This is how surprising and incredible the bush can be...
From the 26th - 29th of August, we were honoured to host the Chicago Zoological Society lead by Dr Kate Evans. Kate conducted many years of research on elephants on the Abu Concession, and now heads up an NGO called Elephants for Africa. At tea on their first afternoon, Kate was catching up with our guide, Joe, who used to be an elephant handler and had worked very closely with her. One of Kate’s main study subjects had been an elephant bull called Mafunyane - originally an orphan of a culling operation, then one of Abu Camp’s trained elephants - he was released to wander the Okavango at his leisure 11 years ago. Initially, he had a tracking collar on him so that Kate could monitor his movements, but later on his collar was removed. Kate was asking Joe if the guides ever saw him around this area. Joe reckoned it had been two to three years since anyone had seen him here. But he added that he’d heard a guide up in the Linyanti had seen him a few months ago. Amazed that her subject, who had only ever known this area as a young bull, might have wandered all the way from Seba to the Linyanti, Kate wondered if the guide had possibly mistaken him. But between Joe and Kate they soon decided that would be near-impossible to mistake him because of the huge distinctive cut in of his right ear.
I had been listening to their conversation. That night I went home and dreamt, very vividly, that I met Mafunyane. Having never seen the elephant before, I could only be sure that it was him because of the huge cut in his right ear. The next morning I went into the office and was working away until about 11 o’clock when the unmistakable sound of an elephant shaking a lala palm in an effort to loosen some of its tasty nuts lured me outside for a break. There on the pathway to Tent 5, scooping up lala palm nuts, stood a big bull elephant - with a huge cut out of his right ear. Convinced that this must be the elephant that Kate and Joe were talking about at tea the previous afternoon, I gently called his name, “Mafunyane” and he immediately turned his head to look at me. He had this curious look in his eye, as if to say “I don’t know you. How do you know my name?”
I called Joe on the radio who was out on his morning game drive. “Joe” I said, “that elephant you were talking about yesterday - the one with the big cut in his right ear - he’s in the camp!” Joe arrived back shortly afterwards, so I took him and Kate down to Tent 5, where we could see the elephant just crossing the channel east of camp. As he turned side on, it was confirmed. There he was - Mafunyane - now an impressive 25-year-old bull, seemingly timing his return just perfectly to say hello to Kate. Needless to say, it made her day! Even as scientists who like to see rational, quantitative data, with all these coincidences so visible, we had to acknowledge there must be something else - something bigger - going on here.
That’s just a window into how amazing the bush can be.
We’ve also had many other visitors in camp this past month - lion, buffalo, giraffe, hyaena (almost every night), hippo and unfortunately for our resident population of bushbuck - leopard. In fact, in the last ten days of the month, a female leopard made no fewer than three kills in camp. One was stolen by a hyaena, but the other two made for some great viewing, as she fetched her two eight-month-old cubs to share in her spoils.
As August comes to a close, a change in season is in the air... the days are starting to warm up and the sausage trees are losing their leaves. We eagerly await the spring, and the new life it will bring.
Newsletter and pictures: Tim and Hailey Gaunt