions all the time.  It is evident from the signs, that the elephants travel all the trails up here, eating and just being elephants.  I know I am going to be 57 years old in two weeks, but I simply must spot those elephants from a distance this time and not have them ambush me from 50 feet like last time.  I truly thought I was going to be killed on my last trip.

I climbed a tree and looked around.  I was looking for a high spot to look down on the elephants.  I want to watch them, unseen.  Besides, everyone has told me that elephants hate thorns and they hate to run downhill.  So the ideal situation would be for me to be on a hill, with thorns between me and them and a great way to run down.  I could tell from climbing the tree that I was very high on this hill and that I was nearing the area where the elephants should be.  I descended noting that at my age climbing a tree would not be a good option of escape.  I am a very slow climber.  As a kid I swung and lunged at branches climbing with ease.  Now, frankly, I thought too much, calculated too long, and moved to slow to evade anything by going up a tree.  Scratch that option.  Finally, I got to a spot that seemed familiar.  In the distance, from a ridge, I spotted a landmark I recognized.  Meaning,  if the elephants were near where I found them last time, I was within a few hundred meters.  I saw a path leading down to where I could get a good look over the ridge.

It was then I realized that these jumping running and generally loud dogs might be the best thing for me to escape.  I figured if the elephants come after me they would have to choose who to stomp.  Since it was me and three dogs I decided that I had a one in four chance of not being targeted.  We came to the ridge and I heard one of the same sounds that lead me to the elephants last time.  The crushing of branches, munching of leaves and the occasional grunting.   There were obviously more than one elephant this time.  Of course there were last time but I did not know it until it was almost too late.  I am a bit more experienced now. Elephants don’t travel alone.  There are always more.  You don’t see elephants at first you hear them.  And hear them I did.

Immediately, I saw two problems.  One, the thorns.  As I said I was told that elephants hated thorns and if you are chased climb under a big thorn patch. Well.  These elephants had actually plowed through the thorns and were eating the trees growing in the their midst.  Scratch off, hiding in the thorns.   The next thing I noticed was that the dogs, which normally barked and chased anything that moved, were flattened on the ground like pancakes, in terror.  The elephant would never see these guys if they looked for me as these little guys had no intention of raising their heads six inches off the ground.  Scratch off multiple options for the elephant to choose from if and when they decided to attach.  And last but not least, the elephants were down below me but had a clear path to run straight up at me and the only way I could run downhill from here was to run right at them.  I was excited to be so near again and sure I would succeed this time in getting a picture,  but none of my intel or planning was working out to my advantage.

Now I had another problem.  There was a huge clump of thorns easily 12 feet high in front of me.  The elephants had made a trail going to both the left and right of the clump.  I heard two elephants, at least.  I am looking at the left trail around the clump, big enough for a truck I might add, when I hear the elephant stop eating and go silent.  I hear it began to move towards me very slow.  Then I hear another elephant making a noise at the other trail bend.  Man, two elephants, one on each trail and I can’t see either one.  Then they began to move quickly.  But it seemed they were everywhere going in every direction.  All the branches below me began to be pushed in directions to both my right and left.  I moved to right trail on the other side of the clump to get see if I could see the other elephant and to see if it was coming.  I was reminded that the last time this happened they actually came at me together at the same time as though they were in a military maneuver.  I thought they would just bluff me and then leave me alone as long as I moved away.  I was wrong.  There were seriously searching for me to do me harm.  Of that I am sure.

I looked down at the dogs and realized they were all three sitting at my feet whimpering and staring at me.  It was as though they expected me to make this terrible sound and these terrible animals go away.  It was apparent they would be of no help in a crisis.  About that time to my amazement one elephant trumpeted and began to actually run.  This brought back the nightmare of my last trip to this part of the mountain.  Running, sweating and fearing for my life.  I had no idea which way to run and just froze trying to get some more information before I moved.  I did not want to choose a path that lead me to a certain confrontation.

I heard some terrible crashing and another elephant trumpeting then I saw a huge male elephant charging.  But, praise God, he was charging at a 45 degree angle from where I was.  I don’t know where he had picked up a scent from where we were earlier or thought he heard us over there earlier and perhaps upon hearing us again decided to challenged that position.  Whatever the reason, he had now lumbered 150 meters from where we were.  He was behind us but It was evident that when he got to the top of the hill, our hill, he was just standing there looking around.  The sound stopped.  It was then my brain registered that he had run up that steep hill at about twice the speed I could run on flat ground.  He was now behind me and there were elephant noise in front of me and below me.  Was I being surrounded by these guys?  I looked and looked where I thought the sound was coming from and soon realized that the silence of the forest was playing tricks on me.  It sounded like elephants 50 feet from me but I finally saw motion two hundred meters away.  A momma elephant and her young.  They were paying me, no attention.  They were just eating.  The little one leaned on the mother almost the whole time. In the picture above you have to look to see the little guy next to her.  Later, I got a blurred picture of the little guy with his trunk extended.

elephants full 005

Daddy on the other hand had huge tusk.  I now had my pictures; it was time to head home. I worked my way slowly to the left of the momma and baby and descended at a slow rate as not to intercept them.  Only the puppy followed.  The two adult dogs were so afraid they were frozen to the ground where I left them.  Sorry, you will have to come on your own.  I am not going to carry you.  About thirty minutes later they caught up.   I had to be diligent.  I was now on the same level of them in the bush and knew they would come this way soon.  They travel each night right to where I am walking now heading to feed on corn.  I occasionally saw a place on the ground where they elephants dug the grass up and wallowed in the dirt.  This is their home. They love it here.  They are raising their families here and are willing to kill to protect them.  But I am learning the rules.  The last time I passed here it was dark, I was covered in sweat exhausted and my heart was racing.   But the sun was still up and I would be safe going this way for the next hour.   My heart was calm and I was having a ball.  I walked home past the dirt homes of some of my house church members.  I prayed for them.   I arrived home, ate my meal, told my story and studied Swahili, read the bible, prayed and went to bed.  I thought about you as I went on my safari.  I knew, if things went well, that I would tell you this story.

I am not an adventurer.  I am just a regular guy trying to take the Gospel of the Kingdom of God to the least of these.  People with the same hopes and dreams all people have.  To raise their families and provide for them.  They just happen to live right next door to antelope, elephants, boars, leopards, monkeys, buffalo and giraffes.  And sometimes I take a walk and go visit them.  I see what I can see.  Thanks for coming along.  I hope you enjoyed the adventure.  You know you can come and visit and I can show you amazing things.  Karibu! You are welcome.

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One response

25 09 2013
Kim

You are one funny guy, Glenn! Glad you survived your Elephant Hunt!

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