In bed: There’s an elephant on the other side of my tent. I can hear it ripping apart the foliage beside my bed. It would be three meters from where I’m lying, with nothing but a pen to defend me, which, I surely feel, is NOT mightier than the sword, in this instance.
At first, I was unsure what the noise was, and went out to investigate, in nothing but my thin nightdress. I turned the light on and there he was – ears akimbo as he looked at me, and I at him. We both paused, I apologised for disturbing him, and went quietly back inside.
He is a VERY noisy eater.
He’s one of at least 10 elephants I spotted this evening from my tent’s balcony, lit a ghostly orange from the single floodlight on the waterhole. I am happy there are guards to walk me home and watch over me in the night – sort of like guardian angels…with rifles…
…he is REALLY loud. Should I ‘pppsssssst’ at him to stop, like I do with the barking dog in my Cairo neighbour’s apartment? What if he gets offended and charges?
And so he eats.
The crack of breaking branches and torn leaves.
“Enough, already!” I call out. Doesn’t he know it’s past 11pm?
Silence. For a second.
Now he’s started again.
This elephant’s going to keep me awake all night. I wonder what he’ll think when my alarm goes off at six?
This morning, I saw what I suspect was my night time tormenter. He is a bull elephant about 20 years old. Bobby, the long-term, Swiss-born manager of the Satoe Camp in Tsavo East natinal park, walks with me to say good morning. He speaks gently to the old man in Swahili.
“See, his hand is missing,” he says. It takes a few minutes, then I realise he’s referring to the elephant’s trunk, which ends bluntly, no curved ‘fingers’. “He lost it in a snare,” adds Bobby bluntly. A poacher’s snare? I ask. “I don’t like to talk about poachers because there’s nothing I can do to stop them.”
If the elephant survives the loss of blood and subsequent infections, he will need a friend for at least a year to help him while he learns how to live again without his hand, stepping on the grass or ripping with his tusks, instead of curling around it with his now nearly useless trunk. Then, after that year, he will most likely survive, Bobby explains.
The camp faces a small waterhole which in just one morning I spotted a herd of elephant, zebra, baboons, giraffes, waterbuk and flurries of fat, defenceless guinea fowl.
Impala trot amongst the 20 tents, babies in tow. They feel safe here and will graze the plains during the day, coming back to the security of the camp during the dark, dangerous nights. There was excitement when, before 7am, a lion was spotted by some guests, cruising the scene, but the guards are wise to his presence.
“I don’t like lions,” says Bobby, with surprising vehemence. “They are mean, stupid animals. When they kill, they begin to eat at the balls. That’s mean.”