Chapter 7: The Lonely Elephant

General, Satara, Skukuza

When you live in Kruger you go through an unofficial “Kruger boot camp.” You get told all kinds of valuable information by locals, which might come in handy when encountering animals. Sort of like a Kruger 101.

For instance, to never get in the way between a hippo and the water.

Or if you get attacked by a croc, try to poke it in the eye.

If a lion charges towards you, try to stand still and do not run.

The list goes on and on and I can keep you busy for a while with these.

I can write an entire chapter on elephants alone.

Here are a few rules relating to elephants charging while you are in a car:

Rule #1 (the most important rule)

DO NOT REVERSE, DO NOT BACK UP – the elephant will know that you are intimidated by it. In most cases it is only a mock charge and it will stop if it sees you are not afraid of it.

Rule #2

In the case of an elephant charging towards your car, try to rev the car – the sound may intimidate it.

Rule #3

If rule number 2 does not work, roll down your window and tap on the roof of you vehicle – this sound may also scare the elephant.

Rule #4

If none of the above work – pray to the gods and hope you live to tell the tale.

With this information in mind, picture the next chapter of my untold tales:

It was a sunny day in Kruger and my dad was out working. On this day he was on his way to work in the field again.

He had two men with him to help him with the workload. They were driving in a trusty single cab bakkie that belonged to the park. The bakkie had a canopy at the back. One of the men was sitting on the back of the bakkie and the other was with my dad in front.

They were driving on the road between Satara and Skukuza. As they were passing Tshokwane, a picnic spot in Kruger, they saw a few cars and a huge tour bus at a complete standstill. As they approached the tour bus indicated to my dad that he should pass it.

My dad took the opportunity and passed the immobile cars and bus full of tourists, not noticing the concerned looked on their faces.

Just when my dad and his colleagues passed the bushveld traffic jam, the reason became clear why these vehicles were at a standstill. A few meters away from them, in the middle of the road, was a humongous elephant bull all by himself.

My dad did not realise that this fella was in must.

Must is a period condition in elephant bulls (usually over 15 -20 years old) when their testosterone levels are much higher and are usually accompanied and characterised by highly aggressive behaviour and large rise in reproductive hormones. This period usually lasts about a month. The first sign to know if an elephant is in must is to look at the side of their head where their temporal ducts are located. Here one might find a thick tar-like discharge called temporin.

This was also the reason why the other vehicles kept their distance because the elephant was in a very bad mood.

However, my dad had to pass him to tend to his work to ensure he gets back to Satara in time, so he approached with caution, thinking he might sneak past it after it crossed the road.

But Mr. Elephant was livid. He had no time for any cocky tourists or park employees. And seeing the small bakkie approaching just rubbed him the wrong way.

This is when he lost it completely and started to charge.

My dad, being about 60 meters (197 ft) away, came to a halt.

Rule #1 Do not reverse, do not back up popped into my father’s head.

But this fella came a-running. Not looking as if he is going to stop anytime soon.

My dad moved to Rule #2. Putting the car in neutral, stepping on the clutch and increasing the engine speed by stepping on the accelerator – on and off, making the car roar with high revs.

This also did not stop the big guy, still coming at them.

The distance becoming shorter between the bakkie and the elephant.

My dad rolled down his window and banged on the roof of the bakkie and still the elephant kept charging.

My dad was thinking that there was a flaw in what he was taught in Kruger 101, disregarding all the rules. My dad was about to break the most important rule. My dad was about to reverse

cue the dramatic music

But before he could do this, the irritated elephant reached them. My dad was concentrating on what was about to happen next.

The elephant now took his trunk and wrapped it around the bulbar of the bakkie shaking the small truck with all his might.

Immediately my dad started to apply rule #4 – praying to the gods above.

My dad, being concerned about his colleagues, looked in his rear-view mirror to see what the oak at the back was doing in this situation. However, my dad could not see him because he was lying as flat as possible on the bottom of the bakkie’s floor.

The elephant was still shaking the bakkie like a Polaroid picture. (Heeeeey yaaaa!)

My dad now turning his attention to the chap next to him to see how he was doing.

To my dad, it was clear that he reverted to rule #4 a long time ago, because all he could see was the white of the poor man’s eyes, while he was apparently praying in a loud African language which my father did not understand.

The agitated elephant kept at it.

The next thing my father saw in his side mirrors made him smile.

While this near-death experience for him and his two colleagues was taking place, the gigantic tour bus he passed earlier, had tourists leaning out of the window by the dozens, taking pictures and making home videos of what they saw. To them, it was something they would cherish forever and tell their loved ones.

The elephant now felt like he made his point. He let go of the bulbar and of he went into the veld. As if nothing has happened.

My dad’s last thought while watching the elephant disappear into the bushes “Easy mate, if you keep up that temper, you would forever be alone.”

 

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Chapter 4: Just another day at the office

Satara

Okay enough with the airy-fairy stuff! Let’s get down to business with an exciting story. Oh, you are gonna love this one! Bear with me as I set the scene (even if there are no bears in Kruger):

A few weeks passed and my dad found out he got the job in Kruger. However, before we could pack up and move to the Kruger, my dad had to work a probation period 3 months in Satara. So my mom, Susan and I stayed behind in Welkom while my dad set out to work at his new job.

During this time mom had to pack up our home in Welkom and we had to live with close friends of ours. Every night mom would phone dad to check in and see if he is okay and if he hasn’t had second thoughts. This was before cell phones and my dad had to go to a payphone for this ritual. Each night at 19:00 sharp my mom would phone to the number and my dad would answer.

My mom took the time to tell my dad what we were up to and what she had to keep up with. This involved the packing, the moving company, cute things that Susan did, me wanting to run away at one point and various other stories.My dad not being a man of many words just listened and answered in short sentences on all my mother’s questions.

This changed one night. Mom didn’t have a chance to tell any of the cute stories or give moving arrangements to my dad. Something happened to my father and he had to tell my mother.

This was about a month into my dad’s probation period. The payphone rang in Satara and my dad picked it up.

“You would never believe what happened to me today!” he said to my mother.

My mother, being surprised to hear more than five words out of my father’s mouth was immediately hooked and encouraged him to tell the tale.

Being an electrician in the Kruger not only involved all the technical work in the campsite, but also some work in the field. So my dad was responsible for a certain area in the Kruger and if something went wrong he had to go fix it. He also had to do maintenance rounds in this same area – this due to the fact that our laughing friends the hyena sometimes dug up some cables and chewed on them.

On this day my dad had to go to one of the private camps, Talamati.

Talamati meaning place with lots of water. Ironically the river that runs close by is dry.

My dad’s mission for the afternoon was to check in on the solar panel station that supplies the electricity for the pump of a close-by watering hole.

So my dad set out with his bakkie (a small truck every South African man dreams of driving) with a few men that worked with him. This was about an hour and a half’s drive from Satara.

Close to Talamti camp stood a small enclosure in the middle of the field. You gain access through a small locked gate. Inside the enclosure, the solar panels were set up. The maintenance work that had to be done took up a great deal of the afternoon. By the time my dad and the workers were done, it was late afternoon and they had to return to the camp because even official vehicles were not allowed to drive after hours (well only on certain designated roads).

So the team started to pack up and load all the tools they used onto the bakkie, that stood about 50 meters (164 ft) away from the enclosure. When the loading was done my dad went into the enclosure where the solar panels were set up just to make sure everything was fine, while the workers are waiting for him at the bakkie.

At some point my dad had a cold chill running through his body. Something told him to turn around. As he did he saw that he left the gate open to the enclosure. In his defense, he did not think that the check-up would take this long. This was a stupid mistake – the reason being he wasn’t alone anymore.

Joining him for his check-up just outside the enclosure were two large lionesses. However, they were not practicing good electrician skills. They were ready for dinner and already in hunting position.

There was no room for escaping. The only way out was through the gate of the enclosure. My dad had to act quickly.

He dashed and closed the gate of the enclosure. However, the lionesses did not mind. They had him trapped inside the enclosure, waiting for him outside. As if they knew it was only a matter of time.

My dad did not want to make a sound.

They kept lurking around the enclosure. As if waiting for a mouse to come out of its hole.

The bushveld tango, ladies, and gentlemen!

My dad did not lose eye contact with them. And then as the two were dancing the dance of death my dad’s heart sank. Checkmate.

The lionesses were not in a hurry and like cats kept on playing the game with their pathetic little mouse.

My dad now turned to the Big Guy upstairs as his last resort. Praying uncontrollably that in some way a massive phoenix from the heavens could come down and pick him up. However, most religious people pray to a god that is realistic and do not believe in fancy gestures like sending fiery birds from the sky to save you. In my dad’s case, it was the same.

Luckily for him, one of the workers started to wonder what was keeping my dad so long and he got out of the bakkie to check on him. He saw that my dad was about to be dinner.

Thinking quickly, the man asked the other men to help him. They took out all the shovels they had in the bakkie and started banging the shovels against one another.

Clank, clank, clank they sounded.

The lionesses got a fright and ran away as fast as they could. The day was saved! (Thank goodness! Obviously – otherwise there would have been only 4 Chapters to my blog.)

My dad sighed with relief and then walked out of the enclosure, closed the gate, thanked the men and they all drove back to Satara in quiet.

As my dad finished his story over the phone there was a complete silence on the other end of the line.

My dad could not figure out if my mom was still there or if she was crying or maybe even praying.

“Hello, are you still there?” he asked

“Yes,” replied my mom

“Are you okay?” asked my father

“Yes, yes. I am.” assured mom.

“So what do you think about all this?” asked my dad with hesitance that my mom might say that the move to Kruger is not the best idea for our family.

Another long pause over the phone.

“I’m just glad…” my mom started on the other end followed by another pause.

“I’m just glad that I am not the one that has to wash your underwear tonight…”