Xade Camp 02, Central Kalahari GR
Distance : 38.7 km
I don’t know who amongst us said it, or where they read it, but the comment “There are no elephant in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve” was about to be abruptly disproved. Yes, we had seen elephant spoor, and fresh droppings, the previous day on our drive down to Xade from Piper Pan but the one thing we were not exactly expecting, were elephant…
The day started normally enough – the sun came up, we made breakfast and we were settling down to a quiet morning messing around the camp site Since we were having our first two night stop at Xade, a welcome day of rest was on the cards.
Firstly we had to take pictures of Sharpie showing off his (soon to be patented) “Boskak Toilet Roll Holder” of which he was immensely proud. “No more chasing toilet paper around the bush with your pants around your ankles, no more wind-blown bog roll streamers tantalising you while you’re incapacitated by your bowel movements” was his rallying call.
Once the international photo shoot was complete (Dietwin’s Belgian camera was also pressed into service), we adjourned to our camp chairs where Sharpie was regaling us with a short 3 hour story, about someone whose name was about to become inconsequential, when Dietwin said, with more than a little surprise in his voice, “Elephant”.
The snorts of derision died very quickly as we looked up and saw an elephant about 50 m away from the camp. The element of surprise was completed when a second elephant loomed into sight, out from behind one the tents, not 30 m from us. All this without a single twig snapping, in what was bone dry bushveld, to alert us to their presence. I was, once again, amazed at how quietly these 5 tonne behemoths can move around in the bush.
A third elephant loomed into view to complete the group and while two of the elephant continued to walk around and past the camp, the closest elephant veered off towards us.
What followed next was an intricate ballet of six moving parts – 5 humans and a 3m elephant – and four static objects – 2 cars, a trailer and a tent – that lasted about 3 minutes. The elephant alternated between mock charging us, kicking and throwing sand at the camp site, sniffing at the breeze, all the while moving ever closer. He circled the camp site on the periphery of the cars and tents while we matched his movements diametrically opposite but on the inner circle of the fixed objects.
Eventually, after what seemed like 20 minutes – but was actually only 3 minutes – he moved off to join his companions that had continued their walk down a track that lead from our camp to the dry riverbed about 3 km away.
While the elephant walked away from us we discussed his actions and came to the conclusion that he must have smelt the water that we were carrying – we had 75 l of water in plastic 25 l jerry cans that we had placed in large burrows around the site to stop us stepping into them. Although the jerry cans were closed, the elephant must have smelt the water. As we congratulated ourselves on how we had not panicked and how interesting it was that the elephant had acted as he had, we noticed the that third elephant had stopped about 300m down the track, turned around and was heading back. All thoughts of self congratulation vanished as we watched him walking with purpose straight back towards us.
Before we knew it he was back at our camp site and this time the mock charges were executed with a lot more menace. More sand was kicked up, his trunk used to gather huge clumps of grass and sand and flicked at us. The ballet resumed but this was no Disney’s Fantasia. This was an elephant who wanted something and was determined to get it!
He circled ever closer and at one point moved right up to the two vehicles and attempted to get through a gap barely a metre wide. He constantly stopped and lifted his trunk to sample the air before coming at us once more with a mock charge. The intricate ballet continued, along with some absurdly inappropriate comedic moments – like when the elephant closed right up to Sharpie’s bakkie and Sharpie stood on the near side with both hands against the vehicle like he was going to prevent the elephant from pushing it over by counter-shoving from the opposite side!
5 tonnes vs 65 kg…
Just when we thought the circle and counter-circle had lead to an impasse – we were determined not to abandon camp but where were we going to run to anyway – we noticed that the other elephant had also turned and were now approaching the camp.
So, one elephant you can dodge, three elephant pose a completely different proposition!
It was at this point when I started to contemplate which of my fellow campers was going to be sacrificed for the greater good when the other two elephant veered off towards the main road back to Xade. Our camp site tormentor continued to circle us like the American Indians around the settlers wagons – or like the Zulu impi around the voortrekkers wagons to be more continentally appropriate. We continued to scamper around like geriatric ballroom dancers on prozac, dodging from vehicle to tent to vehicle.
Finally, after what was 15 minutes of counting ones future in minutes as opposed to years, the elephant suddenly turned and followed his mates. Within minutes the three elephant had disappeared completely and we were left in a numbed silence. A silence suddenly erupted into a cacophony of highly relieved voices that began dissecting the events that had just occurred. All of us had been very anxious over the eventual outcome – just google “elephants damaging vehicles” and take a look at the images of what can happen if its just not your day!
About two hours later we drove back to Xade, 12 km away, to see the waterhole there and to have another hot shower. When we got to the waterhole we saw ‘our’ elephant a kilometre up the road walking away from the waterhole. They had covered the distance from our camp, circled Xade, stopped for a drink at the waterhole and then continued onwards in just those two hours. Not bad for an animal that weighs over 5 tonnes!
Stats for the day:
Distance 38.7 km
Min Alt 955.720 meters
Max Alt 1013.210 meters