We had been warned that wild animals roamed in the camp. We’d heard them at night – crickets, caterwauling jackals, distant roar-offs between elephants and lion. In the darkness, distance perception was lost and every croak, grunt, squawk seemed to frighteningly close. The canvas of our safari tent seemed incredibly flimsy compared to the power and size of the animals around us. Occasionally wild flashes would illuminate the tent, the night guards’ hushed voices betraying an urgency as they frantically tried to discern the source of a new mammalian sound. A long silence, sleep and we woke to another morning in the South Luangwa National Park.
During the day, hippos loll in the river behind us, belting their Frank Bruno-esque laughs. Sneaky crocodiles poke their spiny heads out of the water, barely indistinguishable from floating logs. A hippo emerges from the shallow waters and dumps its way heavily along the riverbank whilst a fearless fisherman expertly steers his dugout canoe past crocodiles and umpteen bobbing hippo heads.
One achingly hot Zambian afternoon, my husband and I decide to brave the unforgiving African sun in search of an elusive WiFi connection.
On our way to reception, I am transfixed by the many monkeys careering around our feet, dropping from trees and scrapping playfully with each other. Turning my back to the path to request Doug pose beside them, something catches my eye. Something unsettling and much bigger than us. It is the grey bulk of a young male elephant, all tusks and might, hacking away at a tree just a stone’s throw away from us. Nothing separates us from him. No protective vehicle, no zoo bars, no armour on our bodies, no passing game warden to race to our rescue.
Unaware of our plight, Doug fiddles with his kikoi which he has soaked and placed around his head for cooling purposes. I grab his arm and eloquently whisper the news of our startling predicament, “erm, Doug…there’s an elephant”.
No sooner had I muttered these words, the elephant too becomes aware of our presence. His chosen course of action: to ‘mock charge’.
Now, if you’ve ever been ‘mock charged’ by an elephant, you’ll know that the ‘mock‘ part is entirely irrelevant. It just feels as if you are being ‘actually’ charged by an elephant. Having never found myself in such a situation before, I was uncertain how to react. Does one remain motionless and hope he doesn’t see you? Should you roar loudly and attempt to frighten them off?
I didn’t dwell for very long. Instead I followed Doug’s quick and efficient advice: “Harri. Run.” Quick off our feet we scarpered, hearts thumping. Checking back to see if our marauder was gaining on us, we saw him happily return to his munching. Postponing the search for WiFi, I asked Doug what he would have done should the elephant have followed us, he answers “I don’t know, all I knew is I had to run faster than you”. Charming.