He made the herd look like puppies

11th May 2014

Elephant bull on Pafuri Main

Friday 2nd May 2014

The baboons were making a racket this morning, they were barking at each other from different nyala trees. Some were close by and some far away. The calls echoed and given the temperature you could imagine the mist hugging the floor with just the treetops appearing above. And this is exactly what it looked like when I got up, another stunning morning in Africa.

Today we had a big walk planned, so much so we needed a drop off and pick up. We were dropped off ahead of our start point due to the road being blocked by fallen trees. The elephants seemed to have taken a liking to pushing over corkwoods, this seems to be their tree of choice at the moment.

It didn’t take us long to reach our start point, Deku, one of the larger old settlements on the concession. The Makuleke people had been evicted from the area in 1969 so there wasn’t too much to see. However, we had a good root around and found some foundations, fallen mopane uprights, metal implements, glass bottles, wire and some pottery.

The next landmark on our walk was Houtini, as we walked into the gorge we were watched by dassies who were perched high on the cliff face. We made our way upto the top and looked out over the alluvial flood plain of the Luvuvuh. Johna gave us a talk on the basic geology and then a brief history of the area. Thulamela was the main focus, this of course was because we could see it from where we were standing. Tullamela is a stone-walled palace that dates back to 1460-1650, its set across the river on top of a baobab littered sandstone kopje. I’ve really been enjoying walking with Johna, I’m learning lots of new stuff. So much so I find myself carrying my rifle shot gun style so I can make notes as I walk.

We started to pick up signs of elephant, there was a breeding herd somewhere in front of us. After checking numerous piles of dung along the way I eventually found a warm one, this meant that it was less than an hour old. Then we bumped them, well not all of them. There were about four up on the top of a hill amongst the purple pod cluster leaf. I barely saw them and unfortunately Chubby and Claire may have only got the “African salute” as an elephant backside disappeared from view.

They, or the rest of the herd must have got wind of us which caused one of them to trumpet a call. This was loud, made even more dramatic as it bounced off the cliffs behind us in our safe position on the other side of the drainage line.

When we arrived at Mashasiti Springs I directed the group to the rhino skulls that had been left there from a poaching incident a couple of years ago. I thought it was important that people see the realities of Africa. I wanted to show these on a previous trail but my ‘Lead” thought it inappropriate. My view is that by doing so you may inspire somebody to take action. You don’t always know know who is in your trail, there could be a high powered executive, a politician, a journalist or just somebody with a lot of energy who could make a big difference, You just don’t know and you certainly shouldn’t shy away from it.

This mornings walk was a mammoth one, just under seven hours so it was great when Duncan pitched up in the Landy as we were arriving at our rendesvous point.

There wasn’t much time for a turn around when back at camp. A quick lunch, shower and then a chat with Chubby and Claire about a possible project which will keep my African dream alive for at least another year. Then it was back out onto the concession, this time the three of us went for a drive.

It was certainly eventful, not one that any of us will ever forget. First of all we had a breeding herd on Sand Pad. I’d inadvertently split a juvenile bull from the matriarch who was some way behind. He was getting all uptight put never showed any real aggression, once I realised what had happened I pulled back and the big mamma came across the road and things settled.

We left the herd as they disappeared into the mopane only to run into a big bull in musth as we joined Pafuri Main. His antics made the breeding herd look like puppies.

We saw him some way off which meant we were able to pull off the road in plenty of time which gave him all the space in the world. As he came towards us I thought I’d actually talk to him this time. This all seemed to go well, but at one point when he was almost passed us he for some reason changed his whole demeanour.

I can’t remember the exact sequence of events. I think first up he gave us a charge which forced me to raise my voice. This took the wind out of his sails, he then milled around a bit before coming up with a new idea. He first pushed over a knob thorn and then he moved onto pushing a tall mopane over. This time it was aimed directly at us but not tall enough to cause too much concern.

This just about finished poor Claire who was quite keen to leave him to it. However, I was worried that if we drove off at this point he’d think he had the edge and chase the vehicle. It wasn’t long until we did get an opportunity to leave, another car came along. After it passed I moved off very slowly so as not to insight him.

By now we’d missed the opportunity of sundowners at Matali Gorge, instead we headed down to Makwadzi where we found spoor of lion, not a bad way to finish off the drive.

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